How schools deal with racism

The Sydney Morning Herald, Good Weekend © BBC MMVI

JUSTIN PARKINSON, BBC News education reporter
April 7, 2006

Name-calling has always been a part of school life. Children pick up on differences of size, looks and, sometimes, race.

A judge has been plastered across the press for his comments about a case involving a 10-year-old boy from Salford, Greater Manchester, who has admitting calling an Asian schoolmate a “Paki” but denied using other racist terms.

It is understood that teachers spoke to both pupils and believed the matter had ended. However, the Asian boy’s parents were not happy and brought in the police.

‘The old days’

District Judge Jonathan Finestein described the decision to prosecute the boy for a racially aggravated public order offence – which he denies – as “crazy” and “political correctness gone mad”.

He also said: “In the old days the headmaster would have got them both and given them a good clouting.

He would have said they had behaved like idiots, given them the slipper or whatever he used to get, and they would have gone away to shake hands.”

Of course, school staff no longer have recourse to corporal punishment, but what does normally happen?

If you had a pupil who had been found using racist taunts or abuse in the playground, the first thing the school would do was examine whether the child understood what they were doing.

They would also ask if it was the first time it had happened.

And when the child had been dealt with, did they realise it was wrong?”

It’s serious to criminalise a 10-year-old. It makes me question why the judge is using comments which could trivialise a very serious incident Chris Keates, NASUWT

Schools have a range of sanctions at their disposal, from withdrawing children from activities to permanently excluding them.

The 2000 Race Relations Act orders all public bodies, including schools and colleges, to “eliminate unlawful racial discrimination” and “promote equality of opportunity and good relations between people of different racial groups”.

In addition, government guidelines say each school must have its own anti-bullying policy, which normally covers racist abuse.

All racial incidents “must be monitored and reported” to the local authority, the Department for Education and Skills says.

Schools in England were sent a leaflet – Schools’ Race Equality Policies – from Issues to Outcomes – in 2004.

It outlines “practical steps” towards “mainstream race equality”.

Schools should set “targets” but “prioritise the race equality outcomes that are most relevant to them” – in other words, not use a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Possible actions include more meetings with parents from different ethnic groups, who are often the cause of their children’s attitudes.

Schools could also monitor teachers “by ethnicity”, looking at their staff grade, applications for employment, training and promotion.

Prosecution rare

The government’s emphasis is preventive, rather than punitive.

So, while Whitehall sets the guidelines and local authorities monitor the situation, head teachers usually deal with problems internally.

It is rare for the Crown Prosecution Service to take up a case.

Mr Finestein said in Salford Youth Court on Thursday that racial name-calling was “unpleasant” and “wrong”.

But of the prosecution he added: “This is how stupid the whole system is getting.

There are major crimes out there and the police don’t bother to prosecute.

If you get your car stolen it doesn’t matter, but you get two kids falling out because of racist comments – this is nonsense.”

Ms Keates said: “The indication is that, if the CPS has become involved, we are dealing with more than the odd comment in the playground.

“It’s serious to criminalise a 10-year-old. It makes me question why the judge is using comments which could trivialise a very serious incident.

I have to say I don’t disagree with a judge questioning whether there was another way to deal a 10-year-old’s behaviour.”

But all of these comments are very attractive to the media and they sound very good and quick and clever. Judges know that their comments are taken seriously and can be widely reported.

The context in which we are operating is one of people facing racial tension. The issue should have been dealt with in a different way.”
Mr Finestein ordered that the boy remain on summons and adjourned the case until 20 April so that the CPS can decide whether it is in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution.