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Challenging racism in British schools

Police figures show reports of hate crimes and incidents in schools rose by 89 percent in the middle of the Brexit campaign. Source: Shutterstock

Since the announcement of Brexit, there has been a considerable increase in reports of racism, hate crime and racist incidents across the United Kingdom. These types of incidents have largely been random and directed at anyone perceived to be “not British”.

Perhaps most worrying though is a lot of teachers have also reported seeing a rise in the number of children experiencing racist incidents in the classroom. Police figures show reports of hate crimes and incidents in schools rose by 89 percent in the middle of the Brexit campaign.

This has led to calls by many for more to be done, not only in terms of helping teachers know how to better cope and deal with these types of incidents, but also for children to have more of an education and understanding of racism along with Britain’s multicultural heritage.

A recent survey of teachers into the issue highlighted a “lack of confidence, training and support” in this area. Teachers questioned were in “overwhelming agreement” that anti-racist education should be integrated into the curriculum – with 90 percent of teachers strongly believing this was the way forward.

One teacher said:

I’ve been trying to do this for years – I think it is of the utmost importance. However, staff mostly avoid conversations about race and religion for fear of opening a can of worms.

Challenging racism

The Scottish government has been looking further into this issue. Researchers from the Moray House School of Education in Edinburgh recently provided evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee. And they called for “race” to be put “explicitly back on the agenda” in schools so that racist views could be challenged in the classroom.

They said teachers were currently “reluctant and anxious” about addressing racism in the classroom and called for updated advice to be provided. They also spoke of the need to have a better way of recording incidents of racist bullying and harassment in schools.

Teachers don’t always feel comfortable talking to children about it. Source: Shutterstock.

In a separate submission to the committee, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), a teaching union, said it was also concerned inflammatory language used by politicians and the media may be fuelling racist bullying in schools.
The report said:

The current political discourse around immigration is creating a climate which will exacerbate bullying and harassment of refugee and asylum-seeking children, and children from visible [or] audible ethnic minorities, who are or are perceived to be refugees or migrants.

We fear current narratives about ‘migrants’ in the tabloid media put certain children at greater risk of bullying and harassment.

In response to this, the EIS produced three guides, for different age ranges, to help challenge misconceptions about immigration and asylum-seekers. These are being sent to all nurseries, schools, colleges and universities in Scotland.

Anti-racist curriculum

There have also been calls for more focus on these types of issues across the curriculum. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers recently carried out a survey on the topic. It showed 84 percent of teachers questioned believe education about hate crime, hate speech and discrimination should form part of mandatory lessons on the subject.

In the same survey, 33 percent of the teachers questioned said they hadn’t received any training on how to deal with hate crime or speech – but that they would like some.

Off the back of this, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Mary Bousted, said:

The government needs to produce updated guidance that includes discussion of hate crime and speech and encourages critical thinking.

Similarly, Tell MAMA – a national project which records and measures anti-Muslim incidents in the UK – believes both Ofsted and the Department for Education should consider anti-Muslim bullying and hate in their evaluations of schools.

Muslim children are more likely to be bullied in school than children of other faiths. Source: Shutterstock.

This would ensure teaching staff are adequately trained to identify challenge and combat bigotry towards Muslims in the classroom. And this is especially important considering Tell MAMA’s data suggested the largest proportion of incidents involved perpetrators aged between 13 and 18.

Talking about racism

By introducing these types of programmes into schools, children could learn about both the continuing and changing nature of racism in British society, which is discussed in detail in my new book.

Programmes to tackle racism could encourage children to find out more about the historical multicultural nature of British society, dating back centuries, along with the influence and positive impact this has had on UK society.

Children could also look at the very crux of the issue to try and understand more about what racism actually is – discussing issues such as how racism isn’t always based on skin colour, as well as how “race” is a social construct.

But ideas aside, ultimately given these new increased levels of racism are being experienced widely both on the streets and in classrooms, programmes are something that needs to be implemented sooner rather than later.

And as the gap in the opinion polls narrows and a Corbyn-led progressive government seems less remote, there are cautious grounds for optimism.

By Mike Cole, Professor of Education, specialising in racism and politics, University of East London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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