Black teacher told to set up gospel choir: union hears stories of school bigotry

17th April 2017 at 12:34
Delegates at NUT conference reveal stories of school bigotry, including wheelchair user told "if I was a horse I would have been taken outside and shot"

Teachers have revealed how they have been subject to bigotry in schools, with one black teacher told they should set up a gospel choir, and an Asian teacher repeatedly confused with another member of staff.

A wheelchair user said she was told by colleagues “if I was a horse I would have been taken outside and shot”.

The shocking experiences were recounted by teachers during an equalities section at the NUT’s annual conference in Cardiff.

'I smiled, I didn't say anything'

Sharon John, a black primary school teacher, said: “At an interview, a governor said to me ‘we could really do with a gospel choir’.

“I smiled, I didn’t say anything, but I wracked my brains to think ‘was that part of my PGCSE training?’”, she said.

Ms John also recalled how she was approached by one of her “gorgeous little children”, who said to her “I never knew black people could speak English”.

“I replied to her: ‘well you’ve been in this school since reception and you’ve got black children in your class and you’ve spoken to them, and you’ve been speaking to me since September’.”

The pupil responded: “I know now.”

'Everyone assumed we were the same person'

Niparun Nessa said she faced racism “every year” as a teacher.

“I was in a school where I was the only Asian teacher for a while, and then another Asian member of staff started...everyone assumed we were the same person – both children and staff,” she said.

A colleague even “argued” with her about “seeing me somewhere half an hour ago when I was at home… he wasn’t convinced that wasn’t me”.

Ms Nessa said she “got a bit of a complex” when the other member became pregnant last year.

“Everyone was looking at my stomach, thinking ‘is she showing or not?’”

She also said a colleague had been subject to such sustained homophobic abuse that “he got to a stage where he was locking himself in the classroom with his class to stop the children getting at him”.

Catherine Scarlett, a wheelchair user, said that when she became physically disabled, her senior leadership team “refused adjustments”.

“I was told that if I was a horse I would have been taken outside and shot,” she said. “I was jokingly told to get a catheter when I found out that the disabled toilet was up two flights of stair.”

Ms Scarlett said the treatment eventually resulted in her having a “complete physical and mental breakdown”.

Disablist language was ignored

Colleen Johnson, a teacher with a physical disability affecting her arms, recalled that when she reported a pupil’s abusive language to school management it fell on deaf ears.

“I had a very interesting situation at school with a hard to reach or tricky parent recently, who taught her child disablist language to upset me,” she said.

The girl approached her and said: “My Mum says you’ve got T-Rex arms.”

Ms Johnson reported the incident “only to be told ‘we don’t record such incidents, only racist incidents’.

“I told them, ‘I think you better start recording them’,” Ms Johnson added.

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