Is institutional racism at the heart of discriminatory policies for schools?

Is institutional racism at the heart of discriminatory policies for schools?

We think aspects of culture and faith should be embedded in child safeguarding policies and practices

In the wake of recent reports on Pimlico Academy, it is time to ask who or what is behind the decisions to act against pupils exercising their rights to protest what they see as an attack on their cultures and faiths. These are not isolated situations; we have seen a steady increase in such incidents, affecting pupils from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Reportedly, some of the Pimlico Academy students are now subject to disciplinary measures that will almost certainly see them fall foul of the school’s zero tolerance behaviour policy, irrespective of their rights to moral outrage. It is difficult to demonstrate that a process has not been followed, when challenging punitive decisions against a child within educational settings. Thus, it will take a great deal of public outrage or successful legal challenge – as in the recent case of a pupil at Uxbridge High School – to effect policy change,

Uniform policy issues are not new and a frequent topic of debate, yet the experience for one mother being supported by VCF, has again brought this matter to our attention.

“When my daughter returned back to her school after a school break wearing her usual uniform – white shirt with a school tie and a long skirt with a black blazer. This had been her uniform attire for the past few years. When she returned, she was told that one item of clothing that she had worn – a long skirt – was not correct uniform, and that it was never part of the uniform of the school.

She was handed a letter as well as the other girls – a large portion of the school – to inform her parents that their uniform was not correct.
This confused me so I contacted the school, who replied stating that the long skirts were never a part of the school uniform and that they wanted to make sure this was addressed at the start of the school year. The skirts needed to be knee length or alternatively tunic and trousers would be sufficient or trousers and shirt. All of these were not appropriate to our religious and cultural beliefs and neither was a criterion my daughter was comfortable with.

My concern was that no one had ever had an issue with the skirts, and this was coming at a time when there were much bigger issues – loss of education due to the virus. I continued to seek clarity and discuss the concerns I had. I was informed that most girls were adhering to the uniform and have changed their skirts to the ‘correct’ uniform. As there were bubbles within the school we could not see if this was the case. Also, at the same time a petition was started which gained a lot of support in favour of the long skirts but was taken down.

At the same time my daughter was attending the school, she was being told by other staff members that her skirt was too long, and she was having her name taken for incorrect uniform.

As a parent who had to purchase the uniform, and from a religious and modest viewpoint, I decided to ask questions. In my mind this was a change in stance as we were never told that their long skirts were incorrect.

After querying if parents and the school board had been consulted, I was told that because this was not a substantive change in uniform the parents do not need to be consulted.

The school accepted they were going to allow the long skirts but to make them safe for health and safety reasons there would be a consultation on this matter.

I was relieved the school did consider the matter and moved on with providing the girls the much-needed educational support.”

This school had been sufficiently challenged, but not all parents are inclined to take such actions due to fear of what will happen to their children.

As an increasing number of black and minority children are subject to an impossible-to-argue with behaviour policy, we can rightly assume that they are among the cohort of children that can no longer rely on government or statutory support. For the most part these are children, that have strong parental support for their education, who may have been bullied, treated differently because of their culture, or dared to ask questions in class.

We support this parent and share her concerns as to why senior leadership teams (SLTs) are focused on uniform policies, at a time when there are clearly more critical issues for children’s education.

As a multicultural society, too often BME parents find themselves isolated and/or not involved in decisions that profoundly impact their children’s education; is it cultural incompetence or the institutionalised racism concluded in the Stephen Lawrence case by Sir William Macpherson?


22 April 2021

‘Protecting children across culture and faith’ is the protocol VCF uses to ensure the cultural needs of children are met within child protection policies and practice

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