We can tackle racism in schools at the teacher training stage

PUBLISHED: 06:31 04 July 2020

Racism in schools can be tackled at the teacher training stage, says Sarah Brownsword

Racism in schools can be tackled at the teacher training stage, says Sarah Brownsword


Sarah Brownsword, a lecturer in primary education at the UEA, explains how teachers are trained to have a better understanding of racism in schools

When I read recently that former pupils had contacted a school in Norwich and complained about racism they had experienced there, I wasn’t surprised.

When I began working in Initial Teacher Education at UEA four years ago, one of the things I noticed about the predominantly white cohort of trainee teachers, was their lack of confidence in engaging in conversation about race and racism.

There is a tendency for people to think that when it comes to children, particularly young children who are attending primary schools, they don’t notice race or ethnicity and therefore their teachers shouldn’t either.

There is an important distinction between discriminating between children and discriminating against them.

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Discriminating between children is something that teachers do all the time in order to meet the various needs of the children in their class.

In order to avoid appearing racist, teachers will attempt to treat all children as ‘equal’, but in doing so are enabling the continuation of structural racism within schools; this is often called ‘Colourblind Racism’.

Some of the trainee teachers who took part in my research in 2017 showed evidence of Colourblind Racism; a lack of understanding of white privilege, and talked negatively about children from minority ethnic backgrounds. They also spoke about racist incidents they saw on teaching placements, which went unchallenged by teachers in schools.

In response to my research, we made changes to our teacher training courses at UEA, so that issues of race and racism are not only tackled specifically, but also embedded throughout all areas of the course. Trainee teachers have lectures and workshops which explore what racism is (and isn’t); how to recognise and respond to racist incidents in school; the use of language and terminology; and understanding privilege.

As well as these, which address racism directly, equality and diversity is included throughout the training programme so that our trainees can understand the importance of having diverse ethnic representation in the books they read with children, the toys they include in their early years classrooms, and the resources they use to teach across the curriculum. In the last few weeks we have provided our trainee teachers with additional reading and links to resources related to #BlackLivesMatter so that they feel confident continuing the conversation with their own classes in September.

Racism is still a big problem in schools and we have a long way to go.

But it is our hope that by embedding identity reflection, along with meaningful discussion of race throughout all aspects of teacher education, our courses will produce more teachers who are willing and able to challenge racism, talk openly about issues of race, and be better teachers to children from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds in schools.

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