New research revealed worrying findings about the treatment of black students – while conflicting debates continued about the inclusion of racial issues within the curriculum.


Teachers’ perceptions ‘damaging’

Half of black students said teachers’ perceptions of them was their biggest barrier to success in school. Nearly half said racism was a huge obstacle to their achieving in school. A staggering 95% witnessed racist language at school. The findings of a YMCA poll made for troubling reading.

Participants also reported being labelled by their school as ‘unintelligent’ and ‘aggressive’, putting them under a higher threat of exclusion. Exclusion rates show that three times as many Black Caribbean pupils are excluded than white British students.


Act now

Schools should review all of their policies ‘through the lens of race and ethnicity’ to ensure they are inclusive, said the report Young and Black: The Young Black Experience of Institutional Racism in the UK. Anti-racist education should be embedded across the curriculum, and not just tagged on as standalone lessons or assemblies. Curriculum leaders should also ensure all their staff have unconscious bias training so that their perceptions do not cause them to discriminate against black pupils. 

‘What struck us most was the sheer level of acceptance but also exhaustion in the black community, for people so young to be so tainted by this,’ said YMCA Chief Executive Denise Hatton. Change was urgently needed right now to give them ‘a better present and a brighter future’.


Curriculum controversy

At the start of the month, founder of the Black Curriculum Lavinya Stennett said it was taking ‘way too long’ to get black British history embedded in the curriculum. ‘Our curriculum should not be reinforcing the message that a sizeable part of the British population are not valued,’ she said. 

Later on in the month, Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch said that schools that ‘promote partisan political views’, including teaching pupils that white privilege is an uncontested fact, are breaking the law. Black lives matter, she said, but the Black Lives Matter movement is political. White students should not be taught about ‘their inherited racial guilt’, she told MPs during a House of Commons debate. ‘Black history is not the history of institutional racism’, she continued.

Opposition MP Abena Oppong-Asare said it was crucial that the government diversify the curriculum. 

‘This is not about political point scoring; it is about listening to what the public say their needs are … loads of research has poured out, with teachers asking for the curriculum to be diversified,’ she said. 

The NEU issued a statement on the new clauses on this within the revised RSHE curriculum: ‘This DfE advice should not be a way of smuggling in regressive ideas about what education can explore; or to penalise efforts by teachers to broaden, enrich and diversify the curriculum.’ 

It went on to say: ‘“Promoting divisive or victim narratives” is an intentionally unhelpful way for the DfE to characterise campaigns that advance participation and human rights, that highlight existing discrimination; or that encourage young people to discuss the barriers they face in their daily lives.’

Campaigners planned legal action against the government unless it withdrew its RSHE guidance to schools telling them not to use any ‘anti-capitalist’ materials in teaching and learning. 

This was limiting freedom of speech, said the Coalition of Anti-Racist Educators (Care) and Black Educators Alliance (BEA) in their pre-action letter to the DfE. They have started a crowd-fundraising campaign in the event of having to go ahead with the legal challenge.


‘White social resentment’

The issue had also come up at a meeting of the Education Select Committee the previous week. Professor Of Politics And International Relations Matthew Goodwin told MPs that use of terms such as ‘white privilege’ made white working-class communities feel like they were the problem. 

Disadvantaged white families were left feeling they were not being given the same respect as those from other ethnic backgrounds. 

‘If we are now going to start teaching them in school that not only do they have to overcome the various economic and social barriers within their communities, but they also need to start apologising for belonging to a wider group which also strips away their individual agency, then I think we are going to compound many of these problems,’ he said.

Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge Prof Diane Reay agreed. There is a ‘growing level of social resentment’ among white working classes, who feel they are ‘being left behind’, she said.


Boosting diversity

This month saw Penguin books team up with the race equality thinktank the Runnymede Trust to boost diversity in school reading lists. Currently, just one English literature exam specification features a novel or play by a black author. Their campaign Lit in Colour aims to increase students’ access to authors from minority-ethnic backgrounds.

‘Our young people are still studying a mostly white, mostly male English literature curriculum: one which neither reflects contemporary society nor inspires a generation to read outside of their classes,’ said Penguin CEO Tom Weldon. 


In other news October 2020:

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