Schools are institutionally racist. True or false?

6th April 2012 at 01:00
NUT members to discuss impact of abuse experienced by teachers

Schools are institutionally racist and black and ethnic minority teachers are "disproportionately" subject to disciplinary action, campaigners argue. The truth of this will be discussed by delegates at the NUT conference, which starts today.

Delegates will be told how heads and governors discriminate against members of the profession because of their race. Campaigners - who claim to have collected "anecdotal evidence" - say that teachers with African and Asian heritage are more likely to be accused of wrongdoing and poor performance.

A motion, to be debated on Monday, calls upon the NUT's executive to carry out a survey to investigate how widespread racial abuse is, and the links between this and teacher underperformance.

Members of the union's Black Teachers' Conference (BTC) will also say that they are concerned about the racist abuse teachers are facing from a "minority of students" in schools. They will argue that the psychological impact is affecting the classroom practice of these teachers and in some cases leading to capability proceedings.

The BTC believes that "specific monitoring data and statistical reports on matters of race equality are not widely available and, therefore, the true extent of race equality issues is not clearly reported".

Roger King, the NUT's general secretary in Birmingham, claimed that, in his experience, black teachers were the "first to be picked" in cases of redundancy.

"They are also disproportionately subject to disciplinary cases. This needs to be recorded," said Mr King, a primary school teacher. "We have anecdotal evidence that black teachers feel this is happening, it's their experience. It makes them leave the profession, leads to them becoming demoralised and feeling stressed and depressed."

Mr King said that the problem could partly be explained by a lack of cultural awareness. "Black members often tell me that, when they speak, they are accused of being aggressive, when their white colleagues would be labelled as assertive if they did the same thing," he said.

He added that members of the BTC want the union to come up with ideas of how to support members suffering abuse, and to produce material that can be used to educate perpetrators and help them to change their behaviour.

The BTC is not alone in its concern about race issues in schools. Sarah Soyei, a regional manager for the charity Show Racism the Red Card, said that "institutional racism" could be a cause of discrimination.

"There is still a perception among the higher echelons in education that black and ethnic minority teachers are less capable," she said. "This isn't just bureaucracy, it's a live issue, and it's important we prevent discriminatory practices from occurring."

But Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said that schools were the "one part of the country where racism has the weakest toehold".

"School leaders and teachers believe in equality of opportunity," he said. "If the data, when collected, shows that this is happening then headteachers will have to have a long, hard look at themselves.

"Racism is serious and unacceptable, but we need to look at hard evidence."


Last year, research by charity Show Racism the Red Card found that racism was still a "very real issue" in English schools. It discovered that pupils had "strong racist attitudes" and even teachers used inappropriate terminology and jokes.

Of the teachers questioned by the charity, 83 per cent said they had witnessed offensive behaviour among children, including name-calling, racist comments, jokes, stereotyping and "a tendency to use asylum seekers as scapegoats for a wide range of problems in society".

The study found that many teachers did not know how to deal with racist incidents and would not want to get involved if they were "unintentional".

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