The days following the referendum on Britain leaving the EU saw a rise in racial hate crimes around the country. Among the first ones reported were cards left outside a school in Cambridgeshire with the message ‘no more Polish vermin’. There have also been attacks on non-EU immigrants, in particular the Muslim community.
By their very nature schools bring different community groups together, so they can be particularly vulnerable to displays of prejudice and racism. Children don’t always understand the political landscape, and may repeat what they have heard others say.
Many headteachers have reported pupils taunting classmates with “you’ll be going home soon” and “why are you still here, my parents voted you out?”, making victims feel unsafe or frightened that they or their parents are about to be deported. Those feelings are no less real for children who are worried and upset on behalf of their immigrant friends.
Yet schools are where children should feel safe, secure and happy in these difficult times. Where community cohesion is under threat, teachers may find themselves having to take the lead on promoting the appropriate messages and debating the issues.
Last week, the Prime Minister announced a new action plan to tackle hate crime after it emerged that the number of racist incidents had increased since the EU referendum. Meanwhile, the National Association of Head Teachers wrote to David Cameron urging him to reassure children and young people about their futures here.
Russell Hobby, the NAHT’s general secretary, said in an open letter to the Prime Minister: “It is not just the economic markets that need calming. Our young people need a statement from the government to address their fears. NAHT strongly urges the government to give pupils from the EU better assurance that they will be able to complete their school education without interruption; that they and their families remain welcome and valued members of the communities they call home.”
Kath Grant, ASDAN’s Director of Education, said: “The events of the past couple of weeks demonstrate more than ever the importance of a curriculum which includes subjects such as citizenship and personal, health and social education. These subjects provide the backdrop for the discussion of the issues that have emerged as a direct result of the outcome of the referendum – how democracy works, voting, immigration, and racism and prejudice.
“So often it falls to schools to repair the damage to children and young people caused by others. But for the sake of our future cohesion as a society, these themes have to be explained to children and young people honestly. It is a big responsibility for teachers, and one they must deliver with knowledge and confidence. Our programmes can help them tackle these challenges in an appropriate and sensitive way.”