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Wednesday, 12 January, 2000, 15:56 GMT
Nursery rhyme ban scrapped

They can hear Baa Baa Black Sheep after all

A warning that the nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep should not be taught in schools because it is "racially offensive" has been scrapped.

The guidelines by education chiefs at Birmingham City Council were dropped after black parents condemned the advice as ridiculous.

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full;
One for the master,
And one for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane
Baa Baa Black Sheep
Schools had been told that the old rhyme was negative and could cause offence.

The issue was highlighted when a council inspector pointed out the guidelines during a visit to a nursery school.

The guidelines stated: "The term 'black sheep' is considered by many people a very negative statement.

"It is often used to describe someone's negative feelings about a person, eg. 'he's the black sheep of the family'.

"The history behind the rhyme is very negative and also very offensive to black people, due to the fact that the rhyme originates from slavery.

"The rhyme has colonial links: 'Three bags full' refers to the three bags of wool which the slaves were told to collect and 'yes sir, yes sir' is how the slaves would reply to the slave masters when told to do a task.

"For the above reasons it would be advisable to refrain from singing this nursery rhyme."

Parents and teachers called the advice "madness", with one black parent, who would not be named, saying: "It is quite ridiculous. The rhyme is about black sheep not black people. It is not offensive."


Her views were supported by children's entertainer Lenny Alsop, who said the rhyme was harmless.

"Wherever I go, almost every child knows Baa Baa Black Sheep, which suggests that they are delighted by it," he said.

A Birmingham City Council spokesman said: "The Working Group Against Racism in Children's Resources has for many years produced guidance which is valuable in nurseries, alongside a whole range of guidance from other agencies.

"We have investigated an alleged incident where an inspector referred staff at a nursery facility to the guidance.

"As a result of this one-off incident, we have looked at this guidance again, and have made it clear to the nursery that this advice was inappropriate.

"We will not be allowing the guidance to be handed out in Birmingham nurseries in the future."

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