You're a teacher in my school. We're chatting and you say, "Amman and Zola weren't working well today. I had to tell them off." I say, "Mmm, they're both black, aren't they? Did you tell off two white children as well, to redress the balance?"
I hope you'd find this unacceptable, and yet a while ago the Metropolitan Police was found to be in breach of a Commission for Racial Equality standard for failing more black applicants than white. From his lofty, highly paid position, the head of the CRE often tells us that schools are institutionally racist, an allegation I strongly resent, since he hasn'tvisited my school to test his theory. But that doesn't mean we can afford to be complacent, as last Tuesday proved.
At playtime, Tunde, a new and immature reception boy, asked Oliver to play with him. Oliver said that he only liked bright colours and, as Tunde was a dark colour, he couldn't play with him. Tunde reported this to his mother after school, and she asked the teacher what was going to be done, because this was racism. The teacher, a talented and patient youngster in her second year, agreed that the comment was worrying, and she'd talk to Oliver's parents about it. However, she added, Oliver is only five, and he'd been enthusing about colours because the class had been doing a topic on it, and that could possibly explain it. Oliver's parents agreed to sit him down and talk the incident through.
The next day Tunde, as usual, wouldn't line up when the whistle went. Since he'd been cautioned innumerable times, his teacher thought a word from me might help, so he was brought upstairs. His behaviour was better during the afternoon playtime.
Then, after school, Tunde's mother found me in the school hall and demanded a meeting. Tunde was in tow, and he careered around the hall whooping loudly as I tried to speak. Tunde's mother was clearly fired up and accused me of condoning racism from my staff. What's more, why had her son been sent up to me the day after the teacher had been racist? It was discrimination, and victimisation as well, she said. The conversation suddenly became very intense and I spoke carefully.
"So what are you going to do about that teacher being racist?"
"She wasn't being racist. She was just offering a possible reason why Oliver might have said what he did."
"I don't accept that. And why were you victimising him for not lining up in the playground?"
"I wasn't. He can't run around when the rest of his class are lining up. He was simply being naughty."
"No, he wasn't. He's hyperactive. You're discriminating against him for being hyperactive. The clinic said so. It's in his special needs report."
"Really? I didn't notice when I read it."
"You haven't read it properly then. Don't you read the reports of children in your own school?"
I hurried to my room, and pulled out his file. She hunted desperately through it. No hyperactivity. But she was quite determined. "The clinic sent another report. You must have lost it. I'm going to make a complaint."
I sighed inwardly, and handed her a form. She won't complain, of course. Tunde's teacher is excellent, he's making real progress, and she knows it. But as I consoled a very upset teacher, I knew who should really be making the complaint.
Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.