Learning to live with a duty to race equality

The requirements of the new legislation may sound onerous but help is there for schools, says Rowena Arshad

NOVEMBER 30 - does this date mean anything to you? It should - and not just because it's St Andrew's Day. On that date, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, which gives public authorities a statutory duty to promote race equality, comes into force.

The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has been consulting on a code of practice for education authorities and schools in Scotland. The code will give practical advice on how to meet the general and specific duties of the Act. A draft copy is currently on the CRE website (www.cre.gov.uk) and senior managers of schools are well advised to begin familiarising themselves with it.

It remains to be seen whether schools will see this as "yet another piece of work" or as an opportunity to take a fresh look at equality issues. There is no escaping the key requirements of the Act. An authority or school cannot cite lack of resources, time or staff expertise as reasons for not complying. This Act is not about schools with some or high levels of minority ethnic pupils: it is for all schools, regardless of the composition of the roll.

The Act is not just about eliminating unlawful racial discrimination. For example, if schools take racial bullying and harassment seriously and ensure excellent reporting mechanisms, but do nothing to promote good relations between people from different racial groups, then they may be deemed to have only partly fulfilled the legislative requirements. Similarly, if a school is sensitive to racial, linguistic and faith diversity but does not examine institutional practice in areas like recruitment and selection and staff development, it will only have partly met its statutory obligations.

The general duty aims to ensure race equality is a central approach in the way nurseries and schools work by putting it at the centre of policy-making, learning and teaching, quality assurance and employment practice. Specific duties include the preparation and maintenance of a race equality policy, assessing policies to ensure that race equality issues are mainstreamed, monitoring policies and publishing the results.

The responsibility for ensuring compliance will rest with local authorities in Scotland (governors in England and Wales). But authorities should now be considering, as an element in their improvement plan, how to ensure that school boards and all educational services they fund are aware of the implications of the Act for their schools.

Each education authority must, by November 30, prepare and maintain a written statement of its policy as well as outline arrangements for meeting its duties as soon as reasonably possible. The policy prepared by the authority will apply to each school under its manager who will then have the responsibility for putting it into practice.

Some authorities will write a generic policy, while others may choose to require each school to produce its own policy. It will be up to the authority to make sure that educational establishments assess and monitor the impact of policies on pupils, staff and parents from different racial groups, but it will be the responsibility of each school to ensure it puts policies into practice and to deal with issues that arise in the school and in the community. Schools should link the race equality policy to their normal development planning.

If this all sounds onerous, it need not be. The answer is to utilise mechanisms that already exist. Quality assurance procedures in schools, based on quality indicators within How Good is Our School? and its companion document A Route to Equality and Fairness, provide advice. Nursery schools and classes have similar indicators in the document The Child at the Centre.

The Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland (CERES) can provide practical assistance in two ways. First, in October and November this year, there will be four information seminars on the Act funded by the Scottish Executive Education Department to assist school and education authority managers.Second, a development officer will be in post from this month.

An education task group has also been convened, drawn from HMI, the CRE, local authorities, the education directorate and the teachers' associations to advise on the implementation of the Act.

Rowena Arshad is director of the Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland. The CERES website is at www.mhie.ac.ukceres.

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