The Challenge, the leading social integration charity in the UK, has welcomed the commitment by the Department of Education to extend greater school choice and raise education standards for children from all backgrounds.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds announced on Friday (May 11) that funding will be allocated to grammar schools and faith schools, improving access for disadvantaged children, and that the Government is committed to creating 110 new schools by 2020.

Richard Bell, head of public affairs, policy and research at The Challenge, said: “We believe British society needs a school system that encourages social mixing across all backgrounds, ethnicities and religions. Over the last 50 years, the UK has become more diverse by age, ethnicity and income, and research shows that we tend to build friendships with people with a similar education, of a similar age and ethnicity as ourselves, meaning a new generation continuously misses an opportunity to build the connections they need.

“We need to prepare our young people for life beyond the educational system, so they can be valuable and thriving members of our wider society. We would welcome initiatives going beyond these new measures, as the government previously pledged within its Integrated Communities Strategy green paper, to help our young people with community programmes and extracurricular activities.”

The Challenge runs a number of programmes, including its highly regarded National Citizen Service programme for 15-17-year-olds, which emphasises and encourages social mixing and interaction across all social divides - between people of different nationalities, ethnicities, age, social class, employment status, sexuality, gender and disability.  

The benefits of taking part in the programme have been highlighted by The Challenge’s partnership with Oxford University’s Centre for the Study of Intergroup Conflict. They measured an increase in participants’ understanding, empathy, respect and connections with people they would ordinarily have judged as ‘different’. They also confirmed that half the young people who took part in 2017 planned to volunteer to help their local community, while one-third of participants felt more empowered to make a positive difference within their local community.