Health warning: Some of the words you will read in this article may cause upset or offence. All language used will be in context and not intended to shock. If derogatory words used to describe people of colour disturbs you, please do not read this article.
This article was not written to name any one school. It has been written to highlight the issues children of colour face in schools across the country. I do not believe in my heart, teachers come into this amazing profession to cause children harm or distress. They chose teaching because they want to influence young minds and be part of our future scientists, nurses, doctors, inventors, and global change makers.
After spending a weekend with my boys in their quaint Worchester village, I was intending to write about my encounter with some of the young white boys who have adopted the ‘Road Man’ persona seen widely in London and other major cities across the country as their choice of dress and behaviour. It was quite strange really, as these boys are 10,000 miles away from the ‘Road Men’ I have come across in PRUs and on police encounters while on duty. I decided to change my focus to racism in schools, in the playground, gym and in the classroom.
So, what changed my mind and focus for today’s piece?
Through a child’s eyes; Racism in Schools
As I was preparing to dictate some notes on my amazing app, Otter, my youngest son came in and started a conversation about the racism which is running rife in his school. He was unaware it was being recorded but I wanted to capture this moment in as much detail as possible without causing him trauma.
I started by asking him what it was like walking into his school as one of the very few children of colour. I asked him not to worry about the language he used and just to talk freely to get his points across. I was very surprised when he started talking about teachers and not his peers. Clearly what we think as parents is not always the case.
He started talking about a particular teacher and how he felt that teacher treated him differently to the other children. He described one occasion when this teacher put him in isolation because he was wearing his durag in school. He later explained that he had permission from his head of year to wear it. He also shared the numerous times this teacher would shout at him for no apparent reason.
He then went on to talk about an RE teacher delivering a lesson about discrimination. He said she shared video clips in the lesson about sexist behaviour and transphobia, but when it came to teaching the children about racism, she used a clip from Shrek and explained he is big, an ogre, frightening and different.
He went on to talk about his enjoyment for a history lesson, where the teacher taught a lesson about slavery and racism. The teacher explained before starting the lesson, that what he was going to talk about could be distressing. He also told the children that the language they would hear from some of the video clips must not be repeated in the playground or directed towards children in the school. My son recalled one of his friends being upset by what he learnt in this lesson.
This prompted me to ask him about how he was treated by other children in the school. He explained he is often called nigger and coon; he has also been called a monkey and negro. I asked him how often this happened, and he said it has been happening for the last 10 years, which is why he had to move schools in year 5. Where my son lives is a small village with two primary schools and one secondary school. The children who were abusing him in his previous primary school went to the same high school as him for their year 7.
As his father, and a Headteacher myself, I wrote to the school to raise my concerns about the racist behaviour at the school towards my son and other children of colour. Unfortunately, the defensive response from the headteacher clearly highlighted his inability to recognise racism in his school.
After my older son received his GCSE results and said this was the end of his time at this school, and he was relieved that he no longer needed to be frightened of a particular member of staff that had made his life hell for a number of years. On what should have been a day of celebration, my son disclosed how he had been emotionally abused by a senior leader at the school for the past four years. It finally made sense to us as parents why our son was having anxiety attacks, waking up in the night distressed and consistently not wanting to go to school for these last few years. My reaction to this disclosure was to report this allegation of abuse to the local area designated safeguarding officer, LADO.
The outcome of my complaint investigated by the school resulted in me receiving a threat of being banned from the premises for a malicious allegation. No report to a LADO after a disclosure by a child can be deemed malicious.
I often reflect on how I addressed racism as a head of several schools. When children made racist comments, I would insist that parents came to school to speak with me with their child.
I would then explain to their child why what they had said, was cruel and made the other child upset.
Parents would apologise and say they would make sure this would not happen again.
It is only now I realise that the number of racist comments did not reduce. What did happen was the same child did not repeat the behaviour.
I missed the opportunity to deliver an Anti-Racist Education.
Calling parents in to school to discuss their child’s behaviour was not enough.
This is why I believe training teachers, educating pupils and modifying the curriculum, Will have a greater impact and work towards eliminating racism in school and their communities.
I appreciate all the schools who have already adopted this inclusive educational approach and already seeing the impact of an Anti-Racist educational; all the schools who have committed to one of the Diversity, Equalities and Inclusion programs written for school.
My son and I would like to express our biggest thanks to the parents of whose children continually stand up against racism and racist behaviour, alongside their friends of colour in and outside of school.
The full unedited recording of my son talking about racism in his school will be made available on IFG Publishing’s website over the coming days. It is sad to hear, but a must for school leaders if we are to better understand the needs of our pupils.
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