Exclusive: 'Teachers’ racist attitudes stuck in 1980s'

Research shows racism in schools is rising, but academic says teachers are ill-prepared and even tell pupils to ignore it

teacher racism

Racist attitudes among teachers have not changed for decades, an academic is warning.  

Professor of race and education Vini Lander from Leeds Beckett University claims teachers are not being prepared well enough to deal with a rise in racist incidents and hate crime in schools since the EU referendum.

She is calling for an improvement of “racial literacy” as part of initial teacher training and CPD. 


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Professor Lander's research at four secondary schools and in two community groups in the Manchester-Liverpool area found that incidents of racism were rising. And yet, in some cases, pupils who complained they were targets of racism were simply told to "ignore it".

“There’s a rise of racist incidents in schools and we’re not preparing teachers very well to deal with these issues," Professor Lander told Tes.

“Through ITT and CPD we need to improve teachers’ racial literacy so that all pupils, not just BAME [black, Asian and/or minority-ethnic BAME], have the confidence that they will be listened to by teachers and that they [teachers] will do something about it.”

The latest Department for Education statistics show that 33.1 per cent of primary pupils are now identified as BAME, compared with 21 per cent in 2006, while in secondary schools the proportion has risen from 17 to 30.3 per cent in that time. Yet only about 7 per cent of teachers are BAME.

Professor Lander said that recruiting more BAME teachers “would help" but added that there was a need for more teacher education.

She said boys of Romany descent and from black African and Caribbean backgrounds were more likely to be excluded than their white counterparts.

But teachers often had positive stereotypes of pupils from Chinese and Indian backgrounds, who were seen as being good at science and maths.

Professor Lander said such embedded stereotypes were a “form a racism” that has existed for decades, adding: “I was a teacher in the 1980s and I’m talking about the same things now that we talked about then.

“We need to really work with teachers to disrupt these stereotypes and encourage them to think, say, that black pupils can be doctors and scientists, and to think more broadly that all pupils can succeed in all parts of life.”

Research by Strathclyde, Durham and Plymouth universities surveyed more than 1,100 eastern Europeans aged 12-18 across the UK, and found that since the EU referendum, three-quarters had experienced discrimination as a result of their nationality, accent or appearance.

Professor Lander, who is currently finishing a two-year research project in partnership with Edge Hill University, also echoed calls for a “de-colonisation” of the curriculum to reflect wider cultures, and said it was up to headteachers, school leaders and governors to show commitment to this.

She added: “I know there’s been a bit of an uproar about this. People think it’s about expunging Shakespeare and that sort of thing.

"But it’s about enriching what is already there with perspectives from other cultures,  so children feel it's inclusive for their backgrounds – for example, so that the history of black people doesn’t start with slavery.”

Rosamund McNeil, assistant general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said she “fully agreed” that teachers weren’t given enough preparation about racism during teacher training.

She said: “Every BAME student faces a range of different barriers during their time at school because the stereotypes about race are hugely normalised and largely unconscious.

“Racism causes differences in how students are treated and needs to be very openly discussed, with opportunities for BAME students to talk about what they face, how they feel and the emotional toll of having to work hard to ‘belong’. 

“Tackling the under-representation of black teachers is one very important step in ensuring a diverse workforce with the multiple benefits that diversity brings.” 

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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