Racist ‘backlash’ hits the classroom after leave vote

1st July 2016 at 00:00
Teachers report incidents of intolerance among pupils and children asking ‘Will I have to go?’

Teachers are dealing with an increasing number of racist incidents in schools following the EU referendum, it emerged this week.

The Association for Citizenship Teaching (Act) has written to education secretary Nicky Morgan to highlight the issue after teachers reported pupils expressing racist and xenophobic views in the wake of the Brexit vote.

The association, which is producing its own guidance to help schools (see box, below), called on the Department for Education to address the situation and recognise the role that good citizenship teaching had to play.

The comments from Act came as newspapers reported that notices saying “No more Polish vermin” were being distributed near a primary in Huntingdon. A Twitter user also said his daughter had found graffiti in her school toilets calling for a pupil to go back to Romania.

Chris Waller, Act professional officer, said the focus on immigration during the referendum campaign had left teachers dealing with a “backlash” in schools.

“The Vote Leave campaign predicated a lot of publicity around immigration and led last Friday morning to us getting phone calls and emails saying ‘Help, what do we do about this?’ from experienced teachers,” he added.

A number of teachers reported that students from Eastern European or ethnic minority backgrounds were asking “Is it true that we are all going to have to leave now?”

Mr Waller said: “Other children – predominantly white – were coming to teachers and saying, ‘Leave has won so we can get rid of all these mosques now and close them down.’ ”

There were also some reports of parents ringing up to say that they were concerned about their children in school after the result of the vote, he added.

Lee Jerome, an associate professor in education at Middlesex University who is visiting schools working on the Prevent strategy said: “In Portsmouth, the backlash of the Brexit vote resulted in some Muslim children coming in in tears thinking the mosque was being closed down and some of the white, working-class kids shouting at them.”


How to address Brexit with your pupils

Don’t try to teach about the referendum immediately – explore the emerging picture before choosing resources and approaches.

It’s important that this is not framed as “them versus us”. Decisions may be seen as unpopular, but that is the way democracy works.

Use a distancing technique. For example, if the school held a referendum on whether to have a school uniform and the result was very close, what agreements and compromises would need to be reached?

Ask what pupils have heard about the referendum: the facts and the myths.

Go back to the core curriculum principles of teaching about politics and democracy, and apply pedagogies consistent with teaching topical, controversial and sensitive issues.

Talk about how Britain – both inside the EU and in future – can help to deal with problems that affect many countries such as migration, terrorism and extremism.

Schools should ensure that their policies in respect of racism and xenophobia are robust.

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