`Racism still tends to be a very strong part of school life'
Four out of five adults believe that schools need to spend more time teaching students about the effects and underlying causes of racism, new research has found.
A survey of 900 adults reveals that 83 per cent of respondents feel that not enough is being done in schools to tackle racism and prepare young people for the multicultural modern world. Policymakers tend to focus on improving the academic performance of students from ethnic minorities, ignoring the wider aspects of their schooling, according to Omar Khan, director of race equality charity the Runnymede Trust, which commissioned the poll.
"Schools are sites of interaction between young people and it's where young people form their self-identity, gain selfconfidence and make friends," Dr Khan said. "Personal interactions that people have with teachers and with their peers are real factors that impact on their experiences of education."
He pointed out that black Caribbean students were more than three times as likely to be permanently excluded from school than the rest of the student population. And while Chinese students were the highest-performing ethnic group in terms of academic attainment, Chinese graduates earned less on average than their white peers.
Dr Khan attributed this to the perpetuation of stereotypes about different ethnic groups. "A lot of these things happen in schools, where there's an expectation about what kind of pupil you will be," he said.
Becky Francis, professor of education and social justice at King's College London, has conducted research into the effects of such perceptions, particularly on Chinese students.
"We found that many teachers had particular stereotypes about British-Chinese pupils: that they're diligent, that they're conformist, that they will be very high-achieving," she said. "And they often contrasted their views of those pupils with other pupils, typically white working-class and black students. Teachers tend to hold more negative stereotypes of other racial groups and that can be detrimental."
The Runnymede Trust survey shows that dissatisfaction with the way race is addressed in schools cuts across ethnic backgrounds. Ninety-three per cent of respondents of Indian origin and 91 per cent of those of Pakistani origin said they believed that schools could do more, as did 90 per cent of black Caribbean and black African respondents. Eighty-four per cent of white British adults agreed.
The survey also reveals that 80 per cent of adults - including 76 per cent of white British people - believe that media portrayals of ethnic minorities promote racism.
"Pupil racism is still shockingly prevalent," said Professor Francis. "Racism and racial abuse still tends to be a very strong part of school life, and it's often dealt with as bullying. The general conflation of racial abuse and bullying misses the point about racism and power, and the particular history of particularly racial stereotypes. These need to be addressed at source."
Dr Khan said that current educational efforts to increase racial awareness - such as the annual Black History Month, during which students learn about prominent black figures - were not enough to counter this. The trust wants discussion of migration and multiculturalism to be woven into a range of lessons throughout the school year.
By 2050 as much as a third of the British population will be from an ethnic-minority background, Dr Khan said. India and China will also play an increased global role, requiring students to acquire knowledge of Hindi or Mandarin.
"It's not just inner London any more," he said. "Knowledge of race is important for future citizens of Britain. By not talking more about racism and the reality of our diverse society, our schools are not preparing pupils very well for the future."