By Nadeya Hussain –
Schools within England and Wales have a legal duty to follow the 2010 Equality Act. The Act makes it unlawful for the responsible body of a school – the governors and teachers – to discriminate against, harass or victimise any pupil.
Eleven years on from the passing of the act, the expectations would be that schools have revised the legislation and are more trained and aware of creating an inclusive environment for pupils to work in.
Reflecting on the Equality Act, it is unlawful for a school to discriminate against a student or treat them less favourably because of certain characteristics such as:
- Religion or belief
Every pupil should be treated with fairness to create an improving environment. With this legislation in place, have educational institutions achieved equality?
These days, many schools are establishing small practices within the classroom to create an inclusive environment whilst educating the pupils regarding equality. To show evidence of this, many schools provide:
- An Equality Audit tool
- Equality and Inclusion statements
- Action Plan
This is because, at any point of request from the local authorities Ofsted inspectors, the schools will have to provide evidence to show what they have done to tackle racism.
Below are a few examples of educational institutions and their equality and diversity policies.
Rossett School – Harrogate
Rossett School has stated their commitment to Equality, Diversity and Cohesion. To achieve this, they:
- Released a peer mentoring scheme and year group councils with the involvement of the Headteacher to listen to feedback regarding specific issues in the schools.
- Have many policies in place such as Special Educational Needs (SEN), which is a PSHE and citizenship programme to promote human rights and equality particularly focussing on the rights of the child, the right to education and the right to be safe.
- Are more aware of religious beliefs and practices
- Employ staff have received appropriate training
- Allow linguistic diversity, saying that: “Students will be allowed to use their home language in school but not exclude others and always use English when participating in school activities.”
Faringdon Infant School – Faringdon
Faringdon Infant school’s equality policy states the school will:
- Have a dedicated Special Needs Coordinator for two days per week to support children with SEND and their families.
- Provide an environment that is free from ‘stereotypical’ images
- Use resources that positively reflect the diversity of the school and community.
- Value all children’s home language and experiences
- Provide a range of opportunities for children to engage in speaking and listening activities in English with peers and adults
Moorside High School – Manchester
This school in Manchester aims to:
- Celebrate cultural events to increase pupil awareness and understanding of equality and diversity
- Ensure that displays around the school promote equality and diversity.
- Link with several agencies that focus on promoting a more inclusive society.
The University of Huddersfield
Grade schools are not the only institutions with policies in place, many higher education services are also implementing their own guidelines around equality.
The University of Huddersfield is one such example. They have pledged to:
- Raise awareness of equality and diversity responsibilities within Schools/Services.
- Have a student union and student leaders/officers to achieve equality for different groups such as BAME and the LGBTQ community.
- Releases a ‘Race Equality Charter Student Survey’ to hear student views to “eradicate racial discrimination and advance race equality.”
These are the few educational institutions that are working towards an inclusive environment for all pupils.
Ups and Downs
Despite these progressive examples put forward by schools, there have unfortunately also been incidents where schools have – whether inadvertently or not – done the opposite of promoting equality and diversity, demonstrating that there is still work to be done.
One prominent example recently was that of a local school in Batley, West Yorkshire. There was an incident where a teacher showed its students a cartoon image of the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.), which led to protests and demonstrations outside the school, stating it was derogatory, offending many.
Further investigations revealed that the teacher “genuinely believed” Prophet Muhammad’s (P.B.U.H.) picture had an educational purpose.
Further afield, a German International School in Cape Town also had an occurrence where a teacher allegedly told pupils that “black children do not have role models because their fathers are in jail and their mothers are prostitutes”
This is an extreme example that shows the importance of school policies and school training. The school governors should have educated or arranged training for their staff members on what is appropriate.
Headteachers and governing bodies in all schools should ensure they meet all the requirements of The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.
This law came from the Stephen Lawrence enquiry, which concluded that we cannot assume that our public organisations are always racially fair.
The Race Relations Act places a general duty on public authorities, such as schools to promote race equality. This is to eliminate discrimination by promoting equality and enforcing positive relations with every pupil despite the difference in racial groups.
Because of this, both the governors and staff members have personal responsibilities.
Governors are required to:
- Make sure the school complies with the amended Race Relations Act
- Ensure the race equality policy and its procedures are followed.
- Train their staff appropriately, so no unintentional or intentional mistakes of racial discrimination or comments are made.
As for staff members, they all have responsibilities such as:
- Dealing with any incidents or any reports of racism.
- Being aware of the laws and the duties they have.
- Tackling racial discrimination and stereotyping and make sure it is avoided.
- Promoting equal opportunities and equal representation as well as good race relations.
- Educating themselves or going out of the way to research and ask the governing bodies for training.
As previously discussed, the Stephen Lawrence inquiry led to the Race Relations Amendment Act.
However, there was also the Macpherson Report. This report was published in 1999, following the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
This inquiry presented 70 recommendations to be embraced.
The 68th recommendation under the Prevention and the role of education category stated the Local Education Authorities and school Governors have a ‘duty to create and implement strategies in their schools to prevent and address racism’.
Although this report was released in 1999, these recommendations are still necessary to be applied within school policies today to prevent any future disturbances and ongoing inequalities such as the incidents mentioned above.
As a parent or guardian, how do you think your child is treated in school? Were you aware of the equality audit and policies which you can access on request? Let us know in the comments.