Race riots prompt lessons in respect

Julie Henry

A curriculum overhaul is urged to meet demands for cultural diversity in teaching, Julie Henry reports

RACISM will be tackled in every school subject from next term in the aftermath of summer race riots in northern towns and cities.

The curriculum watchdog is producing teacher materials under the banner of Respect for All.

The web-based project is a response to the Macpherson report which recommended that the national curriculum be amended to value cultural diversity, prevent racism and "reflect the needs of a diverse society". Other recommendations included schools recording racist incidents and developing anti-racist policies.

Respect for All will be launched in the autumn as schools take centre-stage in the post-mortem of the clashes between communities and police that have left streets burning in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham. A report, commissioned by Bradford Council and written by the former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality Lord Ouseley, found predominantly white or Asian schools operating in "virtual apartheid". It claimed that schools were effectively segregated, with little mixing between ethnic groups and open racial conflict.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority resources are aimed at all subject teachers and will feature schools and local authorities who have successful multicultural education.

Work by councils such as Tower Hamlets and Derby, and individual schools, including Education Secretary Estelle Morris's old school Whalley Range high in Manchester, have been praised by Office for Standards in Education inspectors.

Teachers will have access to examples of how racist attitudes can be challenged, whether students are studying PE, maths or geography. In art, students can study how different cultures responded to visual stimuli. Schools are expected to provide alternatives to PE lessons for pupils who are fasting because of their religion.

Some commentators, however, claim the actual content of the national curriculum fails to value diversity and needs a complete overhaul.

John Siblon, history teacher at Parliament Hill school, London, said: "The Macpherson report should have been an opportunity to evaluate the workings of the curriculum. For example, curriculum guidance in history might contain advice to promote cultural diversity but key stage 4 history reinforces the notion that black people arrived here only after the Second World War."

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, research fellow with the Institute for Public Policy Research and author of Who do we think we are? Imagining the New Britain, said projects such as Respect for All were well-intentioned but lukewarm.

"We need a massive concerted effort from politicians down to re-describe ourselves. We are not just talking about black culture, we also have Europe and asylum-seekers in the mix now. We need a much more holistic approach that looks at the content of the curriculum, as well as how it is taught, rather than tinkering around the edges."

A spokesman for the QCA said the national curriculum provided opportunities to promote diversity which schools could adapt to local priorities.


AT Overton Grange school, in Sutton, maths lessons have an international flavour.

What could be classed as a culture-free subject by many has been transformed by teacher Simon Crivich, who drew on his experiences of teaching and travelling in Asia.

He has put together a worldwide pack of maths activities with their roots in five non-European cultures - African, Chinese, Egyptian, Indian and Islamic, and five European cultures - British, French, Greek, Italian and Swiss.

A board game from Nigeria, for example, involves numbered counters and encourages logical thinking.

"All the activities are fairly well-known," said Mr Crivich. "But I wanted to make the history or multicultural background of the maths implicit."

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