This is a brief summary of our findings and recommendations. A full report will be released at our conference.
Our research questions were as follows:
- What is the extent of racism faced by young people in Cheshire, Halton and Warrington secondary schools?
- How are schools tackling incidents of racism?
- What kind of strategies do pupils and teachers think could be employed to help deal with racism and racist incidents?
Our findings have been analysed in line with these questions.
What is the extent of racism faced by young people in Cheshire, Halton and Warrington secondary schools?
The overall majority (75%) of students thought that racism only happens ‘sometimes’ or ‘occasionally’ in their school. This sentiment was reflected by teachers, who generally saw racism as being more of an issue for schools with more ethnically diverse student bodies.
However, more BME students than white British students perceived racism as happening ‘often’ or ‘very often’, and twice as many BME students knew of or had experienced racism.
Some teachers identified a growing anti-Muslim sentiment amongst some pupils and within their local communities and identified the use of racist language as the most common and prolific form of racist incident.
When White British students’ ability to identify and describe racism was further explored in the focus groups and drama sessions, many struggled to find the words to explain race and racism and its impacts upon targets. They voiced many cultural myths about race and ethnicity.
Racism was often framed as being about rights and respect, or a bullying issue, and part of a wider notion of anti-social behaviour. It was conceptualised as occurring via individual acts, rather than as a result of wider social and structural inequalities. Students often identified these individuals as older, younger or at another school. Pupils felt safe that they did not need to focus on the issue
Teachers also described racism as being mainly confined to the aberrant acts of individuals and did not speak about structural or institutional racism.
Some of the teachers discussed problematic behaviours or the lower attainment and achievement of dual heritage (black/white) children.
Pupils identified family members, family friends and general community members as influencing their attitudes to race and racism, as influential everyday contact with BME pupils, music videos and social networking.
All the pupils had witnessed racism and in some cases been direct victims of racism at school
there was a tendency to understand ‘casual racism’ as a joke, although none of the pupils felt that it was actually funny and all were upset by it.
If the BME pupils did complain about their friends using racist language they felt would be ostracised from the group.
They felt that the rules around uniform and hairstyles unfairly discriminated against black pupils and that they weren’t allowed to express their personalities and their culture.
All of these young people accept the idea that their education is very important for their futures, and it is worth suffering some racism to get the best education possible.
How are schools tackling incidents of racism?
The vast majority of students (88%) thought that teachers saw racism as important and all schools had policies and procedures in place for dealing with racist incidents. However, the majority (69%) of students were not aware of the existence of these.
Most schools responded to racist incidents in similar ways, by recording, reporting and investigating. Students found to have committed racist incidents were punished in a variety of ways, including through isolation or temporary suspension. The majority of schools also attempted to prevent future incidents by working with the individual via restorative justice and sometimes involved the police. A few schools mentioned that they also sometimes responded by engaging in wider whole-school anti-racist work.
None of the teachers interviewed reported having received any specific training on race equality issues or dealing with racist incidents. Many said they lacked confidence in this area.
75% of students who said they had witnessed racism did not report it – of those who did only a small majority were happy with the teachers’ response. BME pupils found it difficult to predict how teachers would respond if they reported incidents of racism.
Anti-racist education was mainly dealt with via multicultural education in subjects such as Religious Education, as part of Citizenship education or in an historical context via the History curriculum. Some schools had attempted to discuss contemporary racism, but both students and teachers reported feeling uncomfortable about doing this.
Occasionally BME pupils reported being used as “examples” of cultural and ethnic diversity by teachers and the pupils felt this was “inappropriate” and “awkward”.
66% of students said they were taught about racism in school. Anti-racist education was seen as most beneficial by the White British pupils, 53% of whom feel they have learnt something. Only 47% of BME pupils felt they had learnt from this education.
Pupils were aware that some teachers have more confidence in talking about and dealing with racism than others but thought (mistakenly) they knew more about contemporary issues of race and ethnicity than their teachers.
What kind of strategies do pupils and teachers think could be employed to help deal with racism and racist incidents?
All teachers expressed a desire for more training on race, ethnicity and anti-racism.
The vast majority of students we spoke to also wanted to learn more about racism and anti-racism at school. They were particularly keen to engage in open discussion about the issues.
Recommendations from the research
Racism is experienced in schools in Cheshire, Halton and Warrington with low BME populations, these schools need support in dealing with the issues of race and racism,
Teachers require additional training on racism in general and specifically on forms of racism seen within schools: the common teacher view that racism is only an issue in ethnically diverse schools and the ‘colour-blind’ approach needs to be challenged in staff training.
Schools need to monitor racism more effectively – low reporting does not mean low incidents and BME pupils need to be supported when they experience racism
A wider “Whole School Approach” is required to address racism in local schools, using teams of staff and embedding anti-racist education throughout the curriculum will improve the outcomes and experiences for BME and white students alike
Schools are centres for cultural and social change and anti-racist education can help them contribute positively to producing a more socially just and respectful society.