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UK schools: Our education system is institutionally racist

A recently published report on racism in English secondary schools by the University of Manchester has found that the presence of police officers can be detrimental for black and ethnic minority students, effectively criminalising them in their own space of study and personal development.

Image credit: Sky News

Under the Safer Schools Partnership initiative thousands of schools across the country have police officers attached to them for the safety and security of pupils and staff and to enable early intervention and help forge good relationships between pupils and the police.

The timely report, Race and Racism in English Secondary Schools, comes when a global consciousness toward race and racial inequality has come to life following continuing Black Lives Matter protests.

It was the unfortunate death of George Floyd - an African-American man - at the hands of a white police officer, that has sparked both the BLM campaigning and conversation about racism and the role of the police in society.

The research for the report drew on interviews with teachers from across Greater Manchester.

Teachers involved in the report discussed how they try to ensure that school is a 'safe space' for all their students, but warn the presence of police officers in secondary schools can undermine and disrupt the safeguarding ethos, particularly for BAME students from already over-policed areas.

Image credit: U.S. News & World Report

The report's author Dr Remi Joseph-Salisbury, said: "We urgently need a national conversation about the future of our schools, and we must really question whether police officers stationed in schools should even be a part of that future".

Making the most of outreach programmes that aid and support the relationship-building process between young people and the police force, such as those provided for by non-profit sports organisation KickOff@3, can be a method in which schools break down issues of racial bias and inequality that unfairly impacts black pupils by removing the very problem of making black students feel like criminals in what should be safe learning spaces.

The report also made recommendations for an increased number of teachers from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and for anti-racism to be placed at the core of the way we think about teaching.

Highlighting how vital Joseph-Salisbury's recommendation for a greater representation of BAME teachers in schools is, a working paper published in 2018 by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that black students who are exposed to just one black teacher by third-grade (equivalent to Year-4 in the UK) are 13 per cent more likely to enrol in college - and significantly more likely if they have two black teachers.

Other calls to combat institutionalised racism in the sphere of education include the campaign to 'decolonise the curriculum' within British universities - this would ensure course curriculums move away from their current monolithic and Eurocentric stance and that reading lists include more black and minority ethnic writers.

A recent podcast by The Dope Black Mums, featuring English teacher and educational specialist Ziggy Moore from Moore Education, discussed the very real problem of black pupils being blacklisted by their schools by being three times as likely to be permanently excluded from their schools than their white counterparts.

Image credit: Dope Black Mums website

Topics such as class discrimination and race discrimination were brought up, mentioning how the entire school system is designed to bring up white and more affluent individuals - particularly young men - to lead, versus young black men who are brought up to follow. This is achieved through certain behaviours and body language by teachers that indicate to young black boys that their questions and energy are threatening, rude and needs putting in line, whilst the same attitudes and behaviours from young white men are received as enquiring, bright and inquisitive.

It these discrepancies in school exclusions and attitudes towards black and ethnic minority children that contribute to the overall black experience in the UK.

Our schools are suffering from a disconnect between staff and student, and unchecked bias and prejudice among teachers that contribute to the racial hierarchy within schools are being exposed more and more with the current campaigning by Black Lives Matter protestors.

Anti-racism in schools must be addressed and can be by replacing imperialist curriculums with more diverse and reflective ones, reassessing hair policies that discriminate towards afro hair types, and even through training that combats unconscious bias.


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