I have overheard some overtly racist comments made by children to their peers, particularly when they are outside at playtime. I have spoken to the class teacher about it and she has advised me that as long as they don't do it in the classroom it is best to ignore it as ' they don't mean anything by it'. Is this is right approach?
1. Addressing the issue raised in the scenario
It is really encouraging that you are aware of the children's comments made to peers when they are outside at playtime. It is never best to ‘ignore' any form of racism, however minor it might appear to be, and the location of the alleged incident should make little difference. To ignore the incident permits all those involved (including witnesses and bystanders) to assume that there is nothing wrong with such behaviour. All forms of racism are potentially harmful and dangerous, and it sounds as though the teacher who has advised you could be seriously under-estimating the possible impact of such behaviour. The fact is, in the situation you describe, the children are using racist language, and it is your professional and indeed legal responsibility to challenge and address it.
Schools have a legal responsibility to monitor and record any racist incidents. As a student teacher, to a certain extent, you are bound by the school's practices, but you are within your rights to point out that you feel that it is wrong to ignore the racist comments and to question the view that the children ‘don't mean anything by it'. You should be aware of the school's anti-racist or ‘race' equality policy which should set out how to respond appropriately. There are many factors which might determine your response but it is important that you do respond in an overt way. Responses might include involving the senior management team to talk to the perpetrators, contacting parents/carers to discuss the school's concerns, talking to the victims of the name-calling, and ultimately, if the name-calling persisted, seeking advice from the local authority. In the scenario described, it is important for all those concerned that:
- teachers and schools make it very explicit that such behaviour is wrong, and will be taken very seriously;
- children understand why such behaviour is wrong and that they are not just ‘told off' as this runs the risk of silencing the perpetrators without necessarily addressing the root causes of the behaviour;
- the perpetrators are given support in developing both an understanding of the impact of their behaviour, and in developing an active responsibility for their actions.
In the longer term, and particularly when you qualify, it might also be worth thinking about how such incidents can be pre-empted through cross-curricular work when issues relating to ‘race' and diversity are addressed as an integral part of day to day work, and reflected in the wider school ethos. This approach would be desirable regardless of the ethnic make-up of the school where you are working, and is no less important in predominantly white areas.
2. Finding out about rights and responsibilities
The Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000) places three general duties on all schools and other public bodies:
-to eliminate discrimination
-to promote equality of opportunity
-to promote good race relations
All schools are required to:
-actively promote ‘race' equality
- prepare a ‘race' equality policy
-monitor attainment by ethnicity, using new, electronic data systems
-monitor exclusions by ethnicity
-monitor progress and make such information publicly available
Find out more: Race Relations (Amendment) Act
Every Child Matters is concerned with the well-being of children and young people from birth to age nineteen. The issues of racism and bullying are included in three of the five priorities: being healthy, staying safe, and enjoying and achieving
Find out more: Every Child Matters
The Education and Inspections Act (2006) introduced a duty on all maintained schools in England to promote community cohesion and Ofsted to report on the contributions made in this area. The duty on schools came into effect in September 2007 and the duty on Ofsted will commence in September 2008.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families has published Guidance on the Duty to Promote Community Cohesion, (2007) which defines community cohesion as:
'...working towards a society in which there is a common vision and sense of belonging by all communities; a society in which the diversity of people's backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and valued; a society in which similar life opportunities are available to all; and a society in which strong and positive relationships exist and continue to be developed in the workplace, in schools and in the wider community.' (DCSF 2007, page 3).
Find out more: Community Cohesion
Ofsted: Under the new arrangements for OFSTED inspections, schools are required to complete a self-evaluation form (SEF) which forms an integral part of the inspection process. Schools are asked to refer to how they are actively promoting equality and combating racism and bullying.
Find out more: Ofsted
The ways in which a student teacher /trainee is able to challenge and address racist incidents could contribute to evidence to support some/all of the following QTS Standards:
Q1: Have high expectations of children and young people including a commitment to ensuring that they can achieve their full educational potential and to establishing fair, respectful, trusting, supportive and constructive relationships with them.
Q 2: Demonstrate the positive values, attitudes and behaviour they expect from children and young people.
Q 3(a): Be aware of the professional duties of teachers and the statutory framework within which they work.
Q 3(b): Be aware of the policies and practices of the workplace and share in collective responsibility for their implementation
Q 4: Communicate effectively with children, young people, colleagues, parents and carers.
Q 18: Understand how children and young people develop and that the progress and well-being of learners are affected by a range of developmental, social, religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic influences.
Q 19: Know how to make effective personalised provision for those they teach, including those for whom English is an additional language or who have special educational needs or disabilities, and how to take practical account of diversity and promote equality and inclusion in their teaching.
Q 21(a): Be aware of current legal requirements, national policies and guidance on the safeguarding and promotion of the well-being of children and young people.
Q 31: Establish a clear framework for classroom discipline to manage learners' behaviour constructively and promote their self-control and independence.
Find out more:
3. Using relevant Multiverse resources
Link to the Teachernet website which provides practical advice and background information relating to racist bullying.
For advice and guidance on reporting and recording racist incidents, see DfES (2006) Guidance on Reporting and Recording Racist Incidents.
Guidance materials published by Exeter University in relation to responding to racist jokes/comments.
Book review of Lane, J. (2007) Young Children and Racial Justice
Teachers' TV materials on Dealing with Racism: Video clip exploring racial conflict between ethnic groups in inner-city primary and secondary schools and strategies for dealing with conflicts:
ITE Session: From Racism to Respect: interactive sessions based upon successful INSET delivered to staff in a number of Primary schools in Nottingham, to the LEA's EMAG staff and to the Nottingham SCITT and National SCITT. They can be adapted for Secondary contexts and are suitable for use on ITE programmes.
Review of Richardson & Miles (2008) Racist Incidents and Bullying in Schools (Trentham Books) - recently published book providing background information and practical strategies as well as drawing upon and emphasising the views of children and young people.