Racial Discrimination in Schools

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 8 March 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East 4:30, 8 March 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered racial discrimination in schools.

It is a pleasure to open today’s debate with you in the Chair, Ms Fovargue. When I send my children to school every morning, I expect that they will be safe and protected. Members who have children or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, as well as parents and carers from across my constituency of Lewisham East, or indeed across the whole country, expect the very same—for children at school to be safe and happy. In the vast majority of cases, they are safe and happy, and generally school staff across the UK do a brilliant job educating and inspiring our children. They often do so in the most difficult circumstances, and I commend them for all that they do.

That is why it was shocking and distressing to see an assault on a black female child by a group of white female children near their school in Surrey last month. Members who have seen the footage of the incident are likely to have been as traumatised as I was—it was heartbreaking to watch. That is why I co-ordinated a cross-party letter, with Members from across the House, to the Home Secretary to ask how the victim was being supported and for the incident to be fully investigated. I am pleased to see many Members who signed that letter in the Chamber today, and I am grateful to the Home Office Minister who replied to that letter.

It quickly became apparent that the issue went much further than one case alone. I received a stream of emails and phone calls from teachers, parents and the wider public, who all raised their concerns about injustice and discrimination in schools. A teacher called me and asked to remain anonymous. She spoke about racial attacks at her school: two Asian girls had their hijabs pulled off their heads, and fights had broken out in the classroom. She spoke about teachers feeling let down by the headteacher and about a generally unsafe environment. Soon after that, a further disturbing and shocking assault case was brought to my attention—a group of ethnic minority schoolchildren at a school in Kent being segregated and subsequently attacked by a group of white children. Last week, I raised that with the Education Secretary.

Growing up in south-east London—many years ago—I remember when the British National party would march near my family home. I remember feeling unsafe in my own community—feeling unsafe because of my ethnicity. Surely, years later, black, Asian and ethnic minority children should not feel unsafe in our community. The fight against racial discrimination began long before the far right marched through my childhood community, and it is still being fought today.

In 2021, The Guardian revealed that there were more than 60,000 racist incidents in British schools between 2016 and 2021. That is an astonishing figure, but it does not tell the full story. In 2012, the Government advised schools that they have no legal obligation to report racist incidents to their local authorities, and in 2017 the Government issued further guidance that schools have no obligation to record bullying of any form. If racist incidents, and bullying more generally, are not being tracked, how can schools, local authorities, Ofsted or the Department for Education identify a problem and then act on it? The answer is that, of course, they cannot. The data is simply not there.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent work in securing the debate and campaigning on this important issue. Does she agree that the Government can learn from some of the successes under the last Labour Government, in particular in London during the roll-out of London Challenge, and many other policies? They should revisit the guidance to which she refers, which clearly seems to be a mistake.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. There are many lessons to be learned, and the Government could take heed of them and respond. As I have mentioned, there are things on which the Government have gone backwards, rather than going forward.

This week, a new survey by a young persons movement called I Have a Voice, found that one in four students say that they have experienced racism in their place of education. That is not the only survey showing alarming figures on racial discrimination in schools. The Government need to uphold the principle that the welfare of the child is paramount. That begins by accepting that their guidance in 2012 and 2017 was wrong. Will the Minister commit to reviewing those decisions, so that data on racist incidents in schools can once again be collected and acted on?

As we have sadly seen in the last month, discriminatory incidents can sometimes be violent. In those situations, headteachers and school staff should be able to intervene confidently and safely to safeguard children. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 outlines the fact that all members of school staff have a legal power to use reasonable force. That might include standing between children during an altercation or, in the most extreme circumstances, bringing a child under control.

While school staff are permitted to use reasonable force, there is no requirement on schools to provide a policy on the use of force. Schools are left to make their own decisions on this, which I find wholly unacceptable. I recognise that the use of reasonable force may not always be appropriate, but there are occasions when it is necessary in order to safeguard children. On those occasions, headteachers and school staff must know how to use that power. Will the Minister agree to update guidance on the use of reasonable force to include a requirement for schools to have a policy on it, and for it to be part of the training which school staff receive? Members will know that the issue of racial discrimination in schools is much deeper and broader. More needs to be done in schools to reduce the fear that some children may feel about one another.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

The hon. Lady is making a very compelling case. Does she agree that it is not only safeguarding that must be considered, although there is a direct and immediate need for that, but the ongoing consequences of discrimination? How can children learn effectively if they do not feel safe in their learning environment?

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East

The hon. Member is absolutely right. That has a huge emotional impact on children when they are in situations where they are discriminated against. It goes on to affect them psychologically and emotionally, and it can affect their ability to learn. If we want children to thrive and achieve, we want them to have the best experience in school. That is why it is so important that the Government act to eradicate at all levels any inch or hint of discrimination in our schools.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

There are some things in life where we expect changes to come naturally, organically or incrementally, and there are other things for which change has to be driven, and the approach must be strategic. I suggest to the hon. Member that racial discrimination is something that falls in the latter category.

In my own constituency we do not have the same range of ethnic diversity that might be found elsewhere. However, in Kirkwall Grammar School we have a teacher, Theo Ogbhemhe, who has taken a leading role in getting a group of students together in an anti-racism group, challenging discriminatory attitudes and behaviours wherever they are found. That is only possible if the strategy is in place to empower teachers like that.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East

I thank the right hon. Member for giving the example of some excellent work taking place in his constituency. That is a great example of a headteacher allowing that to happen and other teachers getting on board to drive it through. Strategies are really important, and the Government need to have a clear one to ensure that this type of thing happens in all schools to eliminate discrimination.

Teach First’s report examining diversity in the English literature curriculum highlighted the lack of ethnic minority authors offered on the syllabus. The largest exam board, which accounts for 80% of GCSE English literature entries, features no books by black authors and only two by an ethnic minority author. That is disappointingly low. Children from diverse backgrounds need to gain a sense of pride and self-worth by identifying with people who look like them in their learning. There is a risk that if children are not exposed to diversity in the school curriculum, they miss the opportunity to find out about those who are different from and those who are similar to them, and to be enriched by that difference and similarity. Will the Minister agree to look at how the school curriculum can be updated to increase ethnic minority representation?

Hon. Members will know that the issue is not just what children are being taught; who is teaching them also has an impact on their learning. Research conducted by University College London shows a lack of teachers from ethnic minority backgrounds in our schools. Sadly, when it comes to leadership, only 4% of headteachers are non-white. It is positive for all children, no matter what their ethnic background, to experience a diverse teaching workforce. That is important for their learning and their personal development. Will the Minister outline what steps the Department for Education is taking to recruit and retain greater numbers of ethnic minority staff and to encourage the promotion of ethnic minority staff to senior leadership roles?

Photo of Jonathan Lord Jonathan Lord Conservative, Woking

In my constituency of Woking, we have a very diverse community, including a very large Muslim community, and I am pleased to say that our schools and, indeed, other organisations have made great strides in recent years on these issues. The hon. Lady talks about leadership. May I point out the importance of governors—chairs of governors, and the whole governing body? Would she, like me, encourage people from all communities to come forward and serve on those bodies, because they are a backstop but can also help the headteacher to set policy and the right example?

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East

I thank the hon. Member for that significant intervention. He is absolutely right. Governing bodies are excellent in steering and in holding the headteacher and the teaching staff to account, and having a diverse governing body and governance for schools makes a significant contribution, so it is absolutely right that that happens and can be encouraged and supported. In my constituency and, indeed, the borough of Lewisham, the local council very much encourages schools and works with schools to enable that to happen. I am proud of what has been achieved in my own constituency in that respect.

Discrimination due to the colour of a child’s skin has no place in any school. I believe that everyone goes to work to do an excellent job. That includes headteachers, who have one of the most significant roles to play. That means that they lead by example, but they must also recognise when they need help and where to go to get it. Will the Minister respond and say what support is available to headteachers to address all the points that I have raised?

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Labour, Makerfield

I call Kirsten Oswald. I apologise: I did not see you, Mr Shannon. I call Jim Shannon.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:42, 8 March 2023

I am only a small person, Ms Fovargue, so when I am hidden behind other people, perhaps you would not see that I was there. Thank you for calling me.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank Janet Daby for introducing the issue. I remember when she raised it in the Chamber in a question—it may even have been in a point of order. At that time, I took note of her comments. It is very clear to me that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. It is a pleasure to see the Minister in his place, because I am sure that, as he always does, he will respond in a positive fashion to explain how the Department for Education and he himself will act to address the issue.

Education is fundamental to equality of opportunity as preparation for life, as a powerful influence on access to and advancement in employment, and in giving young people the skills to resist the dangerous temptations that exist in society today. There is no hiding from or ignoring the fact that racism and cultural ignorance exist in our schools. The hon. Member for Lewisham East has outlined that very well on a number of occasions. Often, children are unaware of the meaning or full impact of their words, so it is crucial that this conversation is had and that action is taken to teach children how to do good. Mr Carmichael referred to how important that was in his intervention. It shows that there are occasions when people can take measures to promote better harmony in schools.

In 2021, UK schools reported—rather shockingly—more than 60,000 racial incidents in the previous five years, with a racist incident defined as any situation perceived to be racist by the alleged victim or any other person, including unintentional racism. Racism has proven to be a big issue in schools, especially in England. Instead of co-operating more with one another, our attitudes suggest to younger people that it is all right to behave in this way and it makes the segregation even worse, complicating the issue and making it much more difficult to control.

As you and other Members will know, Ms Fovargue, I always try to give a Northern Ireland perspective in debates. We have discrimination in schools, which tends to be more sectarian than racist. However, I have no doubt that instances of racism have happened over the years in Northern Ireland. Historically, Northern Ireland is a deeply segregated and divided area, and although we have moved mountains since the era of the troubles, young people have become accustomed to the history of our nation, whether socially—outside the education sector —or internally, in schools or other education settings. Sectarian words fly around and are often used incorrectly, especially by young people, and can often be seen as “cool”. The fact is that they are not and never will be.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland states that

“schools in Northern Ireland have a responsibility not to discriminate against pupils on the protected grounds of sex, sexual orientation, race or disability. The law does not apply to age, religious belief and political opinion and gender reassignment in schools.”

I struggle to understand why religious belief is not included in that law, given that it is completely embedded in Northern Irish history.

We are no stranger to talking about our past and how it has had an impact on current generations. However, I genuinely believe that more can be done in schools in Northern Ireland to tackle sectarianism and the use of verbal slurs by young children. There are ways in which schools can teach young people about all types of discrimination. My youngest staff member remembers taking a class in school called “Learning for life and work”, with a module studying citizenship. Through this module, pupils were taught about the benefits and the challenges associated with cultural identity, the causes and consequences of prejudice and discrimination in society, and the benefits and challenges of immigration for communities, society and the economy. Those are all very worthy things, which we should take onboard. Again, I ask the Minister this question: what discussion has there been with his equivalent in the Northern Ireland Assembly, perhaps to get a grasp of what is being done in Northern Ireland and what is being done here, in order to work better together?

It is really important in today’s society that young children are aware of the environment around them. There are more people emigrating here, so there are more people from different cultures, with different histories, traditions and countries. We have more of that in Northern Ireland than we have ever had before. It tells me that we have to adapt. We want to welcome them; I am very much in favour of that.

It is good that young pupils can look at who they are sitting beside, or consider the background of their friends, understand the disabilities that some people may have, and have a general tolerance—how much has tolerance been mentioned?—of people who are different from them. Poor mental health and bullying can stem from racial discrimination in schools and there should certainly be more scope for teachers to be able to take appropriate action so that children understand and treat their peers with respect.

On love and tolerance, I am trying to remember the name of the organisation that says:

“Love for all. Hatred for none.”

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman use that phrase and I think he will find that it is the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that coined it. It is very apt in this debate.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the hon. Lady for reminding me of that, and it is an apt phrase.

I always try to treat people as I wish they would treat me—not that I am any better than anyone else, because I am not. I will just say that if we all adopted that attitude, life would be a lot better, and for our children—who will be the elders of tomorrow, and the people who will have responsibility, and take our positions whenever we pass on from this world—it is important that we get this right.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities) 4:49, 8 March 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Fovargue.

I am really glad to be here in Westminster Hall today. This is a debate that people might not expect to find a Scottish Member participating in, but it is on such an important subject that I decided to come along anyway. I thought that Janet Daby made a really powerful and compelling, and very clear-headed, speech to introduce the debate. That matters because it is such an important subject that it requires that kind of clear explanation about what is happening and why it matters.

Racism in society in general is obviously deeply troubling and damaging, but racism in our schools and educational settings is perhaps even worse. These are children, at formative points in their lives, in an environment where they should feel completely safe and where they should be able to relax and to learn, being put into situations that make that much harder or even impossible. The knock-on impacts throughout people’s lives if they have had that very difficult experience at school, which has perhaps caused them not to fulfil the potential they have, should be clear to all of us. That is something that should occupy our minds.

Jim Shannon often makes salient points in debates, and he talked about the importance of welcoming people who have come here from other places. Obviously, that is not a direct read-across to racism in schools, but it is an important point to make. We should welcome diversity, difference and those who have arrived from other places. I reflect, with a degree of sadness, on some of the narrative that we hear from the Government Benches at the moment—the “stop the boats” narrative and “the hostile environment”. Such things do not happen in isolation—[Interruption.] I can hear Dr Mullan chuntering; I do not know whether he is referring to what I am saying.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

If the hon. Gentleman would have the courtesy to either intervene or to allow me to contribute so that I can hear myself over him, that would be helpful. It troubles me that that narrative is out there. It has an impact on people’s behaviours and it will have an impact on what people experience in schools. The hon. Gentleman should have the good grace to at least listen to my perspective on that. I am sure that if he wants to contribute, the Chair will allow him to do so.

We have to think about the environment in which all of that is happening. From my own perspective, it is vital to me, my politics and my beliefs that Scotland is an open and welcoming country. That does not mean that we have some kind of magic wand that means that racism does not exist in Scotland. Of course, that is not the case; we have to be mindful of that and always on our guard. We must be clear that the aspirations we have and the reality we may see in front of us does not mean that racism not there.

I suspect I say that because I come from a particular place. I represent a very diverse constituency. East Renfrewshire is one of the most diverse constituencies in Scotland, and we are far the better for that. Most of the Jewish population in Scotland lives there, we have a large and growing Muslim community and we have a thriving Baha’i community. A whole range of people have made their home there and we rub along really well together. That does not happen by accident; it happens with a great deal of good will, work and joint working between communities. That is the case in our schools as well. I commend the education department in East Renfrewshire Council and the schools themselves, where my children, who are children of dual heritage, go, and I have a particular insight because of that.

The Scottish Government have published a race equality framework for Scotland, which is very important. We need to have structures that allow us to scrutinise, work to targets and examine whether we are doing what is needed to make sure all of our children have an appropriate environment in which to learn. We need to appreciate the potential range and diversity of ways in which racism can manifest itself. It can have a broad range of impacts on people. If we are not able to think about and understand that, then we are working with one hand tied behind our back.

Different groups can be affected by racism. The hon. Member for Strangford made a good point about sectarianism being an issue. Representing a seat in the west of Scotland, I know that that is true. I was also grateful to receive a briefing from the Traveller Movement. We do not speak nearly enough about the impact on Traveller and Gypsy communities of the racism that they face daily.

There are lots of things that will have an impact on how our children and our education systems deal with issues of race. In recent years, we have heard of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has shone a powerful spotlight on these issues. One would hope that it would have allowed further discussion about how we deal with race education in schools. I am pleased that it has led to that discussion in Scotland—discussion about the decolonising of the curriculum, and conversations about slavery and how different historical eras have manifested themselves. We cannot shy away from these realities, and it is important that our children learn and understand what happened in the past. Otherwise, they are going to be much more prone to making the same mistakes in the future that their and our forebears made.

I know the huge amount of work that goes on in my local area, and a lot of it goes on unsung and unappreciated every day. It is right to put on the record a real appreciation for the teachers in my local area, and I really want to do that today. Lots of holocaust education takes place in my community, and that is really valuable. Some of it involves the Anne Frank Trust, and there is work with the Holocaust Educational Trust, Gathering the Voices, the Lessons from Auschwitz project and Vision Schools—I could go on. That work also involves listening directly to the voices of those who have been in that situation themselves—the testimony of people such as holocaust survivors Henry and the late Ingrid Wuga. All of those things really matter.

I was really glad to participate last week in the filming for a documentary by a young woman called Rachel Kinnear, a journalism student at Edinburgh Napier University, who is making a documentary about holocaust education. The fact that there are young people who are putting their minds to the issues of holocaust, race and education and how they fit together is profoundly helpful and very important, as we look forward, at a time where there are challenges in our society on how we deal with and engage with one another.

I also had a conversation this week that gave me a wee bit of food for thought on this topic, with a local school librarian named Anne De’Ath. We were discussing this debate, and she talked to me about the role of school librarians in trying to make sure that appropriate educational material is available across curricular areas. The art department could be looking at different kinds of art and culture; it could be music, it could be English, it could be history—it could be all of the things that I might not have thought of, because I might be thinking in a very linear way about how a library might support this kind of education. It is not just the personal and social education class; it is much more, and much broader.

We will never rid our schools of racism if we do not think about education in those broad terms and if we do not accept that it is a responsibility, not just of the headteacher and the teacher, but also of the librarian—I am very grateful to Anne for her time—and of the students. We heard from the hon. Member for Strangford about the students working with their teacher. I know that really good work goes on in my local area with students and teachers working together.

All of the work has to be deliberate, though. That takes me back to where I started. None of this work happens in isolation. None of it happens alone. We need to have a will and a determination to make sure that we acknowledge that racism in schools is a reality, that it does happen and that we want to deal with it and minimise it, and stamp it out wherever possible.

We have made significant progress. We have made significant progress in Scotland, and that is heartening, and I have no doubt that progress has been made in the community of the hon. Member for Lewisham East, too—but we are absolutely not there. We are at a challenging point in history and in society. If we do not accept that and take positive steps to talk about these issues, we do all of our young people a grave disservice.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 4:58, 8 March 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Janet Daby for leading this debate, following the awful recent incidents at schools in Surrey and Kent, which other Members have also raised. Our thoughts go out to the victims and their families following those dreadful incidents.

We have heard from a range of Members today, with helpful interventions and speeches, including on the importance of leadership by heads and governors, the need for a diverse workforce and the value of data in informing strategic responses. Jim Shannon shared his wisdom and experience from Northern Ireland and its schools, and the importance of tackling discrimination for the benefit of community cohesion. We heard about the value of citizenship on the curriculum and how that can help young people prepare for life and the environment and culture around them.

Kirsten Oswald made some hugely powerful remarks about the environment in which such incidents can happen in schools. It falls on all our shoulders to think about the language and tone of the debates in our country, to create a country of compassion and respect for all cultures.

Schools should be a place where children develop a love of learning and are prepared for life, where they make friends and learn life skills, where they feel safe, and with zero tolerance for racism. Recent figures, however, sadly indicate a rise in racism in schools across the UK. Some 7,403 students were suspended last year for incidents including racially motivated assaults, according to data from the Department for Education under a freedom of information request. The number marks a 50% increase on the previous year.

According to an October 2020 report from the YMCA, 95% of young black people report that they have heard or witnessed the use of racist language in school; 49% felt that racism was the biggest barrier to attaining success in school; 50% said that the biggest barrier was teacher perceptions of them—for example, being “too aggressive” —and 70% had felt the need to change their hair to be “more professional” at work or school. Those are shocking statistics and show that we cannot be complacent in the fight against racism in our schools.

In this debate, we should of course not forget the brilliant work that headteachers, school support staff and senior leadership teams do across our country to educate our children and get them ready for life. Also, we should not forget about the work that the vast majority of schoolteachers do to make their schools and classrooms inclusive and welcoming to all children. Despite that, however, we clearly need to do much more to address the racial inequalities in our schools.

A third of pupils in both primary and secondary are from an ethnic minority background, but according to a UCL study, 46% of schools do not have a teacher from an ethnic minority background. Nationally, retention is lower for ethnic minority teachers than for white British teachers. That includes higher turnover due to moving school or not remaining in the teaching profession. Of course, racial inequalities and discrimination go beyond schools.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has spoken about teacher representation, which I did not. Is he aware of a Women and Equalities Committee sitting on racial harassment, discrimination and higher education, in which Professor Nicola Rollock described the experience of black female professors in the UK, noting undermining, stereotyping and passive bullying as issues? Also, is he aware that data from May 2022 shows that there are only 40 black female professors in higher education? That is a shocking figure.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I thank the hon. Member for those statistics, and I am pleased that she got them on the record. I hope that the Minister is listening and will address those points later in his contribution.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence’s review identified how structural inequalities caused black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds to be discriminated against because of covid-19. She made a series of long-term recommendations to tackle the structural inequalities in several key areas, including the machinery of government, health, employment and the education system. Systemic solutions are required to fix systemic problems. That is why the next Labour Government will introduce a new race equality Act to tackle the structural racism that scars society.

In conclusion, the highest priority for the Department for Education and all schools must be to protect children’s safety and wellbeing. In the Minister’s response, I hope he will outline what his Department is doing to evaluate whether the current safeguards to prevent racial discrimination are robust enough; whether we should look further into school staff training on handling racism in schools; whether we are doing enough to encourage young people to speak out against racism when they see it; and whether the Government are doing enough to prevent incidents such as those we have seen recently from taking place again. I finish by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East for securing the debate. I hope that any actions taken forward from today will ensure that awful incidents such as those that prompted this debate will never take place again.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 5:04, 8 March 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate Janet Daby on securing this debate on an important subject. There is of course no place in our education system for discrimination or bullying of any kind. I recognise and share the concerns raised by her and other hon. Members about racist or discriminatory behaviour in schools. I was deeply concerned to hear about the incidents at both Thomas Knyvett College and Walderslade Girls’ School. I am aware that there are multiple ongoing investigations into the incidents at both schools. It would therefore not be appropriate for me to comment on those specific incidents, but I share the concerns raised right across the Chamber about them.

Schools’ responsibilities relate to discrimination in a number of ways. Keeping children safe is a priority, and safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility. The role of schools is critical, and all staff should have an awareness of the various safeguarding issues that children can face, including the risk of violence and discrimination. The hon. Member for Lewisham East was absolutely right when she opened her speech by saying that when parents—including herself—send their children to school in the morning, they expect them to be safe and protected. I think everyone taking part in this debate can agree with that.

We remain committed to ensuring that teachers have the tools and support to carry out their responsibilities. In September last year, we updated the statutory guidance, “Keeping children safe in education,” which supports schools and colleges to meet their duties in relation to equality, harassment and victimisation. The role of schools is not just reactive. State-funded schools, as public authorities, must comply with the public sector equality duty, which means that they must have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation; to advance equality of opportunity; and to foster good relations between people who share protected characteristics and those who do not, including between people from different ethnic backgrounds. The Department has published guidance to support schools to comply with those duties under the Equality Act 2010.

The hon. Member also raised the issue of reasonable force. A new programme of work to minimise the use of restraint and reasonable force in all schools has started, and will include updating guidance with a focus on prevention and de-escalation, and making it a legal duty to record and report incidents of restraint to parents. That work began with extensive consultation, research and a call for evidence on the use of reasonable force and restrictive practices, which was launched in February and will be open for 12 weeks, closing on 11 May.

The hon. Member raised the issue of black writers in the curriculum. Schools, of course, make their own decisions, choosing texts within the set requirements. There is guidance for teachers on how to make their choices of texts, with literacy organisations and reading charities offering suggestions, book lists, guidance, research and support. She also asked about the teaching workforce, and what more can be done to ensure that teachers reflect the make-up of British society. The Government share her ambition, and we are making progress on teacher recruitment. Of postgraduate trainees who declared their ethnic group, 78% were white, 12% were Asian, 5% were black, 4% were mixed ethnicity and 2% responded “other”. Those are broadly similar proportions to 2021-22 and 2020-21.

Our recruitment campaigns are targeted at audiences of students, recent graduates and potential career changers regardless of their identity or background, and last year “Apply for teacher training”—our new application service for initial teacher training in England—was rolled out nationally. The service has been designed to be as user-friendly as possible, and has been extensively tested with a diverse range of potential applicants to ensure that it helps to remove barriers to great teachers from all backgrounds applying for initial teacher training.

A vital part of meeting these duties is creating a safe, calm and supportive environment for all pupils. Headteachers play an important role in preventing bullying, harassment and discrimination in their schools, and they should ensure that they consider the needs of all pupils and staff when developing the school’s approach to its behaviour policy, which all schools are required to have in place.

Successful schools recognise that they need to work continually to maintain high standards of behaviour. That can be achieved only by all members of the school community working together to reflect the school’s values and creating a culture in which bullying, physical threats or abuse and intimidation, including racial discrimination, are not tolerated.

The hon. Member for Lewisham East asked about support for teachers and headteachers. Our recently updated “Behaviour in schools” guidance advises schools on creating environments where pupils and staff can work in safety and are respected. The guidance is clear that as part of a school’s behaviour policy, it should have clear measures to prevent all forms of bullying, including prejudice-based bullying. When an incident does occur, schools should take swift and decisive action to resolve it.

Schools should explicitly teach pupils about which behaviours are permitted and which are not, and when any incidents of bullying, discrimination or use of derogatory language occur, staff should respond promptly, predictably and confidently. Pupils need to understand that there are consequences for their behaviour, and that will often involve the use of reasonable and proportionate sanctions. Schools should also make it clear to pupils that good behaviour does not end at the school gates, and underscore the importance of kindness and respect towards others outside of school. The school behaviour policy should set out how the school will respond to any misbehaviour outside school premises.

The hon. Member asked about schools recording incidents of a racist nature. Racism of any kind is completely unacceptable and is abhorrent in any school setting—indeed, in any setting. We do not mandate that schools record or publish racist incidents; they are best placed to monitor and tackle racist incidents. They are required to have a behaviour policy, as I said, which outlines measures to prevent racist and other forms of bullying, and they are held to account by Ofsted. They are also required to take steps to advance equality of opportunity, foster good relations and eliminate racial harassment. We provide support to schools to do that. There is no legal obligation on schools to record and report incidents of bullying, and there never has been.

Bullying can just as easily occur online as it does face to face, but evidence suggests that most online bullying of children and young people is linked to face-to-face bullying. Schools can also help to prevent online bullying by educating their pupils about acceptable ways to behave online. The relationships, sex and health education curriculum guides teachers by supporting them to ensure that children learn about the risks of the internet, including cyber-bullying and online grooming. As part of an anti-bullying grant funded programme, the Anti-Bullying Alliance delivers a key stage 3 and 4 online toolkit called “Stop, Speak, Support”, which was produced with support from the Royal Foundation’s cyber-bullying taskforce to further help teachers. The Diana Award also has hundreds of free resources in its resource centre, including on online safety.

Through the health education curriculum, all pupils will be taught about online safety and harms. That includes being taught what positive, healthy and respectful online relationships look like, the effects of their online actions on others and knowing how to recognise and display respectful behaviour online. When bullying outside schools is reported to teachers, it should be investigated and acted on. If the bullying develops into criminal activity, schools must take immediate action and report it to the police.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his helpful responses to the inquiries from the hon. Member for Lewisham East and others. I am mindful—and we are all aware—of cases where online bullying has unfortunately led to some young people either injuring themselves or committing suicide, because the pressure from their peers was so great. What are the Minister’s ideas on how he and schools can respond to that in a positive and helpful way, so that it is dealt with at an early stage before it becomes something with which the young person feels they can no longer cope?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

It is beyond tragic when we read of children taking their own lives because of how miserable they are due to online, or any form of, bullying. That is why the relationships, sex and health education guidance in the curriculum is designed in part to ensure that children learn how to behave online and in day-to-day life, and to understand about kindness and the consequences of their actions on others. That is why it is such an important part of the curriculum: to prevent precisely that kind of behaviour leading to those tragic outcomes.

Learning about respectful relationships is key to tackling discrimination in schools. All children in England will learn about respectful relationships in person and online as part of the mandatory relationships, sex and health education. The curriculum has a strong focus on equality, respect and the harmful impact of stereotyping, as well as the importance of valuing difference. Citizenship education enables pupils to explore a range of important and complex concepts, such as racial justice and the need for mutual respect and understanding. Addressing these topics in school will help all pupils to lead happy and fulfilled lives that will benefit them throughout adulthood.

To help schools to prevent and, where necessary, address discriminatory behaviour, the Department continues to publish information, guidance and support for teachers and school leaders on how to challenge radical views, including racist views, on the Educate Against Hate website. One of those resources is the respectful school communities toolkit, which is a self-review and signposting tool to support schools to develop a whole-school approach that promotes respect and discipline. That can help to combat bullying, harassment and prejudice of any kind, including hate-based bullying. The Educate Against Hate website hosts information for parents and carers through the parents’ hub.

In conclusion, I reiterate our commitment to supporting schools in their work to educate young people about prejudice of all forms and to protect young people from discrimination. Most schools maintain a high standard of behaviour, where pupils are educated in a calm, safe and supportive environment, but we know that managing these issues can be challenging and that some schools need to do more. All pupils in our schools deserve to grow up free from discrimination and hate in a culture of respect and kindness, and it continues to be our priority to ensure that that happens.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East 5:17, 8 March 2023

I thank all hon. Members who have contributed through interventions and speeches in this significant debate. Jim Shannon spoke about children sometimes not being fully aware of the words they say. That is, indeed, why they are at school in the first place—to learn, to be educated, to know about difference, and so on. Education rightly takes place at school, and also in the wider community. Obviously, the family also has an impact. He spoke about the need for harmony in schools—I absolutely agree with that—and the need for love and tolerance. We all need much more of that in our society.

Kirsten Oswald spoke with such passion and a deep sense of what needs to be done and changed in this area. I could disagree with nothing in what she said. Learning about the past to improve our future is key. Children and young people need to be able to learn in a relaxing environment that is conducive to learning, and facilitating that environment is key. There was some tension in this Chamber regarding some of the narrative about other people who arrive on our shores and the need to ensure that that negative narrative does not persist, because that could go on to have an effect on children and young children and cause more tensions in our society that could lead to discrimination. I absolutely agree with that.

I know from this debate and conversations we have had elsewhere that the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Stephen Morgan, is deeply concerned about this issue. I thank the Minister for acknowledging all the concerns and issues that I raised and for addressing them so carefully. I acknowledge the prevention and de-escalation work that is taking place and the review. That is key, and I look forward to those outcomes and the training for teachers and staff, if this goes ahead.

I impress on the Minister the need to look again at data collection, which I believe needs to take place in schools, and I am sure many Members agree. If data is being collected on what schools are doing on racial discrimination, bullying and even cyber-bullying, that can be tracked and monitored and can lead to improvements. I agree with the general sense of the debate that children need to learn in an environment where there is respect, where they are free from abuse or bullying, and where all teachers and school staff are working towards young people’s best interests.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered racial discrimination in schools.

Sitting adjourned.