Teachers not racist, but the system is...;Racism in schools;Interview;Bishop John Sentamu

5th March 1999 at 00:00
In an exclusive interview, Nicholas Pyke talks to Bishop John Sentamu, who advised Sir William Macpherson on the education recommendations in the Lawrence report.

Racist violence is endemic yet teachers kick it under the carpet. Black pupils fail to learn. They may be thrown out of school before they get a chance. Education, in short, is infected with the disease of institutional racism.

Schools get only 25 sentences in the Sir William Macpherson's report on the death of Stephen Lawrence. But they cover a deal of ground.

Not everyone recognises this bleak picture. The teaching unions have struck a note of caution. While even the most positive, the National Union of Teachers, said it was "uncomfortable" with the accusation of institutional racism.

But others have given Macpherson's conclusions their powerful backing, in particular the community groups, activists and local government officials who spoke to the inquiry team as it toured the country to investigate the wider costs of racism.

The report's recommendations are very much a record of their concerns, as Dr John Sentamu, Bishop of Stepney and one of the three advisers to Sir William, told The TES this week. Chair of the Church of England's committee for minority ethnic Anglican concerns, and a long-standing school governor, the Bishop had a particular say in the report's treatment of education and racism.

Schools, he told The TES this week, should be a bulwark against violent racists like the Acourts, two of the five accused of killing Stephen. But they are falling down on the job. Meanwhile he believes that exclusions, are a cause of anger comparable with the police use of stop-and-search powers against black citzens.

Education emerged as a key issue in places like Bristol, Birmingham and Bradford. First, there were complaints of naked racism expressed in verbal or physical violence.

"This is starting from the age of 10. There's a lot of similar behaviour in other schools around the country yet nobody seems able to record it or deal with it because schools are worried that the publicity will damage their reputations," says Dr Sentamu.

There is also a more insidious racism. Black children are failing to achieve while there is a gathering anger at the extent to which Caribbean boys are expelled from school.

"Education is still very much Anglo-Saxon in its approach," says the bishop. "People wherever we went, including education officials, said we need to do more to reflect the changing face of Britain. How is history being taught, for example? Does it address the needs of a modern national identity? How comfortable are schools with teaching about slavery rather than the Wars of the Roses?

"These failure are not because teachers are racist. They are because the education system has not sufficiently recognised that it's dealing with a multi-ethnic, multicultural society.

"We didn't want to put a great burden on schools but to highlight our concerns. We do not want to turn into Mr Orwell's 1984. But if the national curriculum was amended positively and the supporting role of the LEA was strengthened, I believe it's possible that even the Acourts, at the time when they were 10, 11 or 12, might have improved their views. If the education system says 'we can never do it', then we're in difficulty."

Platform, 15


* In 1996, fewer black and Asian young people got at least five C-grade GCSEs than white young people.

* Of whites, 46 per cent got these grades compared to only 23 per cent of blacks.

* Overall, Asian children did not do as well as their white classmates. But there were important variations among Asian groups.

* Only 23 per cent of Pakistani Bangladeshi young people got five A*-Cs, but 48 per cent of Indians and 61 per cent of other Asians, including Chinese, got these grades.

* Twenty-three per cent of children from ethnic minorities left school with no qualifications compared to 19 per cent of whites.

* Black African and Indian men were particularly well qualified, as were Chinese women. Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black Caribbean men were least likely to have qualifications.

* Black children were around four times as likely to be excluded as white children.

* Black Caribbean and other black children were the most likely to be excluded (0.76 and 0.70 per cent respectively). The exclusion rate for whites was 0.18 per cent, compared to a national rate of 0.19 per cent.

* Ethnic minorities as a whole were well-represented in higher education, but some groups were under-represented.

lIn 199697, 12 per cent of all higher education students were from ethnic minorities, although they make up only 6 per cent of the population.

* Black students under 24, particularly men, were scarce in higher education, as were Bangladeshi women and Indians over the age of 24.

The figures published by the Government, are from the 1996 youth cohort study. The next youth cohort report is due to be published on March 25.

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