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The BBC and the myth of primary school racism


THIS was the blaring headline on a recent BBC article: ‘Exclusions for racism in primary schools in England up more than 40%’. The Times followed the BBC’s lead with ‘Primary schools suspend 40% more pupils for racist behaviour’. 

The story would have been more accurately reported as: ‘Latest figures obtained by BBC News show that racism is almost non-existent in primary schools. On average, for every five hundred primary school classes, there is only one serious case of racism.’

The Times had taken the trusty BBC research department’s word. It was their investigation that found that amongst the 7million or so primary school children, the number of racist events warranting exclusion has increased from 350 to 496 over 11 years (a period in which the nursery and primary school population has been rising).

Even those figures can’t really be dressed up as shock horror because, belying the sentiment of its own headline, the BBC had to admit ‘exclusions for racism across all schools in England has (sic) fallen over the same period’.

Undoubtedly the delightful-looking child cited as Nai’m who is reported to have been subject to five incidents finds it tough. He says much of the abuse happens on the school football pitch, that another pupil had called him ‘a black midget’, and that being called racist names by a friend left him ‘a little shocked and sad at the same time’. Such a narrative shows the seriousness of the sort of speech involved and the effects it has. By any measure this is unacceptable bullying that any decent school should come down on like a ton of bricks.

However, while one shouldn’t be indifferent, the reported level of serious racist events does seem remarkably low, and given that we are dealing with children nearly all of whom are below the age of criminal responsibility, such incidents should be well within the power of schools to deal with quickly and summarily. 

No so for the BBC, anxious to alarm us about the perils of rising hate crime: ‘If we have an increase in hate crime in society . . . children will pick that up very quickly’; ‘racism . . . affects the whole of society’. 

Of course schools should ‘continue to challenge all forms of racism’. But isn’t there a worse danger: of dramatising and exacerbating a problem that doesn’t exist?

Apparently school staff overheard ‘worrying’ conversations between pupils. ‘We also heard children talking about the colour of someone’s skin.’ 

Well, if children can’t comment on or talk about skin colour at the primary school stage, when can they? An intelligent school would take the opportunity to discuss it intelligently and openly. What an opportunity for a practical moral – and indeed Christian – message that we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord and the law.

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Edited by Kathy Gyngell

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