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Schools: Racist Incidents

Volume 795: debated on Monday 18 February 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in meeting the recommendation of the Report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, published in February 1999, that schools record all racist incidents and that the numbers of racist incidents are published annually on a school by school basis.

My Lords, schools are best placed to monitor and tackle racist incidents. We do not mandate that schools record or publish these, but they are required to have a behaviour policy that outlines measures to prevent racist and other forms of bullying, and 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 this.

I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Lawrence of Clarendon, perhaps the greatest campaigner for race equality that this country has ever known. When I think of the last 20 years since the publication of the Lawrence report and the challenges that those years have brought to the cause of race equality, I think of terrorism, anti-immigration sentiment, rising inequality, and sadly even recent debates around Brexit. Too often, social media has been an engine and vehicle for the transmission of race hate before, during and after class. Will the Minister set out his thinking on what can be done on the part of the Government to better resource hard-pressed teachers and schools to tackle this, and what the Government intend to do about it?

I echo the thoughts of the noble Baroness and pay my own tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence. We have an inaugural Stephen Lawrence Day coming up on 22 April, and I am sure many schools will want to take part. We trust the professionals in our schools to act in the best interests of their pupils. What counts is what is happening on the ground. Schools do not operate in isolation so issues soon come to light, and schools work closely with local authorities, regional schools commissioners and their governing bodies.

My Lords, now that the Government at last have the power to make PSHE compulsory in all schools, including academies, what steps will they take to ensure that racial and religious discrimination forms an essential part of that curriculum?

Racism of any kind is completely unacceptable and abhorrent in any setting. The Government are fully committed to eradicating it and are taking several actions. The DfE is providing over £2.8 million of funding between September 2016 and March 2020 to four anti-bullying organisations to support schools to tackle bullying; again, it is action on the ground. Those include the Anne Frank Trust, which we are funding to develop and deliver its “Free to Be” debate programme.

My Lords, my noble friend is correct that the professionals and schools are at the front line of dealing with these issues. In the past, one issue has been the lack of diversity in the workforce in our schools. What progress has been made in ensuring ethnic diversity in the workforce, and particularly in the leadership of our schools?

My noble friend is right. The Government recognise the importance of a representative and diverse teaching workforce, which is vital for both teachers and their pupils. That is why we published a statement of intent last year, alongside 10 co-signatories including the ASCL, the NAHT and the NGA, to commit to work together to address the diversity of the teaching workforce. The latest figure that I have, as of November 2017, indicates that 7% of head teachers in primary schools and 8% in secondary schools were from ethnic minorities; there is always more work to do.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Church of England is responsible for many schools where the majority of pupils are from a BME background. Those schools operate in great harmony. That is along with our initiative, Living Well Together. It would be good to hear more about how the DfE makes use of the information and statistics that it receives. There is an issue about holding the whole estate accountable, which cannot be left entirely to the local situation.

The right reverend Prelate is right to raise that point. The DfE has an integrated communities strategy, which I am sure he is aware of. Education has a vital role in promoting integration. Through education, we can ensure that the next generation learns the values underpinning our society. All schools are required to promote mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs, as well as democracy, the rule of law and individual liberty. I hope that is clear.

My Lords, as you are aware, my interest in this subject is around the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, where schools are given a definition of a racist incident and what they are expected to do in the circumstances, which is to record, report and publish. In researching online, I found it difficult to find any results on this. All I could find was material about filling in forms. An academy in Swindon said that:

“Schools should be aware that there is no … requirement to collect data relating to racial incident reporting as academy schools are not obliged to share this information with the LA”.

The Parent Zone website states that:

“Schools are required to record and respond to racist incidents”.

What steps have the Government taken to make sure that schools take racist incidents seriously and report and publish them on an annual basis?

The noble Baroness raises an important point. As I said earlier, schools should develop their own approaches to monitor bullying, including racist bullying, and exercise their own judgment on what will work best for their pupils. We have not gone down the route of mandating figures to be published because, for some schools, it will mean recording incidents so that they can monitor incident numbers and identify where bullying is recurring between the same pupils, but other schools may prefer to survey their pupils anonymously to identify bullying trends and gauge how safe pupils feel at school. As I have said, it is work on the ground that counts.