What the teachers say;Racism in schools

5th March 1999 at 00:00
NEIL Thornley, head of Freans high school, Bacup, with 940 pupils, predominantly white: "We do have an endemic problem of institutional racism in this country and it would be stupid for schools not to recognise this.

"It is more the norm than the exception for people to just about tolerate people with different-coloured skins. We have to deal with prejudice, for example boys' attitudes to girls, as well as racial prejudice. And there is tribalism, with gangs of boys based on race.

"Our pupils are receptive. They saw the Lawrence case as a disgraceful miscarriage of justice, but in the next breath will make a racist remark.

"When we read To Kill A Mockingbird we have to drum into them what the themes are. We deal with race issues as they arise throughout the curriculum as well as formally in PSE. They know they will be in trouble of they make a prejudiced remark.

"I have told pupils not to speak Urdu in the school - I would say the same if they were Welsh - because I don't want them to make themselves separate."

Richard Fawcett, head of Thurston upper school, with 1,280 pupils from a predominently white rural population: "I don't believe that the education system is institutionally racist. We all work hard to make sure it isn't.

"We teach our pupils that racial intolerance is wrong, and the local authority has a clear policy of promoting multi-culturalism. We ensure our pupils can handle racial intolerance and be prepared for a life in a more varied multi-cultural area. But there is no room for complacency."

Howard Horsley, of Havelock school, with 600 pupils in Grimsby: "When I first came here in 1985 the issue of racism had been ignored and there was evidence of racist groups in the area. This is no longer the case.

"I have always taken racism very seriously, but there is a danger if it is elevated above other sorts of prejudice. In my school there is great rivalry between those from Lincolnshire against the "Yorkies" across the border. It is about breeding a climate in schools where people are tolerant of those who are different and have respect for the individual. The problem is that the national curriculum is an academic curriculum and subjects such as drama, which can deal with emotional development and use role play to investigate sensitive issues, can be pushed out."

Joan Senior, head of Brentford girls school, multi-ethnic, 750 pupils, inner-city London: "We have worked hard to allow the girls to be comfortable about expressing their different cultures, and the school is richer for it. But it has taken a lot of work and commitment. The staff have had training - for example learning about African-Caribbean behaviour to prevent interpreting it the wrong way.

"About 13 years ago when I first encountered anti-racism training it was about confronting your own racism - many people felt threatened by this. "But today's young teachers would be shocked at the idea of not valuing different cultures."

Frances Rafferty

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