Racism in schools: time for less talk and more real action, says Learning Hive

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Feedback from forum sessions show racial biases and segregation between communities are still prevalent in educational settings

Efforts to address racism in school settings have been discussed at length by governments, local authorities and school leaders, but feedback from parents and those working in local communities suggests severe issues still exist. This is according to after-school childcare provider Learning Hive, who believes that more still needs to be done to tackle endemic racism in educational environments.

As part of its partnership with children’s charity Barnardo’s, Learning Hive took part in a recent forum involving individuals and professionals from communities across the UK, to discuss racism in schools. The problems listed had many diverse facets, including differing treatment of children based on their ethnic background, tribalistic attitudes and mistrust between different BAME communities, and normalisation of discrimination in the minds of many BAME children.

Nayeer Afzal, Programme Director at Learning Hive, said: “Some progress has been made in tackling racism in education and society in general over the last decade, but we’ve also had some eye-opening discussions recently that show that many deep-rooted problems still exist, and that more meaningful action is needed to address these issues in the long run.

“Those we have spoken to talk of situations where bias based on ethnic origin still exists within school environments, and where segregation between different ethnic groups in school settings is normalised. This is a huge source of frustration for young people, leading many to internalise discrimination and consider it a part of their lives that they must simply accept.

“Education offers a priceless route out of the cycle of poverty for many, but if racism, segregation and intolerance remain prevalent at such a formative stage of young people’s lives, this cycle will only continue as these children progress into adulthood, which may have a disproportionate effect on their long-term outcomes.”

To better tackle these issues in the long term, Afzal believes that a range of measures should be considered, with a key first step being to recognise the scale of the problem and ensure that any promises to address them do not end up being empty gestures.

She added: “It can be easy to minimise issues like racism in education when you don’t get down to the grassroots level and have real conversations with real people who are living through such experiences. It’s important that governments and those involved in education listen to children and young people and acknowledge that there’s much more work to be done to make the UK as tolerant and as harmonious a nation as it could be. Only then can the wheels be put in motion that will reduce endemic racism over time.

“To make all of this a reality, the government and Department for Education should be constantly looking at ways to evolve the curriculum so that children develop a healthy understanding of cultural diversity from a very early age. This can be achieved through a consistent broadening of the curriculum to encompass not just traditional academic subjects, but a range of other activities designed to enrich children’s minds and encourage them to develop relationships with those outside of their traditional communities.

“Enabling closer dialogue between all stakeholders, not just children, is also vital. For example, better language provision for parents who don’t speak English as a first language will be hugely beneficial in helping build bridges between different communities, simply by aiding communication and encouraging conversation.”

She concluded: “Racism in schools is a uniquely complex issue and there’s no silver bullet that will solve it. However, if the problem is confronted head-on without minimising it, we’ll be on a positive footing to build a better future for our children.”

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