Greenwich squares up to white violence;Stephen Lawrence inquiry

26th February 1999 at 00:00
George Gyte spent his first few months as director of education in Greenwich on the borough's streets - by day and night.

As well as meeting community leaders, joining youth groups and sitting in on homework clubs, he walked around the white working-class estates that bred Stephen Lawrence's killers to see first hand the problems he faced.

"I'm aware from the graffiti I saw and the groups hanging around at night that racism is vivid and evident in our borough - as it is in many parts of England and Wales," he said. "But I'm also clear Greenwich is committed to making a difference."

The borough has a long history of anti-racist activity including an annual festival and, for the past five years, an annual lecture in memory of Stephen and two other young race victims, Rolan Adams and Rohit Duggan.

Last autumn it relaunched its anti-racist strategy, this time with clear short and long-term targets, including raising black achievement and cutting black exclusions to the average for all pupils.

It also set a recruitment target for ethnic- minority teachers of 28 per cent - matching the student population. But the council recognises it must also address and challenge the ingrained attitudes of the white racists - and raise their achievement too. It's no coincidence where racism thrives, under-achievement is endemic.

Over the next year, every teacher will see Routes to Racism, an Institute of Education video made in Greenwich. It's uncomfortable viewing - young white racists talking about their views, why they think they themselves are the victims and revealing why violence and hatred are so attractive to them.

Jo Harding, head of Plumstead Manor school, a girls' secondary where more than half the pupils are black and 61 languages are spoken, says it shows how ingrained attitudes are. She has - occasionally - heard the same racist views from parents, usually as complaints their children aren't being treated fairly. "We treat them the same as we treat pupils and tell them it is not acceptable," she says.

If Greenwich falls down, at least one group will be quick to take it to task - its pupils. Greenwich Young People's Council and its black 16-year-old chair Claire Davis have already challenged Mr Gyte over ethnic-minority exclusions.

Claire said: "Ever since the Lawrence inquiry, people have been seen to be doing more about racism. But I don't think all the necessary steps have been taken. Most of the time it has been tokenistic."

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