Following many inquiries from parents who are concerned about what their children’s schools are promoting through the curriculum, assemblies and other pastoral interventions, DDU have produced a Guide for Parents that provides some background context, outlines key relevant legislation and offers some advice on how you might raise questions or concerns with schools:
GUIDE FOR PARENTS WISHING TO RAISE QUESTIONS OR COMPLAIN
- Background – social and educational
- Relevant legislation and DDU’s approach
- What you can do
- A Note on Impartiality
This guide is for any parent who finds themselves baffled and unsettled about what their child/children are being told about race/racism/anti-racism at their school. Perhaps you find yourself wanting to ask question or voice objections but fear that if you do, others who you either like or respect will think you are a racist. Or you may be wary of getting on the wrong side of your child’s/children’s school. Our aim is to provide some information about the context: knowing a bit about why this is happening more generally is helpful. At the very least you can see that you are not alone, and nor is this happening because of anything you, or your child/children, may have done. We also provide an overview of the official/legislative context, which is far from clear and leaves a lot of room for interpretation to say the least. Finally, we suggest some approaches/points/questions that could be used in presenting your concerns to the school.
In assemblies, classrooms or in extra-curricular events, teachers or external speakers may have told your children that white people need to be unsettled to better see, acknowledge and address their white privilege. Or they may have been told they have to become good allies to their non-white, ethnic minority friends who will have been at the receiving end of countless intended and unintended microaggressions since they were born. To do this white people need to acknowledge they have unconscious biases (ub) that operate at a system-wide level to disadvantage non-white people and maintain the privileges of white people. These concepts are contested within academia. For example, ub has been refuted as a reliable indicator of racist acts, and in terms of guiding public policy to address inequalities, is about as reliable as ‘reading tealeaves’, according to one emeritus professorin psychology.
These concepts, in bold, are part of an ideology called critical race theory (crt). Crt emphasises a single characteristic shared by BAME, LGBTQ and Other (non-White) persons: they are systemically oppressed. White refers to both the immutable characteristic of skin colour and a system of oppression – alternately named “white privilege” or “white supremacy”. This theory has been the preserve of some academic departments for a few decades, but now it is spilling over into public life and institutions. As Rollick and Gillborn’s definition in the footnote suggests, it is a political ideology although not in a narrow party- political sense. Its practical influence in mission statements, professional development and human resources policies has grown since the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, but the ground has been prepared long in advance.
The development of Britain’s education and school, system up until the 1980s, was along broadly culturally liberal lines which afforded a high level of political trust and autonomy to schools and teachers. Britain never had a national curriculum, for example, until one was introduced by then Secretary of State for Education Kenneth Baker, in 1988. As part of a wider package of educational reform known as the Education Reform Act, it was hugely controversial and contested by sections of the profession and unions. It underwent subsequent adaptations, the last major one being introduced by Michael Gove in 2013. By this point in time, education itself had, over the previous three decades, come to be increasingly thought of in terms of economic or employment benefits rather than the intrinsic values of education and formal knowledge. On top of this form of instrumentalism, schools and the curriculum (as opposed to education in general about which there had always been competing ideas) had become important battle grounds for direct political influence. In the process the distinctions between educational and wider social policy became increasingly blurred.
These external pressures dovetailed with two important broader social developments over the same period:
- a) a cultural trend that saw adult authority as something negative, harmful and oppressive
- b) a radical re-structuring of established professional relationships in educational organisations from schools and local education authorities to exam boards. These changes were introduced under the aegis of parental choice which effectively changed the model of education from one of a public good into one of consumer choice and of commodities.
In this fluid and volatile cultural, political and education context, the language and ideas of crt can seem to provide an ethical ballast to a profession that has been intellectually and ethically weakened, especially as education has traditionally been one of the liberal professions. A commitment to multicultural aims in schools and curricula had been established formally in the Swann Report of 1985. While this Report introduced some similar concepts similar to those found within crt (e.g. a call for content deemed to be relevant to pupils’ experience, and being alert to unconscious racism), at this point, the overall context was one of celebrating cultural diversity within a broadly liberal framework. The more radical aspects of the report were really only taken up in some inner-city schools.
So, while in some schools, especially in cities where there are a high proportion of ethnic minority pupils, some teachers might be strong advocates of a radical crt-activist approach, many are more likely to see these ideas as extensions of earlier more liberal anti-racism.
Obviously, this is something you need to bear in mind when deciding if you wish to pursue a complaint, or in choosing which member of staff to approach first. It has been difficult under lockdown conditions, but if possible, it is always worth speaking with other parents who may have similar concerns before approaching the school, just for some immediate moral support if nothing else.
3. Relevant Legislation and DDU’s approach
3i) Education Act 1996
406 Political indoctrination.
(1)The [F1local authority], governing body and head teacher shall forbid—
(a)the pursuit of partisan political activities by any of those registered pupils at a maintained school who are junior pupils, and
(b)the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school.
(2)In the case of activities which take place otherwise than on the school premises, subsection (1)(a) applies only where arrangements for junior pupils to take part in the activities are made by—
(a)any member of the school’s staff (in his capacity as such), or
(b)anyone acting on behalf of the school or of a member of the school’s staff (in his capacity as such).
(3)In this section “maintained school” includes [F2a community or foundation special school] established in a hospital.
407 Duty to secure balanced treatment of political issues.
(1)The [F1local authority], governing body and head teacher shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that where political issues are brought to the attention of pupils while they are—
(a)in attendance at a maintained school, or
(b)taking part in extra-curricular activities which are provided or organised for registered pupils at the school by or on behalf of the school,
they are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views.
(2)In this section “maintained school” includes [F3a community or foundation special school] established in a hospital.
3ii) Education Act 2002, Section 78 (maintained schools only)
DfE guidance on promoting fundamental British values (as part of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development) says school ethos, which parents should be informed of, entails support for English civil and criminal law. Schools should not teach anything that undermines it
Fundamental British Values are democracy, rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different religions and beliefs. Active promotion of these values means challenging opinions or behaviours in school that undermine these values.
This guidance pertains to the independent sector but it is indicative of Department of Education’s view, and they will be final adjudicator in any complaint made
3iii) European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)
- a) Article 9(1) ECHR: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
- b) Article 9(2) ECHR: Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
A universal-humanist form of anti-racism, which is incompatible with crt policies and curriculum initiatives, has come to be generally accepted as a world-view in the UK. It represents a cogent, serious, cohesive and important cultural movement, as well as the rationale for UK anti-discrimination and equality laws, and aggravated offences in criminal law (motivated by hostility on grounds of race). On this view, crt could be described as racist because it reduces persons to immutable racial characteristics and divides them into two antagonistic groups (BAME v White) within the framework of a perpetual (a-historical) race war.
By contrast, the anti-racism of DDU is expressed clearly in the name, ‘Don’t Divide Us’, that appeals to a consensus-based idea of anti-racism which informs UK equality law; that race is not grounds for discrimination and people are not to be defined and treated solely on the basis of immutable/racial characteristics. This is a reasonable definition of anti-racism; again, it informs basic UK equality law. On this view, the DDU belief may be summarised not as a political or scientific doctrine, but rather a genuinely held philosophical belief in racial equality, consisting of:
- a respect for the unique lived experience of each individual;
- a respect for the right of the individual not to be categorised or lumped together with others based on crass generalisations and stereotypes;
- a commitment to the importance of furthering solidarity between all citizens and residents of the UK, irrespective of race.
Under this set of legislation, it is possible to argue that DDU’s approach to anti-racism is a legally, as well as ethically and educationally, legitimate approach that needs to be present in the practice and curriculum of schools, which are public institutions.
- What you can do
Unfortunately, there is no single or clear pathway through which parents can lodge complaints or even raise questions for further discussion. In the first instance you should approach the school (and all schools should have their complaints procedure publicly available). The next level would be to contact the school governors, and after that, the local education authority in the case of state-maintained schools, or the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) for academies. Independent schools are covered by the Department of Education’s standards but if communications with schools fail, then complaints can be taken to the Independent School Inspectorate.
When approaching the school, it is worth bearing in mind that not all schools are the same. Some, particularly in urban areas where there are a high proportion of pupils from ethnic minorities, are likely to have members of staff who are deeply committed to a crt-influenced view of education as a form of activism to change society. Others will not. Many teachers and schools may be going along with new initiatives out of a mixture of pragmatism and a general sense that this is merely extending an older liberal concern of teachers to be as fair as possible. Accordingly, you should think about what you want to get out of any meeting with the school.
In our view, it is unlikely that any school will abandon its policies or curriculum wholesale, but focusing on the following positive points may get some staff to think more deeply and change some aspects of what they are doing/teaching. If you decide you do want to raise questions or objections with the school (irrespective of what type of school it is), here are some things you can do:
- Keep copies of any class or homework set that presents crt ideas in ways which suggest that this is the uncontested truth. This could be done by omission as well as explicitly e.g. there is no evidence that alternative views/ philosophical beliefs about race and racism have been presented. Highlight words or phrases that ring alarm bells.
Here are some points you could use to make your case:
- Appeal to the unique role of schools and teachers as educators who are not dealing with adults in a directly political sphere, but with children/young people in an educational sphere
- Changing society for the better is a laudable desire, but one best left to adults who, in principle, are free to meet, argue and organise as equal citizens. Teaching the best subject knowledge possible to the next generation – so they develop their abilities to think independently and make considered ethical judgements through their own thinking is also a laudable desire. You can express your concern that the particular lesson/material/assembly etc seems to contradict the fundamental educational aim
- There is a psychological case to be made against unintended, but likely effects of crt initiatives in schools. Words and acts that are intended to demean, humiliate or upset need to be punished. But they should be punished because they are wrong per se – not because of the particular feature of a child/children. This is a universal-humanist approach that is compatible with building a sense of commonality or shared pupil/school identity which, in turn, is a sound basis for the educational work schools should be doing
- Making race the most important way to understand interpersonal interactions makes deep and open relationships between black and white children much harder to sustain. On the one hand, black children are encouraged to be constantly on the look-out for micro-aggressions, while white children are encouraged to be constantly checking their every word.
5. A Note on Impartiality
Presenting materials about controversial issues (e.g. Black Lives Matter protests) is allowed in under the Education Act of 1996. But promoting a one-sided view of controversial views/issues is explicitly not allowed. This means that while schools are not obliged to provide proportional equality in terms of time, or amount of reading and so forth, when presenting controversial material, they do need to make it clear that there are other respectable alternative interpretations and/or provide questions for discussion
Note, schools do not have to provide balance in a single lesson; alternative views may be presented in later classes, extra-curricular events or through guest speakers. So, it would be worth asking the school by what means they intend to provide balance – which could include the following:
- a subsequent lesson on the history of earlier anti-racist groups/individuals
- providing lists of texts about racism that are not crt based
- widen selection. For example, in literature or arts lessons, draw on imaginatively good works created by authors/artists from non-Western countries rather than choose works on the basis of their political message
- when presenting alternative approaches or views, ensure key conceptual and ethical differences are made a focus for discussion – to encourage independent thought and avoiding superficial reference to alternatives while implicitly endorsing crt as the school’s norm
- inviting speakers from groups who have different views on race e.g. The Black Curriculum and DDU or The Equiano Project.
Crt initiatives in schools are likely to be socially and psychologically divisive. This is not an educationally or ethically good approach for schools to take.
- Try and express your concerns positively by appealing to the school’s educational
- Have examples to hand and highlight which parts/assertions need balancing
- Ask how the school is intending to meet its duty to be impartial and balanced by presenting alternative approaches/views about race/racism/anti-racism.
- Suggest the school contact groups like DDU or The Equiano Project – maybe arrange a debate or invite speakers from different groups.
- Ask whether some of the messages from the new ‘anti-racist’ initiatives risk undermining important aims of education– i.e. create deeper division instead appreciating what we have in common; and encouraging children to see themselves as sinners or sinned against rather than rounded, complex individuals capable of good and bad acts, but above all able to think and judge for themselves.
- Gently remind them that unless a universal-humanist approach is presented to pupils in order to maintain impartiality and balance, they could be falling foul of existing legislation.
 See e.g. Rollock, N. and Gillborn, D. (2011) “Critical Race Theory” (CRT), British Educational Research Association online resource. Available online at [https://www.bera.ac.uk/publication/critical-race-theory-crt] Last accessed [1 March 2021]:
“‘White supremacy’ does not relate to the obvious crude race hatred of extremist groups but to forces that saturate society as a whole: [By] ‘White supremacy’ I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic, and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily re-enacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings. (Ansley 1997: 592) This presents a particular challenge because of the taken-for-granted privileges of Whiteness. White scholars engaging in CRT must strive to be aware of and committed to critically interrogating their own racial privilege and unmasking the invisibility of racism (McIntosh 1997; Picower 2009; Preston 2007; Sleeter 2011)”.