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This debate pack provides information on the responsibilities of school leaders in England in tackling racism, support for education providers in addressing issues of racial discrimination, and background on specific recent incidents linked to schools in Surrey and Kent. 

Responsibilities of school leaders in tackling racial discrimination

All state-funded schools in England must:

  • Have an anti-bullying policy, and a behaviour policy
  • Comply with the Equality Act 2010, and not unlawfully discriminate against pupils or prospective pupils on the grounds of race (or other protected characteristics)
  • In line with the public sector equality duty (PSED): 
    • Eliminate discrimination and other conduct that is prohibited by the Act
    • Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it
    • Foster good relations across all characteristics – between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it
    • Comply with both specific education law on exclusions, and general law on discrimination, when temporarily or permanently excluding pupils

Incidents at Surrey and Kent schools

In February 2023, a Black pupil was attacked outside a secondary school in Ashford, Surrey. Janet Daby and 30 other Members wrote to Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, about the attack, calling for action and support for the victims.

Surrey Police issued an update about the case on 9 February 2023, confirming a number of arrests:

Four people were arrested on suspicion of attempted racially aggravated grievous bodily harm (GBH), including a 39-year-old woman, a 16-year-old girl, and two 11-year-old girls. The 39-year-old woman and a 43-year-old man were also arrested on suspicion of child neglect and intentionally encouraging and assisting the commission of an indictable only offence. The 16-year-old girl was also arrested on suspicion of malicious communications. A 15 year old girl remains outstanding. More than 50 officers and staff have been involved with both the investigation and ongoing engagement with the local community who are understandably extremely concerned about the attack.

Later in February 2023, reports and video footage began to circulate on social media about another racially motivated assault in a Kent secondary school. Responding to a parliamentary question from Ms Daby about the incidents, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said:

The recent violent incident in the vicinity of Thomas Knyvett and the incident in Medway were absolutely abhorrent. Children’s safety and wellbeing is the Department’s highest priority, and schools and colleges have a duty to safeguard. Since the incident, the Department has been in regular contact with the academy trust and local authorities. A police investigation is ongoing in one of those cases, and the academy trust is working with the relevant authorities to undertake a thorough review into what happened.

June 2020 report by the Runnymede Trust looked at race and racism in secondary schools. This identified issues with:

  • A lack of diversity in the teaching workforce, and in schools’ curricula
  • Low levels of racial literacy among school staff
  • Policing activity and presence in schools being concentrated in areas with higher deprivation, which also tended to have larger Black and minority ethnic populations
  • Uneven, and sometimes inadequate approaches to interpersonal pupilon-pupil racism within schools
  • Seemingly ‘race-neutral’ policies around uniform and personal appearance, that may discriminate against Black and minority ethnic pupils.

An October 2020 report from the YMCA (link to PDF) looked at young Black people’s experiences of institutional racism in the UK. Its estimates, based on focus group and survey research, included:

  • 95% of young Black people report that they have heard and witnessed the use of racist language at school
  • 49% of young Black people felt that racism was the biggest barrier to attaining success in school, while 50% said the biggest barrier was teacher perceptions of them – eg, being seen as “too aggressive.”
  • 70% of young Black people had felt the need to change their hair to be “more professional” at work or school.

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