Black child conference

Denise Henry – Black member representative on the National Executive of the NEU trade union, speaking at the Black Child conference in Hackney on Saturday, June 11 2022, chaired by Diane Abbott MP.

It is well evidenced over decades that institutional racism is alive and well in education and Child Q horrific incident brought it to light.
The 2017 NUT (now NEU) Barriers report looked at the visible and invisible barriers and impact of racism on BME teachers found that both Black educators (similarly to Black students) are more likely to be put through capability and disciplinary procedures; both are more likely to be labelled “troublemakers” or being viewed as “aggressive” if they challenge any decisions.

Black-Caribbean children are 3-4 times more likely to be excluded from schools and end up in segregated schools with abysmal life outcomes.

Black staff are more likely to be made redundant, be on temporary, precarious posts, be on support plans, given the most challenging classes , more likely to lack pay progression. Have work times as hard as their white colleagues and still not considered for progression, in fact, black members have trained white NQTs and after a few years, they become phase leaders/head of departments. We know about the ethnicity pay gap and there is very limited support for Black educators to progress. Black children need and deserve to see themselves represented in education at all levels.

Black lives should matter in Education. Black careers should matter in education. Too many Black workers are not allowed into the profession as they should be. Too many Black workers have been forced out of their jobs, and too many are seriously considering leaving because they feel devalued.

When we call the bosses out on this and challenge institutional racism, we are stereotyped as “aggressive”. I have had many experiences of discrimination during my 20 years’ teaching career. The shocking, brutal, barbaric incident Child Q incident exposed by a Hackney sadeguarding report this year is like we are still on the slavery plantation. Yet, this is 2022 not 1822!

No case involving police in schools has galvanised outrage to the same extent as the barbaric treatment meted out to the 15-year-old Black Caribbean girl in 2020.

The Institute of Race Relations notes “a massive debate is now taking place in Black, educational, police monitoring and anti-racist circles, about the increasing securitisation of schools, and how best to protect the well-being and safety of Black, Brown and working-class students”.

As professor Gus John, a former Hackney director of education and veteran anti-campaigner, has eloquently stated: “For decades, schools have been excessively punitive in their dealings with Black children of all ages, thus compounding the oppression they face routinely in their daily lives.”

He adds: “Black children are used to a heavy and intrusive police presence in their communities outside school. They have a right to expect schools to be different and to care for them.”

“Schools are meant to be working in partnership with parents in support of children’s learning and self-development, NOT in partnership with the police.”

Schools should not be a site for criminalising children, just as the police have made the streets.

We should remember how, in the 1960s and beyond, as author Bernard Coard recorded, the “West Indian child” was made “educationally subnormal by the British school system”. Black parents set up a successful network of supplementary schools that, as well as teaching STEM subjects, gave lessons in Black history, which had been absent from the school curriculum.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that:

• Children must not be discriminated against on the grounds of race, class, religion/belief.

• The best interests of the child must be a primary consideration at all times.

• The responsibilities and rights of parents and carers must be respected.

In Child Q’s case, her parents had a right to be informed that the school was calling the police to potentially criminalise their child.)

• All appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures should be taken to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

Child Q was failed by her school on every one of those safeguarding provisions.

At my union’s annual conference this year we unanimously passed an URGENT RESOLUTION on CHILDREN’S RIGHTS AND POLICE IN SCHOOL.”It extended the union’s full solidarity to Child Q and her family.

The motion said there are a host of services that should be used regularly within schools, including school social services, school nurses, educational psychologists and youth workers. These, and not the police, are the services needed to be a normal part of schools.

The motion said “our union acknowledges institutional racism and racial disparities in education” and it called for more action on public sector equality duty in all educational establishments”.

This builds on the NEU’s Anti-Racism Charter aimed at tackling the fact the education system has often perpetuated institutional racism rather than combatted it.

The charter seeks to empower Black staff and pupils to explore and express what matters to them. Support young people’s right to speak out and engage as active citizens with the issues around racism that they care about. And challenge racial inequalities and oppressive racial norms and assumptions.

We recognise the education system as a whole must be decolonised before it can truly be anti-racist. That’s why members of my union, including the leadership like me, are proud to be working with The Liberation Movement, a new Black-led anti-racist initiative, established by Black activists and trade unionists, to build better structures in the education system for Black students and their parents. I hope you’ll support our fight back.