DDU Case Study Exposes Brighton’s Racial Literacy 101 Training for Teachers
Download this case study in PDF format here.
In June 2020, Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC) announced their intention to become an Anti-Racist Council. This was followed in November by the introduction of an Anti-Racist Schools Strategy which approved the implementation of racial literacy training for teachers and school governors. The council hired an independent trainer of their choice to deliver the sessions to teachers, heads and school governors, which were advertised to schools from December 2020.
Despite statements to the contrary from BHCC leadership, the form of ‘anti-racism’ adopted is derived exclusively from American Critical Race Theory (CRT) and presents controversial and contested concepts such as ‘white privilege,’ ‘unconscious bias’ and ‘systemic racism’ as though they are a matter of public consensus or fact. Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, leader of BHCC, treated all these concepts as factual and subject to ethical consensus when he felt entitled to sternly reprove a Brighton citizen who had written to him expressing concerns about CRT. They were instructed that ‘white people have a statutory and moral role to play in promoting a fair and just organisation and city by recognising our white privileges and unconscious bias.’ Councillor Hannah Clare likewise endorsed the view that CRT is a matter of factual consensus when she argued that ‘Critical race theory is our lens for developing our understanding of the complexities of racism and not an ideology.’ Anti-racism resources circulated on the BHCC intranet present the worldview of CRT as an unarguable guide to council employee conduct, suggesting that the conviction held by individual BHCC leaders that CRT is a matter of fact has become an integrated part of BHCC’s policy position.
But Councillors Mac Cafferty and Clare are in error. The claims made by CRT are highly contested empirically, culturally, politically and historically. They cannot therefore be considered factual and are best understood as ideological beliefs or values. These ideological beliefs and positions do not represent widely accepted shared principles underpinning British society. Where CRT is understood by the British public, it is commonly found to be at odds with the values of colourblindness, equality of opportunity and universalism that typically characterise British attitudes to race and underpin our shared understanding of what ‘anti-racism’ means. This shared understanding also underpins the British legal system, and the adoption of CRT in educational settings via the Racial Literacy 101 training may be in contravention of parts of the Education and Equality Acts if it is not balanced by equal reference to more commonly accepted and understood forms of liberal anti-racism. At the time of writing, BHCC do not appear to have made any effort to provide this balance within the Anti-Racist Schools Strategy.
This case study will begin with a discussion of failures of democratic policy making by BHCC leadership during the development of the Anti-Racist Schools Strategy, demonstrating the ways in which implementation of CRT ideology made these failures partially inevitable. The extraordinary secrecy surrounding the content of the CRT informed Racial Literacy 101 training will then be explored. Readers should bear in mind that this training, carried out in schools across Brighton and Hove since December 2020, has until very recently been considered by BHCC leadership suitable only to be viewed by themselves, the trainer and attendees. Only once the Racial Literacy 101 training materials had been leaked to the Telegraph and become unavoidable front-page news did BHCC leadership agree to release the content of the training for democratic scrutiny. An analysis of the training, which proved to be highly racially divisive, will be provided. Finally, the Racial Literacy 101 training will be used as an example of the ways in which CRT informed education may fall foul of UK legislation.
Making Public Policy Without the Public
Charitably, it seems that sincere, if partisan, support for CRT by individual BHCC councillors and pressure from vocal but unrepresentative local activists may have been mistaken for a democratic mandate to introduce CRT ideology in Brighton schools. Likewise it is possible, if somewhat concerning, that BHCC leadership were not initially aware that the Racial Literacy 101 training was in possible contravention of the Education Act and Equalities legislation. BHCC representatives like Councillors Hannah Clare, Phélim Mac Cafferty and Amy Heley have very publicly endorsed the value system and beliefs of CRT. No one would dispute the right of individual BHCC councillors to freely hold these views. But their implementation as factual conditions at the level of policy making is profoundly troubling. Parts of CRT ideology are fundamentally at odds with the democratic process and it would appear that ignoring or overruling that process became a feature, rather than a bug, of BHCC’s development of the Anti-Racist Schools Strategy.
For example, wide consultation with people of varying views is usually considered standard practice for elected representatives making policies which will impact their constituents. While councillors are entitled to their own views on racism, they are not entitled to use council policy as a platform for promoting their partisan opinions and are instead expected to consider the needs and views of their constituents. But consultation on the adoption of the Anti-Racist Schools Strategy appears to have taken place highly selectively. Groups favoured by BHCC leadership and known in advance to endorse CRT beliefs have been invited for consultation while individuals and groups with different views have been ignored, demonised or strategically cut out of the policy making process.
So, in August 2020, a petition signed by 2,500 people demanding the implementation of CRT policies was presented to full council, while a petition from July 2021 with the same number of signatures but calling instead for caution about the adoption of CRT was rejected. When the Anti-Racist Schools Strategy was announced in November 2020, the only group external to BHCC which had been consulted on it was the Brighton and Hove Educators of Colour Collective (BHECC). BHECC’s public presence is limited to a Twitter account started in October 2020 and followed by only 265 people and a website that lists no information beyond the designation ‘Educational Consultant.’ The group appears to have been hastily formed, was known in advance to be supportive of CRT and was apparently selected to create an impression of democratic consultation on this basis alone.
The decision to consult inadequately appears to have been strategic and justified on the basis of the personal beliefs held by BHCC leadership in line with CRT. Minutes from a July 2020 meeting about BHCC’s Anti-Racism Strategy record that ‘asking people to detail racist experiences would further compound harm as a result no consultation was needed.’ Councillor Clare later apologised for ‘the emotional labour impact’ of having to ‘explain to white people what racism is.’ The belief that asking people about racism is, in and of itself, racist and therefore harmful is central to CRT’s ideological framework. But consulting a wide range of views on the extent and nature of racism and the most effective and ethical way to address it is obviously crucial to any policy on tackling racial inequality. BHCC leadership appear to have used their personal belief in CRT as a reason not to engage in proper democratic consultation about the Anti-Racism Strategy.
In fact, strategy documents from November 2020 indicate that BHCC were fully aware that many Brighton citizens would not support the Anti-Racist Schools Strategy were they to be engaged in such a consultation, and that this lack of democratic consent was not seen as a reason to halt its implementation. This further subversion of the democratic policy making process also appears to have been justified on the basis of adherence to CRT beliefs by BHCC leadership. CRT advances the view that disagreement with its worldview is simply evidence of ‘fragility’ or ‘unconscious bias’ on the part of critics. Compliance with CRT beliefs is therefore seen as a precondition of virtue, even sincere and ethical critiques of CRT are instantly delegitimised and those with different views are demonised as ‘racist’ or in need of ‘education.’ In fact, the Racial Literacy 101 training itself would later identify ‘denial of white privilege’ as a covert way of upholding ‘white supremacy’ and imply that this was a causal step on the road to lynching and race based murder, very effectively positioning any critique of CRT ideology as inherently immoral and completely illegitimate.
The November strategy document positions any potential critic of the Anti-Racist Schools Strategy, not as a Brighton citizen with legitimate ethical concerns about the implementation of a contested ideological framework in schools, but as ‘barriers to implementation.’ They are accused of causing ‘conflict and backlash that thwarts efforts for progress.’ It is assumed that criticism of CRT must be motivated by a desire to see work on racial inequality ‘sabotaged’ because it causes ‘discomfort.’ With incredible condescension, the document warns that even ‘some BAME parents’ will not support the Strategy, as though it is almost unthinkable that black and minority ethnic people might disagree with the account of racism given by CRT and endorsed by BHCC leadership. The recommended treatment for parents critical of the approach is not open-minded engagement with their concerns but re-education, so that their views on race can be brought in line with those deemed acceptable by BHCC leadership: if parents object to BHCC’s approach to race, schools are advised to run CRT informed ‘racial literacy programmes’ for them too.
This characterisation of all critique as evidence of a racist rejection of the need to address racial inequalities at all, and the strong accompanying tendency to prefer top-down ‘re-education’ over meaningful democratic engagement with concerns, has characterised much of BHCC’s response to Brighton parents and educators who have objected to the Anti-Racist Schools Strategy and the council’s adoption of CRT in general. Sometimes the implication that critics are motivated by disinterest in racial injustice has been highly implausible.
For instance, Brighton parent and DDU supporter Adrian Hart is director of a KS2 primary school documentary, ‘Only Human,’ that addresses racism in education and author of a well-respected book on the same subject. These were produced as part of his past work as a liberal anti-racist educator. There could hardly be anyone less easily characterised as unmoved by or disinterested in the question of racial equality. Yet when Hart made a deputation to council in June 2021 calling for caution about the adoption of CRT in schools and bringing BHCC’s attention to its potential illegality, Councillor Clare’s response heavily implied that his criticism of CRT represented a lack of motivation to address racial inequality. He was sternly told that ‘Talking about systemic racism is not divisive, but racism is’ and the response closed with the factually inaccurate accusation that ‘your Deputation does not provide us with any idea of how we can respond to racism in Brighton and Hove Schools.’ In fact, Hart had provided an extensive list of alternative educational resources on race, including his own free film, in the documentation accompanying his deputation.
Despite his expertise on race and reputation as a community campaigner of long standing, BHCC leadership have seemed keen to prevent Hart in particular from exercising his right to contribute to democratic decision making about the city of which he is a resident. Spurious grounds have been found to reject multiple deputations put forward by Hart about different aspects of the Anti-Racist Schools Strategy, including the cynical application of an obscure rule intended to prevent large numbers of residents queuing up to make the same point. Plainly people wishing to contribute to the Anti-Racist Schools Strategy, which was developed over significantly more than six months, may need to raise the subject of racism in schools to their elected representatives on more than one occasion in order to properly engage in the democratic decision-making process. Equally plainly, residents may have wished to raise different points about the subject covered in Hart’s original deputation. It seems highly unlikely that this rule would have been invoked if Hart and other parents seeking to make deputations had been offering unmitigated support to the Strategy. Likewise, as outlined above, different rules were applied to Hart’s petition critical of CRT than were applied to a petition with an equal number of signatures that voiced support for CRT. In fact the rules were disapplied to the latter petition, which was considered by BHCC despite missing the deadline for submissions. Most astonishingly, BHCC leadership actually instructed council employees not to engage with Hart on the grounds that his criticism of CRT threatened the council’s work to make schools ‘safe.’ In cancelling a meeting with Hart to discuss the adoption of CRT in schools, council Health and Wellbeing Officer Sam Beal explained that ‘I have been directed by managers to not meet with you, or respond to further communications and to focus on the work needed to supports schools to ensure all their pupils and students feel safe to learn.’
Creating policy based on the assumption that your personal, partisan views are universally held by the electorate, pre-emptively labelling criticism as attempted sabotage, automatically delegitimising critics as ill-informed or malicious and applying rules selectively to inhibit critique and limit consultation is inherently anti-democratic. BHCC leadership appear to have foreclosed on the possible existence of reasonable ethical disagreement with their own personal support for CRT from the start. The development of the Anti-Racist Schools Strategy has taken place in isolation from proper democratic scrutiny and this isolation from critique may partially explain how BHCC leadership came to commission a training for schools that not only powerfully diverges from majoritarian views about race and racism, but also appears to contravene legislation on education and equalities.
Secrecy Surrounding Racial Literacy 101
Offering training in ‘racial literacy’ to school staff and governors was a cornerstone of the Anti-Racist Schools Strategy announced in November 2020 and was intended to provide instruction on ‘bias, discrimination, white privilege and institutional racism.’ BHCC leadership specified that the training should not be conducted from the colourblind approach which best represents the views on race of most British people and should instead adopt the CRT approach favoured by individual BHCC representatives. While the training has been offered on a voluntary basis, it is scheduled to become mandatory in future. As should be evident from the discussion so far, BHCC leadership have been completely open about their endorsement of CRT ideology, in presenting concepts such as ‘white privilege’ as factual and unquestionable and in shielding these views from disagreement. However, in the context of the Racial Literacy 101 training, they have been singularly reluctant to be transparent about what adopting CRT in education settings means in practice.
Under council rules, the choice of training provider was not subject to a full tender process and BHCC leadership were therefore able to select a ‘preferred supplier’ whose views on CRT aligned with their own, much as they chose to select only groups and individuals supportive of CRT for consultation on the wider Schools Strategy. In December 2020 Abha Aggarwal was commissioned to deliver Racial Literacy 101 training in Brighton schools, advertised as providing ‘An understanding of structural/institutional racism, white privilege and a critical race theory approach.’
Concerned parents asking BHCC for details of the training have been brushed off with some version of this advertising text and a promised council web page answering questions about the CRT training has never emerged. Astonishingly, the ‘commercial interests’ of the training provider have been cited by BHCC leadership as reason to refuse sight of the training, not just to parents concerned about its influence on their children, but also to other elected political representatives. Freedom of information requests by Brighton parents have been rejected or delayed on these grounds and three local councillors had been denied access to the training by August 2021.
But the defence of ‘commercial interests’ appears to have been yet another spurious means of preventing democratic scrutiny of BHCC’s adoption of CRT. Hart was already acquainted with Abha Aggarwal through shared community work and made contact with her privately following the refusal of his FOI request in June 2021. It emerged that Aggarwal was perfectly willing to disclose the content of the Racial Literacy 101 training but was prevented from doing so by instructions from BHCC. While DDU profoundly disagree with the ideological approach of Aggarwal’s training, we commend her willingness to make it available for public scrutiny and debate on the ideas it contains. It is only unfortunate that representatives at BHCC felt it necessary to try and prevent such democratic scrutiny by disingenuously invoking protection of a commercial interest which patently did not exist. It should also be noted that a request for internal review of Hart’s FOI request was deferred for six months and only answered by BHCC after the slides used in Racial Literacy 101 had already been leaked to the press. That the internal review upheld the complaint only at this point, when a major media outlet had made transparency unavoidable, is a sad inditement of BHCC’s commitment to democratic accountability. ‘Commercial interests’ should plainly never be used by local authorities to conceal from parents what their children will be taught about in school, particularly where teaching concerns values rather than disciplinary subject knowledge.
Racial Literacy 101 in the Legislative Context
The slides used in Racial Literacy 101 training sessions can be found here. A transcript of the trainer commentary can be found here.
Several pieces of legislation and guidance may be relevant to the presentation of CRT in educational settings. Sections 406 and 407 of the Education Act 1996 prohibit ‘the promotion of politically partisan views’ and require that where political issues are taught, pupils ‘must be offered a balanced presentation of views.’ Department for Education guidance to schools on political impartiality makes clear that ‘” partisan political views” are not limited to just political parties’ and that ‘Some political issues do not relate directly to government policy at all, for example, campaigns for companies and other organisations, education settings or individuals to change their own policies, practices, and behaviours.’
Concepts from CRT are therefore covered by the terms of the legislation even though they are not traditionally party political. Minister for Women and Equalities Kemi Badenoch made this very clear when she told MP’s in 2020 that ‘What we are against is the teaching of contested political ideas as though they are accepted fact… We do not want to see teachers teaching their white pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt. Any school that teaches these elements of Critical Race Theory as fact…without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views is breaking the law.’ This was further reinforced by the findings of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report published in 2021. The report stated that the teaching the concepts of white privilege and fragility as fact was ‘counterproductive and divisive,’ while the Commons education committee identified these concepts as potentially harmful to white working-class pupils.
Department for Education guidance additionally notes that schools should be wary of teaching ‘views which go beyond the basic shared principle that racism is unacceptable, which is a view schools should reinforce.’ It is worthy of note that Vix Lowthion, Education Spokesperson for the Green Party, the party of BHCC leadership, has described the political impartiality guidance as unnecessary and intended ‘to generate a culture war in schools.’
Education settings are further subject to the Public Sector Equality Duty to ‘foster good relations between groups who share a relevant protected characteristic and those who do not.’ The Racial Literacy 101 training delivered in Brighton schools evidences some of the ways that CRT informed teaching may be at odds with this legislation.
On page six of the Racial Literacy 101 slides, readers will find the ‘White Supremacy Pyramid.’ Intended to illustrate the operation of overt and covert ‘white supremacy’ the triangle shows ‘lynching’ and at the top, supposedly created and reinforced by things like ‘denial of white privilege’ and ‘colourblindness.’ The pyramid is intended to demonstrate a spurious causal relationship between philosophical belief in the principle of colourblindness or disagreement with the concept of inherited racial ‘privilege’ and horrors such as racist murder. The training also advises attendees that children should not be regarded as ‘racially innocent,’ stating, ‘Between the ages of three and five, children learn to attach value to skin colour; white at the top of the hierarchy and black at the bottom’ and asserts throughout that racism is reproduced unconsciously. The evidence used to support these claims is highly contested, in part due to issues arising from the replication crisis in social science research as a whole and in part due to the mistaken attribution of a single univariate cause, ‘systemic racism,’ to incredibly complex social phenomenon like inequality between groups. There is, for instance, no consensus in the psychological field about the distinction between conscious and unconscious thought or how this relates to decision making by individuals. The ‘Doll Experiment’ which the training cites as evidence for the existence of the rigid racial hierarchy described above does not replicate, meaning that it often produces the opposite results to the ones related as incontrovertible truth by the trainer. This context is not provided in the Racial Literacy 101 training, which presents these views as undisputed facts. In a similar way, historical events are often presented in isolation from interpretations that diverge from the preferred historical narrative of CRT. The incredibly complex causes and effects of colonialism are thus presented exclusively as a product of racial prejudice. On page three, a slide about ‘Exploitation Colonialism’ asserts that ‘Christian missionaries converted many people to Christianity and discouraged the practice of their own religions and customs.’ While this may be a partial truth, it is a simplistic reading. Indian journalist Divya Shekhar has described the first Kannada-English dictionary, created by Christian missionary Father Ferdinand Kittel in 1894 as a ‘true labour of love,’ suggesting the existence of a diverse range of views about the influence of Christianity and colonialism, even among citizens of formerly colonised states.
Presenting belief in colourblindness, a philosophical position held by generations of civil rights and anti-racist activists in the struggle, across ethnicities, to end discrimination and further equality for all, as simply a covert form of white supremacy is a shocking slur against a view held by the majority of the British public, many of whom retain a profound respect for the colourblind, universalist vision of Martin Luther King. Likewise, presenting disputed social science findings and complex historical events without nuance or context could be misleading. These must be recognised as politically partisan positions under the terms of the Education Act, and positions that go well beyond the shared principle that racism is unacceptable which the related guidance rightly encourages schools to reinforce. The Racial Literacy 101 training itself provides no alternative account and attendees are not advised that such a balanced presentation would be necessary should they present these views to children in their teaching practice.
In terms of the Public Sector Equality Duty, a core message of the Racial Literacy 101 training is that pupils should not be taught that ‘race doesn’t mean anything’ or that ‘everyone can work hard and be successful.’ White children in particular are singled out as holding these unacceptable beliefs, which the training argues leads their black and minority ethnic peers to conclude that ‘white people must just be better.’ Not only is this a conflation of the colourblind principle that it is racist to place social significance into categories of race with the denial that racism or racial inequality exist, it also divides children and attributes oppositional qualities to them based on their skin colour. Black and minority ethnic children are positioned as inevitably victimised by views the training attributes to white children. The possibility that black children might also believe that ‘race doesn’t mean anything’ or that ‘everyone can work hard and be successful’ is not considered. This is demeaning to both groups, who are treated not as individuals with diverse experiences and beliefs, but as representatives of rigid racial categories with pre-determined moral characteristics that place their interests and wellbeing in opposition. It is difficult to see a way in which these views could be presented in an educational setting without contravening the PSE duty to foster good relationships between groups.
Anderson cited in Clark. 2020, p. 8. ‘Unconscious Bias Training: Social Lubricant or Snake Oil?’
Austin. 2020. Report on BHCC Anti-Racist Schools Strategy.
Badenoch. 2021. Available here.
Beal. 2021. Email correspondence available here.
Brighton and Hove City Council Information Governance Team. 2022. Freedom of Information Act 2000 – Internal Review.
Brighton and Hove City Council Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee Meeting. 2020, p.4. Available here.
Brighton and Hove City Council Website. 2020. ‘Brighton and Hove City Council pledge to be an anti-racist council.’
Brighton and Hove City Council Website. 2020. ‘Tackling racism and bias in schools.’
Brighton and Hove Education and Enterprise Marketplace. 2020. ‘Racial Literacy Training for Headteachers and Senior Leaders. Racial Literacy Training 101 delivered by Abha Aggarwal.’
Brighton and Hove Educators of Colour Twitter. 2022. Available here.
Brighton and Hove Educators of Colour Website. 2022. Available here.
Brighton and Hove City Council Employee Intranet. 2020 – 2022. Available here.
Clare 2020. Cited in Hart 2021. ‘Brighton council’s plan for “anti-racist schools.”’
Clare. 2021. Response to Deputation. Available here.
Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. 2021, p.36. ‘Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report.’
Department for Education. 2022. ‘Guidance – Political impartiality in schools.’
Don’t Divide Us. 2021. ‘Stop the council teaching our kids that they are racists or victims of their classmates.’
Don’t Divide Us. 2021. ‘We passed 2,800 signatures!’
Education Act 1996. Chapter IV. Section 406. Available here.
Education Act 1996. Chapter IV. Section 407. Available here.
Email Correspondence. 2021. Redacted version available here.
Email Correspondence. 2022. Redacted version available here.
Freedom of Information Request Correspondence. 2021-2022. Available here.
Hart. 2009. ‘The Myth of Racist Kids: Anti-Racist Policy and the Regulation of School Life.’
Hart. 2021. ‘CRT in our schools. My Deputation to Brighton council; their reply.’
Hart. 2021. Email Correspondence. Redacted version available here.
Hart. 2021. ‘Only Human.’
Hart. 2022. Email Correspondence. Redacted version available here.
Lowthion. 2022. Twitter Post.
Mac Cafferty. 2021. Email Correspondence. Redacted version available here.
Ministry of Justice. 2012. ‘Public sector equality duty.’
Pluckrose and Lindsay. 2020, p.37, 231-32. ‘Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender and Identity and Why this Harms Everybody.’
Quotes from BHCC endorsing Critical Race Theory available here.
Racial Literacy Training 101 Slides. 2022, p.6. Available here.
Shekhar. 2016. ‘Rev Ferdinand Kittel: This German missionary’s Lex appeal remains till date.’
Somerville. 2022. ‘Children aged seven to be taught that they are not “racially innocent.”’
Photo credit: Ian Pudsey