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Head uses mentors to fight racism

A two-pronged attack at a Bury school appears to have nipped prejudice in the bud, reports Esther Leach

THE head of a Bury primary used young mentors to tackle racist behaviour which threatened to spread among his pupils.

Leroy Taylor was alarmed when he heard children in his school using racist words and phrases. "They were mimicking older children," said the 41-year-old head of St Thomas Church of England school in Bury, Greater Manchester.

"I thought I had to nip this in the bud before it became anything more than just mimicking because racism was evident in the area," he told a conference in Leeds.

"I contacted other neighbouring schools and we formed an anti-racism liaison group to discuss what we could do about the situation. "The techniques we used were not new but we used them to get different things. We used circle time when children talked to each other about the way they felt about racism. They would sit and speak about their experiences, their concerns . "It was very effective, they handled some very sensitive issues about race, name-calling and things they heard about in the community. It was a very powerful means of learning about different ethnic cultures and the issues surrounding racism.

"We began a mentoing programme. We decided to use older children and siblings to talk about this issue with younger children. Children from Year 10 would lead discussions with Year 5 pupils. The older ones would take turns to make a presentation and they would sit in groups and discuss any questions the younger ones raised.

"We used assemblies to overtly talk about racism. A group of pupils planned an assembly based on racism.

"We used monitoring of any racist comments or behaviour. If there was an incident I would see both sets of parents, parents of the victim and the perpetrator. It's very important to the victim, that they can see there is support for them.

"It's important too that the perpetrator knows he or she had caused hurt and offence. This was as much for the sake of the perpetrator as the victim because it's a learning process as well.

"Today the school is calm and settled. The liaison group was set up two and a half years ago and there has not been a significant incident in that time."

Mr Taylor told the conference, held last week by Leeds Education Services, that schools should work together to challenge racism and create a safe environment to raise the aspirations and achievement levels of children in their care.

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