Tackle racism head-on

26th January 2007 at 00:00
Don't let discrimination simmer beneath the surface, Government adviser tells teachers

Teachers, even those with predominantly white pupils, should be on the front line of confronting racism, a Government adviser said this week.

Sir Keith Ajegbo, a former headteacher, was commissioned to look at how British values could be underpinned in the citizenship curriculum, following the London bombings of July 7, 2005.

In an interview with The TES, Sir Keith said racism should not be allowed to "simmer beneath the surface" and that teachers needed support in tackling the issue.

His report recommends that all schools teach discrete citizenship lessons to encourage critical thinking on religion and race.

Sir Keith, who has an English mother, a Nigerian father, and who led a multi-cultural secondary school, wants more ethnic minority teachers to have senior posts in largely white schools. He believes that racist attitudes put them off applying.

The Ajegbo review recommends more teacher training in diversity. "Teachers should feel really, really comfortable in dealing with controversial issues," Sir Keith said. "The kids we spoke to want to deal with these issues. If they felt another kid was racist, they would much rather be able to debate that than for it to simmer beneath the surface."

Sir Keith said schools serving different communities should be encouraged to build links with others. He also emphasised that the identity and culture of white working-class pupils should not be neglected. Some white pupils in multi-cultural areas had said: "We would rather not be white. We would rather be something more exciting."

His report, supported by Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, was published yesterday, during a week dominated by national debate about racism, following comments made on Big Brother, the reality TV show.

Mr Johnson used the row to highlight Sir Keith's report, saying: "We want the world to be talking about the respect and understanding we give all cultures, not the ignorance and bigotry shown on our TV screens. Schools should be a force for good in tackling racism by creating understanding and debating what it means to be British."

It was Mr Johnson's intervention that will result in a new 11 to 14 history curriculum with compulsory lessons on the slave trade.

This week, two 14-year-old boys were arrested for posting footage on the internet of an Asian teacher being racially abused at Knowsley Hey school in Huyton, Merseyside - formerly attended by murdered black teenager Anthony Walker.

A Department for Education and Skills report, due to be published soon, found that there was "largely unwitting, but systematic racial discrimination" in schools.

The Ajegbo report, page 8

Are schools institutionally racist? page 20

Comment, page 26

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