'School anti-racism policies should not be a tick-box exercise'
Most heads will say that racism does not happen in their school, but it does, says Elaine Cunningham-Walker
In the era where the killing of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter has become such a topic on most people’s minds, it’s time for schools to think about how they can protect children.
Not just white children but children who are from diverse backgrounds. Most schools will say that racism does not happen in their school. This is the expected answer but there are many small things that can affect the self-esteem of a black child and their attainment can diminish as a result.
Schools need detailed anti-racism policies so as to protect these children. It should not be treated as a tick box exercise but should be treated with the care with which you approach a safeguarding or health and safety policy. And it must be woven through every system in the school. It’s not just a document that is dusted off in a folder to ensure that policies are there for the school to pass the inspection. This policy must be a document that works for the school. Right from leadership to the curriculum, it must be workable in the school.
"The policy should not just be dusted off to pass the inspection."
Throughout this pandemic we have heard stories of groups of students who have written to schools to talk about the various microagressions that they suffered at school. Some talked about flippant comments that seemed like they were nothing but were actually words that cut very deeply and made childhood experiences painful more than memorable.
If a child was found smoking in the school or bullying another child, or the behaviour of a member of staff was deemed inappropriate, there would be a clear procedure to be followed. Sadly, when the case relates to race there is usually no clear guidance, which leaves the victim feeling alone and often wondering how they actually fit in a school.
What is so interesting is that all schools will tell you that their pastoral care is paramount and they are concerned about the wellbeing of the child. However this sadly doesn’t happen as race relations is not usually included in the wellbeing programmes that schools put together.
"People were confused by my public school accent."
Policies are one thing, of course, but they must be backed up by continuous training for schools. Staff need to understand that certain comments which are meant to help a child can end up excluding them, affecting the full development of the child and affecting self confidence.
As a parent I have had to deal with certain assumptions, that as a single mother from London I had to come from a deprived back ground. People were confused by my public school accent and established children. I certainly didn’t fit the picture that has been painted by the media. I have even been asked if I knew what “An Inspector Calls” was, clearly I knew as I studied it for GCSE in school, but the presumption was that because of the colour of my skin I was less likely to have an idea about literature.
Schools, I believe, are meant to educate all, not just the children. With the introduction of properly written, detailed policies, I believe that they will enable schools to properly equip children for the world. Also it would give the school a chance to correct some of the mistakes that have been made in the past, such as not teaching the history and impact that people of colour have made to global society. Martin Luther King is not the beginning of black history.
"Slavery shouldn’t be the only part of history that we hear."
The history of black people started long before the Civil Rights movement in America. We are always taught that the light bulb was discovered by Thomas Edison, however how many of us are ever taught that the innovation used to create long-lasting light bulbs with a carbon filament came from the American Inventor Lewis Latimer in 1881? How many students are taught about the black Tudors? Slavery shouldn’t be the only part of history that we have to hear.
Black people were present at the Royal Courts of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, James I and in the households of Sir Walter Raleigh and William Cecil. How many students are taught that Sara Forbes Bonetta a Nigerian (Yoruba) princess was adopted by Queen Victoria? How many are taught about the richest man that ever lived, King Mansa Musa, whose wealth is said to be far more than that of Jeff Bezos today? There are so many other examples that I could give.
Many schools have put out a Black Lives Matter statement, but a way to start to really show that Black lives really matter in your school is to take this bold step and have a complete overhaul. More diversity in the recruitment policy of the school, the list is endless. I think it’s also important to discuss race at schools, the more we do this the less uncomfortable it becomes. I assist schools in the recruitment of black students mainly with African heritage. I am passionate about helping schools get it right when they are planning these changes.
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