'Don't just say racism is wrong'

8th October 2010 at 01:00
PGCE students advised to look at reasons underlying pupil prejudice

Teachers faced with racist incidents in the classroom or playground must tackle the underlying causes and not just tell pupils their attitudes are wrong, PGCE students have been told.

Around 500 trainee teachers are being advised how to fight racism in a series of events across Wales organised by charity Show Racism the Red Card and teaching union NUT Cymru.

A recent survey of 100 teachers across the country by the charity found that almost 80 per cent of respondents had never received anti-racism training, and more than 90 per cent said they would not feel comfortable broaching subjects such as Islamophobia in the classroom.

In the first session at Trinity St David University in Carmarthen last week, Simon Richards, the charity's community education co-ordinator, said: "The only way to fight prejudice is to face the realities head on. We felt the need to empower teachers to deal with issues that may arise and to give them confidence to talk to young people about racism."

Mr Richards, who previously taught at schools in Swansea and Cardiff, said he was shocked when a pupil talked insultingly about "Pakis" in his class.

"When something like that happens in a classroom all eyes are on you," he said. "I didn't have a clue what to do. You need to have the confidence to deal with it, otherwise the kids will sense it."

Mr Richards said parents are often the cause of racist attitudes among children, and disciplining them will not make the problem go away.

"The temptation is to say `stop', but that will never change them," he said. "No one's born a racist - to become that racist something has to happen. You need to find out the reasons and then you can start dismantling them."

Gareth Morgans, head of school inclusion and governance at Carmarthenshire Council, told the students: "You must listen to all the people involved in the incident, challenge the behaviour that's causing offence, and resolve the issue in such a way that the perpetrator understands what they have done is wrong."

Steve Bowden, head of Porth County Community School in Rhondda Cynon Taff, warned that racism in schools poses a threat to community cohesion and must not be ignored.

"You have got to be able to deal with these controversial issues," he said. "You need to understand what's happening in your classrooms and the communities you serve. If we don't tackle racism, we will begin to see the impact of violent extremist activities."

Mr Bowden, who is currently on secondment to the National Assembly working on the attainment-raising school effectiveness framework, told the trainees they must make their classrooms "safe, open environments" where young people can discuss sensitive issues.

The trainees also heard from former Cardiff City and Wales footballer Christian Roberts, now an education worker with Show Racism the Red Card, who visits schools to talk about racism. They also saw a drama performance from Theatr Fforwm Cymru, in which they were encouraged to point out the mistakes a teacher was making when dealing with racist pupils in the classroom.

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