Alienated by a lack of sensitivity;Letter

12th March 1999 at 00:00
I come from North Africa and have now lived in this country for 27 years. Although I look foreign it is difficult for people to guess my country of origin.

In 1978 I left a well-paid city job because I could not put up with the racist attitude of some of the staff. I joined the teaching profession and it was like a breath of fresh air where people were friendly and open-minded.

I have worked in different types of comprehensives, a further education college and a public school and I have always found my colleagues' attitude to be positive, open and extremely supportive.

However, as well as being a teacher, I am also a mother and I can clearly see where schools can be accused of institutionalised racism because they do not always show enough sensitivity to the cultures of their pupils.

I can quote two examples from my children's experiences. My daughter was at infant school when the first war with Iraq took place. Her headteacher chose the war as the theme of her assembly. As a result my daughter was bullied for a year by a pupil whose uncle was fighting in the war.

The second example shows a lack of understanding of children's vulnerability when they are unwittingly made to feel different. My other daughter attends a selective secondary school. At the end of the Christmas term the school takes all its pupils to a local church. My daughter found this very alienating. The headteacher authorised my daughter's absence and so she, together with several other highly intelligent girls, has to miss the last day of term. She feels deeply hurt by this exclusion.

A simple solution would be to conduct this service in the evening where attendance is optional, but this suggestion was rejected because the school does not consider it to be an issue.

The conclusion we have to draw is not whether schools are institutionally racist (and I strongly believe that they are not) but whether they should respond more sensitively to the needs of our multi-cultural society.

Naima Wolf

25 The Ridge

Orpington, Kent

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