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Thursday, February 25, 1999 Published at 13:23 GMT


Blair backs lessons against racism

Schools should "value cultural diversity", says report

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has emphasised the importance of education in preventing racism.

The BBC's Jane Bennett-Powell: "Racist attitudes can take hold among 5-7 year olds"
"You will never stop really bad people being bad, but for the vast majority of people it's a process of education, getting rid of intolerance and bigotry and prejudice," said Mr Blair.

His remarks follow the recommendation of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report that lessons in anti-racism should be included in the National Curriculum.

Under the heading Prevention and the Role of Education, the inquiry report says:

"That consideration be given to amendment of the National Curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism, in order better to reflect the needs of a diverse society.

"That local education authorities and school governors have the duty to create and implement strategies in their schools to prevent and address racism.

"Such strategies to include:

  • that schools record all racist incidents;
  • that all recorded incidents are reported to the pupils' parents/guardians, school governors and local education authorities;
  • that the numbers of racist incidents are published annually, on a school by school basis; and
  • that the numbers and self defined ethnic identity of 'excluded' pupils are published annually on a school by school basis."

[ image:  ]
The report also recommends that inspections by the Office for Standards in Education include examination of how such strategies are being implemented.

The mother of the murdered black teenager has welcomed the report's emphasis on education.

"For a long time I have talked about education as the key," Mrs Lawrence said.

"I truly believe in education as gaining and imparting knowledge. Our history, our background, is what separates us.

Doreen Lawrence on education
"If those who ... murdered my son had been better educated in knowing who had helped to build this society in which we live in, they would have realised that everything in this country ... black people have played a part in it."

At present, schools are not specifically instructed to promote racial awareness in lessons, but subjects such as religious education and history provide opportunities for teachers to explore the issue with pupils.

More explicit guidelines for teachers may result from the review of the National Curriculum being carried out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA).

One option being examined is the introduction of compulsory "preparation for adult life" lessons into the secondary school curriculum. These would tackle issues including racism, cultural differences, family life and drugs.

[ image: Regulations covering what is taught in the classroom are under review]
Regulations covering what is taught in the classroom are under review
The QCA's suggestions for changing the National Curriculum will be subject to approval by the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, before their introduction in September 2000.

The government has already signalled its support for the teaching of "citizenship" in schools.

In Scotland - which is not covered by the National Curriculum - schools are provided with broad guidelines about what they should teach.

Those relating to personal and social development lessons refer explicitly to the need to teach pupils about ethnic and racial diversity.

In Northern Ireland, "education for mutual understanding" has been taught as a "cross-curricular theme" in the province's schools since 1989.

Designed to break down barriers between the unionist and nationalist communities, it promotes an awareness of the beliefs of the two communities through subjects such as history and literature.

'Social justice'

Following the publication of the inquiry report, Mr Blunkett said: "The tragedy of Stephen Lawrence's death shows how much more needs to be done to promote social justice in our communities.

"This is about how we treat each other and, importantly, how we learn to respect ourselves and one another as citizens. That learning comes from within the home, at school and the wider community.

"That is why we are promoting the teaching of citizenship at school, to help children learn to grow up in a society that cares and to have real equality of opportunity for all."

Too many children from ethnic minorities were underachieving at school, said Mr Blunkett, while black pupils were more likely to be expelled or suspended from lessons.

He announced that attempts to tackle such problems would include calling on the Office for Standards in Education to conduct special annual inspections of schools with high levels of exclusion - including those which exclude disproportionate numbers of ethnic minority pupils.

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