What's in a name?

12th January 1996 at 00:00
Racism and xenophobia are expressed by young people every day. Reva Klein hears how one LEA is tackling the problem.

How do you deal with a racist incident in school? The question may not be uppermost in your mind as you embark on your teaching career, but the reality in schools in this country, throughout Europe and beyond, is that racism, nationalism and xenophobia are being expressed by young people every day. Educationists burying their heads in the sand and praying they never have to deal with it will not make it go away or help you deal with it when it does arise.

Unfortunately, the importance of anti-racist strategies has been diluted and left very much in the hands of those schools which wish to prioritise it. Now known blandly as equal opportunities, it is a cross-curricular theme which will, come September, not be inspected by the Office for Standards in Education as a discrete area but as an element "permeating" the curriculum. While this can be good for schools and local education authorities determined to grapple with it seriously, it could mean the opposite for those lacking determination who see it as a problem for other schools.

One authority that has decided to work with its schools on anti-racism in a consistent and carefully thought-out way is far from the madding crowds associated with multi-ethnic strife. Hampshire is big, leafy, suburban, white. It also contains inner-city pockets of mixed communities in Southampton and Portsmouth. Throughout the authority, there are an estimated 8,000 pupils from non-white minority ethnic communities, accounting for 4 per cent of the school population. While the numbers are small, there are few schools in Hampshire which do not have a black or Asian pupil.

Despite the relatively small numbers of such pupils, or perhaps because of this, local racists have made their feelings known. A couple of years ago, white youths with baseball bats could be seen outside suburban schools bashing in the windows of buses taking Asian schoolchildren back to the inner city. The National Front also peddled its noxious wares outside school gates. Just before Christmas, a 14-year-old Hampshire boy was prosecuted for distributing material for Combat 18 (a neo-Nazi group) - the first such prosecution of an under-aged youth.

Even though these activities are becoming fewer, there is no room, as Hampshire LEA would be the first to admit, for complacency. Since 1991, the LEA has had guidelines for dealing with racial incidents and for monitoring and disseminating information collected from the 80 per cent of schools which submit information on racial incidents. The LEA also works to "sensitise schools to race issues, including those schools with few if any black children in them", in the words of Ian Massey, county inspector for intercultural education. One useful tool is the termly intercultural newsletter, which goes out free to all schools in the county, giving information on race relations and multicultural education throughout the LEA.

But, on a practical level, how do you raise awareness in a predominately white school? In deepest, whitest Hampshire, Kings Copse Primary is one of nine schools in the cluster of schools known as the Wildern Pyramid to address race and culture issues. Headteacher Kathryn Humphreys sees their concern as a holistic one involving the very fabric of the school and its community. "Dealing with an incident when it happens is one thing - but our aim is to create an environment and broaden children's outlook so these things don't arise in the first place."

Extensive in-service training days, looking at bias and resources, racism in the media, raising European awareness and other related issues have been held by a cross-school working party supported by Mr Massey. Kathryn Humphreys and her team plan so that "in every curricular area, we address the multicultural dimension. In religious education, for instance, we would look at Quakers of all races. We are trying to present the children with lots of possibilities, to open up the boundaries, challenge their thinking, get them to question their attitudes".

This approach is important in a county like Hampshire where, says Mr Massey, "you often have isolated black children in schools. A few years ago we spoke to young black adults who had gone through Hampshire schools in the Seventies. They talked about the discomfort of not being addressed in the curriculum. This has helped sensitise us to how the curriculum is perceived by black pupils".

While at primary level racism is likely to be a chance remark that is often delivered without malice, it can be different in secondary schools. At Cantell School in the suburbs of Southampton, headteacher David Burge runs a school that was predominately white until a merger in 1990 introduced an ethnic minority population, mainly Asian, who now make up about 20 per cent of pupils.

"One of the lessons we have learned," he says, "is that you don't just make a policy statement. You have to apply it to the way you learn, teach, act. The policies we have are part of the value system of the school." The school's intercultural policy is a product of two and a half years of staff Inset.

So how does he handle racist incidents? A couple of years ago, there was a tutor group with a persistent name-calling problem, some of which was racist. Mr Burge decided to take the group for an entire morning without a break, broke them up into groups and focused discussion on name-calling and its effects. "We worked out an understanding that name-calling causes as much hurt to others as it would to the perpetrators," he says. "I don't accept racism as our starting point. It always comes down to the individual rather than a social issue. "

Hampshire is just one of the LEAs looking at how to deal with the problem effectively. As Mr Massey explains, "We can identify how children use racial taunts, we can look at how some children see them as legitimate and how some children use them in hot situations. I say to schools 'you need to think of your response, you'll need to deal with a child who has firm racist beliefs differently from the way you'd deal with a child who has low self-esteem and feels guilty about using these taunts'."



Eighty pupils were consulted in the development of these new guidelines. The following are a selection of summaries of their views on racism: * The need for a child-friendly leaflet on the school policy and how to raise a concern.

* The need to respond quickly to incidents.

* An acknowledgement of the depth of hurt caused by racist name-calling and how this is often the spark for, or the beginning of, something worse.

* The need for the full range of sanctions to be used, as well as counselling or talking it through with the perpetrator.

* The importance of claims not being dismissed and the need for claims to be seen to be investigated thoroughly and fairly, listening to both sides.

* The importance of recording and monitoring all incidents.

* The need to involve pupils in the development and review of policy and procedures.

* The potential for using pupils as counsellors.

* The need to support victims and ensure that they feel safe in school.

* The need to recognise that there is a growing feeling among some minority ethnic pupils that schools on their own cannot prevent racism.


Information collated by Hampshire over the past few years shows that more than 70 per cent of incidents reported relate to name-calling and comments in the course of discussions or to resources used in the classroom.

Name-calling: If the name-caller knows that you have overheard, ask them why they said it and what they meant by it. Ideally, this will lead to a general discussion about labelling and prejudice. If you overhear an incident unbeknown to the children, it can be valuable to remain silent to hear how they handle it.

Later, you will need to challenge the remarks either in a discussion with the children involved or as a topic that can include everyone. It's important to frame the discussion in a way that avoids targeting the children involved.

It is clear that a child who calls another child a racist name does not necessarily hold racist beliefs. It is useful to distinguish between: * Children who hold racist beliefs but don't use racist name-calling for fear of punishment by black children or teachers.

* Children who hold racist beliefs and believe the use of racist taunts is legitimate.

* Children who do not hold racist beliefs but use racist taunts for "self-defence".

* Children who do not hold racist beliefs and who do not use racist taunts except in "hot situations" which they then regret. * Children who do not hold racist beliefs but use racist taunts when they want to appear tough.


* Immediately investigate the complaint to establish the facts.

* Explain to the perpetrator why the action was wrong, with or without disciplinary action in line with the school's behaviour code.

* Parentsguardians should normally be informed and in some cases interviewed. The headteacher or senior staff member should be involved, to mark the incident's seriousness, and should explain that racial harassment is incompatible with school policy.

* If necessary, the perpetrator should be excluded.

* Police should be notified in serious cases. They can give confidential advice on the phone.

* All procedures and strategies must be carried out with the aim of identifying whether an offence has occurred and, if so, of disciplining the perpetrators and supporting the victims.

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