THE leader of an anti-racism charity has spoken out about the handling of racism in schools, following concerns raised this week about The Vyne School’s handling of racial harassment and teachers’ use of a racial slur.

Alex Raikes MBE is strategic director at Stand Against Racism and Inequality (SARI), a Hate Crime charity based in Avon and Somerset which, despite expanding its remit, retains a strong race focus in its case work and education initiatives.

The charity regularly deals with reports similar to the case at The Vyne School, where racial harassment has occurred within the community and the school has been seemingly ill equipped to properly address it.

The mum-of-four is a “Basingstoke girl”, having grown up in Tadley. She is of dual-heritage, Iranian and English, and says that she herself experienced racism in the town throughout her school years.

“I grew up in the area facing racism to and from school every day,” she told the Gazette.

“I had the P-word used at me all the time, and every bus journey was ‘Why should you be allowed stay in this country?’”

“That is one of the main reasons I joined the charity.”

On National Hate Crime Awareness Week 2020, Alex responded to the situation at The Vyne School with her experience and expert perspective, offering five main areas of advice for schools on handling cases of racial harassment ...

1. Recognise the problem

“Schools need to believe the victims and listen to them,”said Alex.

“The problem is when schools deny that they have a problem. They almost always do, and it is a bigger problem when they deny they have one.

“So it’s most important that they recognise that racism is something going on in all our school communities and it needs to be dealt with firmly, robustly and constantly, with persistence.

“You need to have a zero tolerance policy and build a school culture where all the pupils know it is absolutely unacceptable, it’s wrong, and it’s serious.

“A situation where it’s the students who are having to call it out is backwards. Schools should be taking a lead.”

2. Staff training

Alex says that teacher training is not sufficiently detailed when it comes to different types of hate crime, and that teachers who feel unprepared are likely to turn a blind eye in their classrooms.

“You need to make sure your staff team get proper training. They need to get training on anti-racism, on bias, on privilege, and on understanding the perspectives of black minority and ethnic people,” she said.

“Schools need to make sure that their governors and all staff, at all levels and in all roles, have dedicated anti-racism training.

“All too often children tell us that teachers see it, but they don’t call it out, they don’t know what to do. And they tolerate it, they expect children to tolerate it, because they don’t take it seriously themselves.”

3. Include parents and the wider school community

“It needs to be a holistic, whole-school approach. When you’re a victim of racism in a school, all too often you’re on your own. So you don’t necessarily have witnesses, you don’t necessarily have the support,” said Alex.

Speaking of the repercussions among both students and parents, she added: “Children suffering bullying in the form of racism, they need as much support as they can get or they are going to end up dealing with it the wrong way. Either they deal with it through retaliation, or they actually get broken down as a person, destroyed.

“Equally, you must also make sure that parents are involved, informed, and part of the journey. Too often, children go home and tell their parents and then the parents get angry at the school and the school don’t listen, they problematise the parent.

“Parents will get very upset and emotional when schools don’t believe or listen to them, or when schools turn around and say ‘your child is the problem.’ Which they do, far too often.”

4. Celebrate diversity

Alex warns that, by the time you’re dealing with a case of racial harassment, you’re “sticking plasters on”.

“What they also need to be doing is a lot of celebration and enjoying the different cultures and communities that might be within their school community or if not, look at the UK,” she said.

“Predominately white schools saying ‘Well, we don’t have any black children here’ - that’s something else I hear that’s absolutely wrong.

“You need to prepare your children to be the future citizens of a very diverse world. You have a responsibility, regardless of the demographics of the school community, to educate decent, respectful citizens.”

5. Language and curriculum

Having been a victim of racism herself, Aalex was particularly upset to hear of the use of a “horrific” racial slur among staff at The Vyne School.

“It is extremely derogatory and it has a history and connotations attached to it that are so unpleasant, and so interwoven with the historic trans-atlantic slave trade,” she explained.

She referred to a report earlier this year on a suspected racially-motivated attack in Bristol, where BBC social affairs correspondent Fiona Lamdin repeated the same racial slur live on television, leading to more than 18,000 complaints being lodged.

Alex also spoke about getting schools to “decolonize the curriculum” and rethink which literature they work on with their children.

She used the example of John Steinbeck’s famous novel Of Mice and Men, commonly taught in schools across the country, which uses the N-word throughout.

“If you do insist on teaching it, then you don’t say the word in full, and you educate your young people around why you don’t say it. You talk to your young people about how deeply offensive and destructive it is.”

However, Alex said much progress is being made - both among many of the schools she has worked with, and among students themselves.

“A lot of our young people are ahead of the adults, and we have got a generation growing up who are not tolerating it,” she said.

“The Black Lives Matter movement has had a profound impact on empowering people to speak out, to not put up with it and to call it out.

“We won’t solve racism with the BME community alone. Our white allies are crucial.”