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One in 10 trainees has racist attitudes

A survey of 400 PGCE students shows that many of them feel political correctness has gone too far. Nicolas Barnard reports

UP TO ONE in 10 trainee teachers holds racist views and others believe political correctness has gone too far, a study of the attitudes of students has found.

Students on post-graduate certificate of education courses believed they were more tolerant than previous generations. However, between 5 and 10 per cent were "negative or hostile" towards ethnic minorities and others complained of ideas such as anti-racism and anti-sexism being "shoved down their throats".

Cynicism about politics was widespread - particularly among students who had gone into training straight after graduation.

The findings will make worrying reading for ministers as they draw up plans to introduce citizenship to the curriculum.

Chris Wilkins of Reading University, who carried out the study, warned that unless PGCE courses helped students understand concepts like social justice, attempts to introduce citizenship would fail to make an impact.

More than 400 students filled in a questionnaire on their political and social attitudes as they started their PGCE course. Two dozen were then interviewed in detail at Christmas and at the end of the course. Respondents were broadly representative of trainee teachers - 70 per cent female and 90 per cent white British.

Students holding racist views were in the main aged between 21 and 23 with strong religious and often evangelical Christian background, according to the research. They used familiar racist rhetoric: black people were largely responsible for crime, took white people's jobs and failed to integrate.

One said: "The Government is racist towards white people ... some coloured people tend to get a chip on their shoulder about racism and all this political correctness makes them worse."

The "political correctness backlash" demonstrated by a majority of students suggested to the author they did not fully understand the processes that led to racism.

A quarter believed tension was inevitable when different races lived together. A fifth thought black people did not do enough to embrace British culture. And more than a third believed positive discrimination had gone too far.

Student cynicism and political disengagement were also cited as as potential barriers to promoting citizenship education in schools.

Younger students felt powerless to affect change. Those aged over 26 were equally contemptuous of mainstream politics, but more likely to be politically active - especially over single issue such as animal rights or anti-racism. One in 10 admitted they had broken the law in a political protest.

Students wanted to foster good values, but found citizenship a negative concept; the "good citizen" was seen as a middle-class neighbourhood-watch organiser from Tunbridge Wells.

Even those who were positive about citizenship at the start of the course were more cautious after seeing the difficulties of incorporating it into the curriculum.

"The teacher education experience did not appear to have given students a clear picture of what to teach or how to teach it," Ms Wilkins concluded.

Racism in FE, 30

Making "Good Citizens": the social and political attitudes of PGCE students. Carfax Publishing. Tel: 01256 330245.

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