Racism in English Education Should Be Considered a Safeguarding Issue, Says Author | Education

Racism in education should be treated as a safeguard issue, with anti-racism policies in all schools in England and staff training, according to a new book.

Jeffrey Boakye, a black English teacher, author and broadcaster, argues that schools are dangerous places for racially marginalized students, and warns that black children attend institutions that could “actively contribute to their harm”.

He says social justice issues, including racism, should be seen as a key performance indicator in schools. “It’s not just about creating new tick boxes,” Boakye told the Guardian. “It is about highlighting social justice as an area on which teachers and schools must have a specific position.

“Racism is something that must be seen and acknowledged before it is understood,” he said. “And once understood, you can tackle it. In this country, too many people don’t even know what it looks like.

A secondary school teacher with 15 years’ experience, Boakye exhibits in I Heard What You Said to expose structural racism in schools and the failure of the English education system to tackle racial inequality, and draws on his own experience, first as a student, then as a teacher.

The book, to be published this month by Picador, comes months after the case of Child Q – a 15-year-old black girl who was strip searched by police while at school in London after teachers claimed they smelled of cannabis – sparking widespread outrage.

“What happened to Child Q is the culmination of various toxic legacies: adultification of black girls, demonization of black people, abuse of black bodies, fear of darkness among our institutions,” Boakye said. “It also speaks to a deep failure of care among professionals across all sectors, where suspicion of criminal misdemeanor has completely overtaken basic empathy.”

“I would say racism is about safeguarding,” he writes in his book. “And just as you can’t be hired as a teacher until you know the basics of child safety, perhaps you shouldn’t be allowed to teach in a modern, multicultural society unless you know the basics of racist abuse and how it can harm all children.

In the book, Boakye cites a Guardian survey last year which found that more than 60,000 racist incidents were recorded in UK schools over a five-year period. The actual figure is likely to be considerably higher as many incidents go unreported or unrecorded, and since 2012 schools have no legal obligation to report racist incidents to local authorities.

“For schools to address racism as a safeguarding concern would be transformational,” he writes. “There are fundamental questions that can be asked of an institution for this purpose. Who is trained to deal with it? What is the school’s anti-racism policy?

“What training is required for all staff? What processes are in place to address racist incidents at all levels? Until these questions are answered and implemented, schools must accept that they are dangerous places for racially marginalized students.

Boakye, which now offers training, lectures and advice on issues related to race, anti-racism and curriculum design in schools, as well as co-presenting BBC Radio’s Add to Playlist 4 with Cerys Matthews, also discusses recent moves to decolonize the program in England. .

“Decolonization is not simply a matter of better representation and increased diversity,” he writes. “These things are a start, absolutely, but to decolonize the curriculum is to recognize that it exists as part of a system rooted in racist soil. Only then can we begin to uproot and plant something better.

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On the issue of white privilege, which the government says should not be treated “as fact” in English schools, Boakye says: “White privilege is part of a larger ideology of white supremacy, well constructed before the birth of each of us.

“Recognizing this is as important as recognizing male privilege or “straight” privilege, or class privilege, or “able-bodied” privilege, etc. The key is not to think about how teaching white privilege threatens white insecurity, but rather how it seeks to undo a legacy of racism that holds us all back.

Boakye no longer works in the classroom, but was one of the very few black male English teachers in the UK, and his book details some of the questions his presence in the classroom raised among pupils. “Are you really a teacher?” one asked. “Can you rap?” asked another, and, “Have you ever been in jail?”

The book concludes: “I lived in education for over 30 years. I have witnessed the silent tragedy of wasted human potential that stems from systemic racism. I tried to change the needle by challenging the program and being an ambassador for blackness in a white system. Now I dare to hope that change will come and that all voices will be heard, whether they are screaming in rage or whispering in fear.

I Heard What You Said by Jeffrey Boakye is published by Picador (£16.99); to support the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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