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London Suburbs And Home Counties More Ethnically Diverse, Inner London More White Since 2010, Data Shows


6 min read

Parts of outer London and the Home Counties have become significantly more ethnically diverse since 2010, while areas of inner London have become whiter, according to school population data analysed by PoliticsHome.

Parliamentary constituencies in north east London and parts of Essex and Kent are among those to have seen a significant decline in the share of local school pupils who are classed as ‘white British’, with ethnic minority communities both priced out of inner London and choosing to move to the suburbs as they become more middle class.

Seats in northern cities such as Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle have also seen major increases in diversity over the last 12 years. By contrast, white-dominated areas away from major cities have seen much smaller changes in school demographics, while some ethnically diverse seats in inner London have actually become ‘whiter’ over time.

The figures are drawn from the Department for Education’s annual schools census data, which gives demographic details of the intake of every school in England, and comes prior to the publication of the 2021 full UK census data later this year.

PoliticsHome stripped out schools with very small intakes or no ethnicity data, and then compared the average ‘white British’ share of school populations in each constituency in England in 2010 and 2021.

The biggest change occurred in Dagenham and Rainham in east London, where the average white British share fell from 56% to 32% in 11 years, and in nearby Romford, where the white British school population plunged from 77% to 53%.

Other outer London seats showing similar levels of change include Barking, Sutton and Cheam, and Carshalton and Wallington. In Uxbridge and South Ruislip – Boris Johnson’s seat – the white British share fell from 57 to 36%.

In the Home Counties, large increases in school-age ethnic diversity have occurred in Thurrock, Dartford, Watford and Wokingham, and further afield in city seats such as Blackley and Broughton in Greater Manchester, Leicester West, Leeds Central, Coventry South and Newcastle Central.

Sacha Gosine is 42 and of Indo-Caribbean descent. He grew up in Dartford, where he is now an opposition Labour councillor. “In my school, there was one black kid who was two years older than me. Apart from that, there was a speckle of British Asian as well,” he said. “Now when you drive past these schools, it's visibly recognisable that there are much more ethnic children attending these schools, in particular Black and Asian children.”

Gosine says that some people move to Dartford after being priced out of London, while others want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the capital. Many are also drawn to the town’s grammar schools, fierce competition for which has helped drive up local house prices despite extensive housebuilding.

“Dartford is becoming a more younger town. It used to be growing up more older white people, but when you look around now it's actually more working families,” said Gosine. “There’s a lot more working families that are moving into Dartford and a lot more of the older white people moving out,” with more rural parts of Kent a common destination for the latter.

Across England, the white British population share in schools has fallen from 78% in 2010 to 70% in 2021 – but this masks wide variations. The number of seats in which ‘white British’ children and teenagers comprise under 50% of pupils has risen from 74 in 2010 to 111 in 2021, out of 533 seats in total. But in some seats the white British share has risen – a combination of non-metropolitan seats where the white British school population was around 90% or higher in 2010, and inner London seats where it was 25% or lower. In Hackney North and Stoke Newington, which has partly gentrified over the last 15 years, the average white British share at local schools rose from 16% to 24%.

The specific ethnicities that have grown differ by area. In Dagenham and Rainham the proportion of children who are from white backgrounds outside Britain and Ireland doubled in 11 years, while it nearly trebled in Romford. African and Pakistani heritage children have seen the largest increases in Blackley and Broughton, with African and non-British white backgrounds driving the growth in Leeds Central.

Ethnic minority voters tend to vote Labour, and some of the seats seeing the fastest rises in ethnic minority populations are marginals, such as Dagenham and Rainham, Coventry South, Carshalton and Wallington, West Bromwich East and Watford. But others, such as Romford, Thurrock and Dartford, have seen large Tory majorities develop.

“The primary electoral implication of all this is obvious - a steady rise in Labour prospects in places where this shift is largest,” said political scientist Rob Ford. “While Labour's advantage with some BME groups may be fading a little, the overall advantage is still huge and unlikely to disappear soon.

“However, there is a big difference between BME [Black and Minority Ethnic] share in school censuses and BME voter shares. BME voters – particularly younger voters – are less likely to register to vote, and less likely to turn out if registered. This seriously dampens the effects of the underlying demographic shifts. That's why we don't see an effect in Dartford yet, for example. But it may be coming 10-15 years down the line.”

Gosine was Labour’s candidate in Dartford at the 2019 election, when the Tories increased their majority in Britain’s longest standing bellwether seat to 19,000 votes. He said Labour’s promise to hold a second Brexit referendum was a turn-off in the heavily Leave-voting seat, but that his own British Indian community also wouldn’t vote for him due to Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan’s opposition to India’s actions in Kashmir.

Ford said rising ethnic diversity is unlikely to spark a white backlash. “Social contact tends to reduce ethnocentrism, and the school gate is a great driver of social contact – kids form friendships across group divides, meaning parents do too, meaning what was once seen as a threatening outgroup is not seen the same way.”

“The question has long ceased to be whether modern Britain will be multi-ethnic, or whether diversity brings pressures and gains, but how we manage it well for the benefit of all,” said Sunder Katwala, director of think tank British Future.

“Integration has to be an everybody issue, or it is not really integration at all. Every school governing body, from the inner cities and suburbs to towns and villages, should consider how it can ensure every pupil can experience meaningful contact across ethnic, faith and social class backgrounds, to equip them to become active citizens of the society we have become.”

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