Creating anti-racist school communities

Written by: Angelina Idun | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

In light of the shocking experience of child Q, Angelina Idun considers the responsibility schools have for tackling discrimination and reflects on how listening to our young people can help us move our race equality work forward

The story of child Q that hit the news recently will have alarmed and outraged us all. On so many levels. Our hearts go out to the child involved and to her family.

Child Q is a black pupil who was strip-searched at her school in east London after being wrongly suspected of carrying drugs. The idea that a council report (CHSCP, 2022) cited racism as a likely factor in child Q’s treatment is immensely concerning and upsetting.

The government’s 2021 Sewell Report denied the existence of institutional racism (Runnymede Trust, 2021). The terrible incident that this young person has had to endure, is another reminder that institutional racism does exist.

It is also a reminder that we cannot be complacent about the responsibility we have as leaders, teachers and other staff in our school communities, for keeping the spotlight on and driving forward our race equality work.

Child Q has said that she needs to know that what has happened to her cannot happen to any child again. We must listen to our children.

In recent weeks I have been privileged to hear young people in schools opening up about their experiences of racism and discrimination. It is 2022. It is heartbreaking to hear some of the racist language and slurs that some students tolerate to the point where they start to see it as “normal”.

In conversations about race and diversity, students say they want their peers and the adults around them to really see them, and show them that whatever their heritage they are valued and celebrated.

Taking the time to learn to say and spell names right, or to recognise that black, Asian and minority ethnic children originate from so many places and not just the big countries or continents that we are familiar with, matters to our children. Challenging assumptions and misconceptions about young people from different cultural backgrounds matters to our children.

It is heart-warming to hear how ready our children and young people are to instigate, support and lead the lasting change they know needs to happen. They are eager to have a voice and we must listen to our children.

There are many examples of how schools in the SSAT network are addressing discrimination. Listening to and drawing on the voice of children and young people to create understanding, awareness and action is an important feature of this work. Here is one example:

Students from Eltham Hill Girls’ School in Greenwich, supported by the school’s safeguarding, wellbeing and student leadership lead Ayesha Lahai-Taylor, have been sharing their powerful video to help others learn about and challenge anti-Asian hate crime.

A group of year 11 students from the school wanted to take action after they started to notice an increase in anti-Asian hate and discrimination within the school and wider community as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

These students, who are Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and from the Philippines, and their families have all been subjected to racist comments and behaviours. As has been widely reported, levels of Asian hate crime have continued to rise in countries across the world since the emergence of Covid-19.

The students leading on this project aimed to produce a video with full intentions of educating and addressing any assumptions people may have about the different communities that they come from.

They were keen to create awareness on what the South-East Asian community have witnessed and encounter on a daily basis. Students also wanted to give others a better understanding of what cultural appropriation is, and what effect it has.

Although the issue of anti-Asian hate crime is not the focus of significant media interest right now, it is still important that it is brought to the attention of as many different audiences as possible.

The video (see further information) has been shared with all the school’s staff as part of an INSET day focused on race equality as well as with key stage 4 and 5 students during assemblies.

Although viewers at the school found the prevalence of this issue saddening, the video has encouraged students and staff to open up about their own experiences and inspired them to continue to support and be good allies for one another.

Please take time to watch the video and discuss with colleagues and students (note that at the beginning of the video there are scenes of assaults and injuries. Please ensure the appropriate staff members are available to support students after screening).

Headteacher Erika Podmore and colleagues from Eltham Hill School will be speaking at the SSAT Summer Series online event, Creating Anti-Racist School Communities, on April 28, 2022.

Also there will be keynote speaker Professor David Olusoga, sharing his personal story and helping us to reflect on why black history must be part of the curriculum.

The following questions – which will form the core of our event – will help schools to take action to create anti-racist school communities. They are questions which every school should be asking themselves.

  • How is your school successfully shaping your curriculum to more strongly and positively reflect diversity, equality and inclusion?
  • How are the children in your school being encouraged to learn about, talk about and better understand race and different cultures?
  • What are you doing that enables members of your school community to challenge and call out racism?

  • Angelina Idun is director at the SSAT – the schools, students and teachers network. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on the SSAT website.

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