Schools told to root out institutional racism

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Schools must root out institutional racism before they can succeed in carrying out a new legal duty to promote community cohesion, a senior adviser to the Government warned today.

Sir Keith Ajegbo, the author of a report on an inquiry into how to promote British values in schools, spoke out about the "shocking statistic" that black Afro-Caribbean boys were three times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than white youngsters.

"It still shocks me," he said in an interview with The Independent. "Afro-Caribbean boys and white boys might have done the same thing but the Afro-Caribbean is excluded. This still happens in schools and it might be to do with institutional racism. This needs to be looked at. I'm not in any way suggesting that schools are overtly racist but it could be built into the sub-conscious of the school and it is important for schools to look at this."

His latest comments follow a report by civil servants at the then Department for Education and Skills a year ago which fought shy of using the term "institutional racism" to describe the high exclusion rate amongst Afro-Caribbean pupils. In the end, they left the decision up to ministers who decided the term "systematic racial discrimination" should be used because it was considered less incendiary.

The latest ethnic breakdown of school exclusions, published by the Government, shows that four out of every 10,000 Afro-Caribbean pupils are permanently excluded from school compared with just 1.3 for white British pupils. The figures, from 2005, also show that 1,000 black pupils are permanently excluded a year and 30,000 are given fixed term suspensions.

Sir Keith, a former head of Deptford Green school in Lewisham, south London – which was the first in the country to include citizenship as a specialism, is now engaged on a whistle-stop tour of the country aimed at preparing schools for new legislation compelling them to promote social cohesion. He is visiting nine regions ,supported by the Institute for Community Cohesion.

As from next September, Ofsted – the education standards watchdog – has been given the task of reporting on how effectively they are carrying out this duty in every school inspection.

Sir Keith's tour follows the publication of an inquiry he headed into how to promote British values and prepare children for a diverse society. Its findings were pivotal in persuading the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to launch a campaign to promote the teaching of "Britishness" in schools.

In all-white schools, he said there were heads that were ready and willing to prepare their pupils for a diverse world. But others, he said, "were worried about getting it started" because they felt "it will be difficult for us with parents and children".

"Community cohesion has got to be taught in some kind of perspective," he said.

Sir Keith believes history projects can be used to develop a sense of community cohesion. For instance, in largely white Northamptonshire, a black history project was mounted which discovered the first black person to live in the county had been there in 1206.

"Normally, when schools look at black history they look at Martin Luther King and events like the American civil rights movement," he said. "This brings black history closer to home."

Nationally, through a new strand of the history curriculum looking at modern British history, schools will be urged to look at issues including the history of immigration, the British Empire and Commonwealth and the European Union and its impact on migration to the UK. A quick trawl through the history of immigration in the UK shows Elizabeth I was contemplating enforced black repatriation from the UK in 1596.

His report called for a new GCSE combining history and citizenship.

He said: "We should also be tackling questions like 'is the Notting Hill Carnival British?'. It isn't suddenly going to change overnight. When different communities get together, they find they have a lot in common – shared pop music, for instance."