Robin Richardson writes in a personal capacity about DfES advice on countering racist bullying for which he acted as external consultant.

Preventing and dealing with racism is not an optional extra, something to address if and when more fundamental things are in place, but is itself absolutely central to the educational enterprise.

At the beginning of March 2006 the DfES published web-based advice on countering racist bullying in schools (www.teachernet.gov.uk/racistbullying). The downloadable A4 advice document Bullying Around Racism, Religion and Culture: How To Prevent It and What To Do When It Happens is firmly backed by ministerial approval and solidly based in law and statute. It also draws on and is inspired, nurtured and emboldened by the voices, stories and memories of those who have faced racist bullying. A key feature of the advice is the provision of an annotated list of over 100 relevant websites for use by pupils and teachers (see below).

 The advice develops and expands the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry discourse of racist incidents (www.archive.official-documents.co.uk). It conceptualises the problems of racism faced by schools as something to be tackled within the framework of a school’s behaviour and anti-bullying policies and as something that is part of a general pattern, not a set of one-off episodes or incidents. The advice stresses further that racism is to do with culture and religion as well as with colour – in addition to hostility and distrust based on skin colour, it encompasses antisemitism and Islamophobia, anti-gypsy and traveller hostility, and anti-refugee hostility.

Revealed in the advice are some of the sufferings and experiences of children and young people who have been subjected to bullying. Their resolution, resilience and responsibility are shown too. ‘They used to call me names,’ they recall, and ‘I never had the chance to explain how it feels to be a traveller,’ they say, and ‘I went through school with an uneasy suspicion that I was inferior.’ ‘What really hurt me…’ recollects one of them, and ‘What was there to say?’ asks another. But also, ‘Listen to us, we are the experts’, they assert and affirm, and ‘I refuse to be a victim’ and – these words were from a seven-year-old child to an adult who had simply listened to her about her experiences of bullying because of the colour of her skin – ‘I just want to say thank you.’

Confronting racist bullying

Most of the DfES advice offered is about how to prevent racist bullying, but also, of course, there is material on what to do when it happens. Under the heading of ‘Preventing’ there is discussion of big ideas and key concepts across the curriculum for all subjects and key stages. There are outlines of some 40 classroom activities that embody and explore the big ideas. Also, there are stories and case studies, and there are notes on teaching about controversial issues. The section headed ‘Responding’ provides guidance on supporting pupils who are targeted by racists, and guidance on challenging those who are responsible. The latter is based on a fourfold typology developed by Home Office researchers in the 1990s.

According to the research you can: (a) ignore (b) rebuke (c) argue against or (d) adopt a holistic approach to incidents of racist bullying. Whereas the dangers of ignoring are obvious, the perils of rebuking may cause bitterness and a resolve, next time, not to be found out. The shortcomings of logical arguments are several in that while they can hone the debating skills of teachers, they may also act as racism does – namely, to quote again someone quoted earlier and give the pupils concerned ‘an uneasy suspicion that they are inferior’.

Subsequently, uncarefully thought-out classroom arguments and debates can act as recruiting sergeants for the far right. A holistic approach, however, is endorsed by the advice. It involves seeing and dealing with racist bullying within a social context that involves bystanders and reinforcers as well as ringleaders, and, of course, putting one’s primary energy into being proactive and preventative. It’s much easier to respond effectively when something happens if one has first thought through how to prevent it.

‘We have to acknowledge,’ said a speaker at one of the consultative conferences which gave rise to the project, ‘the guilt that some of our white colleagues feel and the resentment and anger of some of our black colleagues and we’ve got to come to a position collectively, where we agree that guilt and blame have no place at the dining table of shared responsibility.’

As a result of these and other remarks the DfES advice supports inservice training activities. Last month 18 seminar-type conferences were held to launch and explain the advice. A six-page leaflet was provided for all participants. 

UK sites designed for children and by young people:

Hometown anti-bullying project www.anti-bullyingalliance.org
Kiddiesville Football Club’s multicultural campaign www.kiddiesvillefc.com
Rewind community cohesion programme www.go-wm.gov.uk

Racism No way, Australia www.racismnoway.com.au
Stop Bullying Me!, Canada www.stopbullyingme.ab.ca
Voice our Concern, Republic of Ireland www.amnesty.ie

Get Global! www.getglobal.org.uk
Portsmouth Ethnic Minority Achievement Service www.blss.portsmouth.sch.uk
‘Young, British and Muslim‘ Guardian, 30 November 2004 www.guardian.co.uk

Robin Richardson is co-director of the London-based Insted consultancy www.insted.co.uk. His publications include Here, There and Everywhere and In Praise of Teachers, both published by Trentham.

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