Children as young as three are being reported for racism and sent for counselling, a report has found. The Manifesto Club found that over 4,000 so-called racist and prejudicial incidents were logged by teachers in 2013/14, more than half of which took place in junior schools. The club has criticised the schools for turning childish spats into racist incidents, perversely teaching children to be intolerant rather than more tolerant.
Under the previous Labour government, in 2002/3 all schools were instructed to record racist incidents on the playground and submit reports to the local authorities. At its peak, the practice led to nearly 30,000 such reports being filed each year.
In 2011 the practice was officially scrapped by the Coalition government, who encouraged schools to exercise their own judgement when reporting racist incidents. However, a report by the Manifesto Club has found that, thanks to the Equalities Act 2011, the practice is still being encouraged by Ofsted, leading to a handful of authorities persisting in the practice, and even expanding it to include ‘sexism’, ‘gender identity’, ‘home circumstances’, and other categories of prejudice.
In his book That’s Racist! Adrian Hart, who undertook the study for the Manifesto Club explained: “The Ofsted School Inspection handbook, published in September 2012, makes it clear that inspectors will request logs of racist incidents and incidents of bullying, including homophobic bullying.
“Schools seeking to gain or maintain ‘outstanding’ Ofsted ratings have quickly learnt that demonstrating compliance with equalities duties means inspections can be faced with confidence.
“And, given Ofsted’s predilection for evaluating the behaviour and especially the ‘safeguarding’ of pupils, one straightforward and demonstrable action schools will adopt is the keeping of prejudice-related bullying and incidents records.”
Consequently, of the 30 previous “top reporting” authorities, 13 are still insisting that schools hand over records of all incidents of racist behaviour, and six of those have expanded their criteria to include all forms of prejudicial behaviour. Meanwhile, the majority of authorities recommend that schools keep their own logs for Ofsted, in line with the Equalities Act.
Freedom of Information requests issued to the 13 recording authorities brought to light 4,348 incident reports in total, of which 1121 took place in primary schools, and four in nursery settings. 283 of those incidents concerned ‘sexual identity’, 23 concerned disability, 53 ‘gender/gender identity’, 105 ‘disability/special education needs’, and 26 ‘religion’.
One of the authorities to insist upon records being provided is Green-Party-led Brighton council, who have issued forms to all schools to be filled in. The ‘Bullying and Prejudice Based incident report form’ instructs teachers to classify the incident according to “‘ethnicity/race’, ‘appearance’ (hair colour, body shape, clothing), ‘disability/special needs’ (including ‘derogatory language’ such as ‘retard, spaz, geek, nerd’); ‘gender identity’ including ‘someone who does not fit with gender norms or stereotypes’; ‘home circumstances’ such as ‘class background’ (calling another child ‘chav, posh’); or ‘sex’ and ‘sexual orientation’,” according to the report.
Teachers are also instructed to note the place at which the incident occurred, the nature of the incident, which includes “not being spoken to” as well as “‘using language in a derogatory or offensive manner”, and what action was taken.
Further FOI requests to all Brighton junior schools turned up 65 such reports, including 38 racist incidents, 14 homophobic incidents, four sexism / gender identity incidents, and three each of appearance or home circumstances and disability prejudice.
They include one nursery school child who, looking at pictures of people with different eye colours, said “yuk not black,” discarded the pictures of black faces, and then said “I want a boy”. That child was sent for counselling.
Others include a child who, whilst watching Oliver Twist said “Oliver Bent” and was reported as homophobic; a child who called another pupil a “Chinese boy” and was told that he must, from now on, always ask people their name; and a boy who was reported for disability prejudice for saying to a fellow pupil “you have funny fingers”. That report notes that he was spoken to and that “he said he didn’t mean anything nasty by it – he just wondered why?”
Similar FOI requests to Birmingham primary schools shows a number of so-called racist incidents being perpetrated by children from ethnic minorities, such as: “Farhan called Ayesha ‘Jamaika Christian’ and Ayesha called Farhan ‘Somalian’”, and “Hamzah called Adel ‘Egyptian bitch’” (names have been changed).
Hart said: “Children’s everyday games, interactions and fallings-out are elevated and problematised to a level far beyond playground banter. Children are perceived as mini-adults, investing words with a prejudice and power that bears no relation either to their age or the context in which they are living and playing.”
The report argues that recording these incidents as full-blown prejudice is damaging on a number of levels. Some of the schools attach these incidents to paperwork sent to secondary schools when the children move on, meaning that an innocent enquiry from a young child (such as the child reported for observing that a fellow pupil “looks African”), can brand that child a racist for their school lives.
But perhaps more importantly, some of the incidents are examples of bad behaviour by children, which ought to be dealt with on its own terms. The report notes: “for example, most of the ‘homophobic’ insults recorded as directed at teachers are primarily an offence of disrespect for the teacher, and should be dealt with as such.
“On the child who called his teacher ‘Australian faggot’ and ‘pikey’: this is unlikely to reflect the child’s prejudices about Australia, travellers or sexuality, but rather his disrespect for this particular teacher, and the incident should be punished on these terms.”
But most importantly of all, the Manifesto Club points out that, by turning childish playground taunts into fully-fledged prejudice, far from promoting cohesiveness, teachers are undermining it: “Such systems actually serve to raise the issues of race, sex and sexuality, and make these fraught subjects, at a time when these are actually fading in social significance. … Perversely, by making this an offence the school blocks an open discussion of particular subjects, and invents new taboos.”