Racism and prejudice in schools is more widely reported in Hampshire than ever before. Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, Basingstoke MP Maria Miller launched an inquiry into the lived experiences of the Black, Asian and Minority (BAME) community in Basingstoke.
Its report noted that schools were “often weak” in dealing with racist abuse, dismissing verbal abuse as insignificant and making assumptions about students based on their race. Evidence was also found that ethnic minorities are not represented in everyday school life, with books in the school library generally having only white protagonists and textbooks having only white students in case studies and exam questions.
Since then, a cultural revolution has been undertaken in Hampshire schools, making the fight against racism much higher on the agenda. Now, schools are more accurately reporting incidents of racial abuse and bias – and have also been equipped with the tools to better manage them.
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Catherine Redgrave, School Improvement Lead for the Basingstoke and Deane Inclusion and Diversity Partnership, gave a presentation to Hampshire County Council today (Wednesday 30 March). She said: “Some of the stories I’ve heard are really distressing, so we have to come to grips with them.
“We had a BAME headmaster who was asked at the school gates if he was a caretaker… he was in a suit, waving to parents as they came to drop off their children. Another child walked up made to say that he should be good at running, based on the color of their skin.Collectively, we must become allies for others, whether staff or students.
Since the start of the investigation, schools in Hampshire have gone from not reporting incidents of racism or discrimination to highlighting several. Schools in Gosport, Fareham, Havant, Basingstoke, Winchester and the Isle of Wight have all adopted this practice.
All harmful words and incidents are recorded, regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Ms Redgrave explained that this is not necessarily a bad thing, as it simply means racism is getting the attention it needs.
“It’s obviously not a good number, but it shows that schools understand it and notice it when it happens,” she said.
“These conversations are starting to happen and that’s a really important step.”
For schools, the focus has also been on not just supporting victims of racist abuse, but also helping those responsible to see the error of their ways. Work under the initiative has found that students challenging each other is the best way to deal with the situation – but education bosses acknowledge it puts extra pressure on students.
Liberal Democrat representative for Basingstoke South East, Cllr Gavin James, said: “We need to encourage children to talk to each other about this – to make mistakes and learn from them. We don’t want children not to talk to each other about it because they need to understand each other’s cultures and feelings.This means that the role of teachers should be to inform, not to punish.
Ms Redgrave said: “There is a fear and anxiety about saying the wrong thing or accidentally offending people. We need to be forgiving when people make mistakes, but educate each other to making sure everyone feels heard.”