Birmingham's schools can provide a lesson for colleges across the country in how to encourage children from different ethnic groups to mix, a city MP told the House of Commons.
Khalid Mahmood (Lab Perry Barr) invited Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, to come to the city and see for himself.
He was speaking in a House of Commons debate on education reforms, including new powers for Oftsed inspectors to grade schools on whether they promote "community cohesion". Attention has focused on the impact this will have on faith schools, which will be expected to ensure their pupils mix with youngsters from other religions.
But Mr Mahmood (pictured) said there were ordinary comprehensive schools where almost all pupils came from the same ethnic group or religion, just because of the areas they served.
Examples included the Sparkbrook school he attended as a child, he said. But he praised the city's policy of encouraging schools to form small clusters, where three or four colleges work closely together.
He said: "I attended a comprehensive school in Sparkbrook in Birmingham – an area where there was not a great mix.
"Only a limited number of pupils go to faith schools. A huge number of pupils in our communities do not.
"Community cohesion is an issue in schools where there are large numbers of pupils from the ethnic minorities and a limited amount of mix.
"In north-west Birmingham, we deal with cohesion through cluster programmes and through the Learning and Skills Council and the local education authority.
"We have built up relationships between schools in the area so that they work together and support each other. Rather than segregating schools in the area, we try and get them working together. That has a far better effect."
He added: "The argument is not about multi-culturalism or community relations, it is about how we improve the education of those young people and get them to interact with their peers in different parts of our society and our community and in different geographical areas."
Speaking in the same debate, Ken Purchase (Lab Wolverhampton North East) challenged the argument used by Tony Blair and other Ministers that children benefited from attending faith schools.
He said: "I have never come across any piece of work suggesting that outcomes are better in faith schools than anywhere else because of the faith element.
"The schools that he mentions will probably have these inputs – fairly bright children; a degree of selection, dare I say; and good buildings and good quality all round."
Mr Johnson told him: "Evidence shows that there is a premium in terms of educational outcomes at all faith schools, whether Sikh, Jewish or whatever."
The new powers for Ofsted inspectors could force faith schools to teach other religions as well as their own.
Schools will also be told to employ teachers from different religious backgrounds in an attempt to improve community relations.
However, Mr Johnson has backed down on proposals to give councils the power to force schools to admit up to 25 per cent of pupils from different religious backgrounds or no religion at all.