Confronting Racism: How can schools make a difference?

By Sophie Pallister

Racism profoundly impacts the lives of students in the educational system, affecting their mental wellbeing as well as their academic performance. Racial discrimination in schools can range from name calling or bullying to full blown planned racial attacks on specific students. As a community, it should be an absolute priority to confront these challenges, ensuring the creation of a more supportive, inclusive and safe environment for students, where they feel respected and valued despite their background or culture.  

The term “racism” describes the discrimination and biassed prejudice that someone or multiple people have against another person or group of people, solely because of their ethnicity or race. 

How Racism is Apparent in Schools? 

Racism can range from minor disrespectful comments to serious hateful attacks, and often occurs in the school system.

Many students from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds in schools across the UK have experienced bullying and harassment from peers, including racial slurs and derogatory comments and even threats of physical harm, all because they are of a certain background that another person seems to despise.  

In February 2023, a black pupil was attacked in Ashford, Surrey, just outside of a secondary school. After authorities investigated the case, it was found that this was a racially motivated case. Suspects arrested included a 39-year-old woman and a 16-year-old girl accused of ‘malicious communication’ as well as two 11-year-old girls.  

Is it not shocking that children of young ages will go to such extreme lengths to attack someone because of pure racial hatred?  

What are the effects? 

Racism in school creates a hostile environment that can severely affect the academic performance of a student as well as their mental wellbeing. Racism may not only happen outside of classrooms but also in lessons, despite the presence of teachers.  

Students who feel marginalised and discriminated against are less likely to participate in class, in fear of being further judged or excluded, leading them to disengage from school activities and clubs.  

Racism will, in most cases, take a great toll on a pupil’s mental health. Experiencing racism can cause significant psychological distress, leading to anxiety and possibly depression or other mental health issues. The constant exposure to discriminatory aggression makes them feel increasingly isolated. 

Furthermore, racism may also affect the student’s own view on their cultural identity and race. Growing up in the UK as a mixed race person, I also have had experiences of racism, more specifically in school, where I would hear people making comments on my culture or making fun of how I looked because of my multi-race heritage. This definitely affected how I viewed my culture, and I began to resent that one side of my heritage.  

Students may struggle with their own racial identity, especially if they are being devalued and negatively stereotyped in a school environment, leading to internal disconnection from their background.

What can we do about this? 

Though completely preventing racism is impossible, limiting it in schools will be a positive change for students who are victims of racism. 

  • Inclusive Curriculum: Integrating different cultural perspectives in curriculums, such as in history or English classes, by teaching about different countries and histories from various ethnic groups, ensuring the curriculum reflects diversity.  
  • Establishing as well as enforcing strict policies against racism. This will ensure that students are taken seriously by their schools who should commit to carrying out investigations into racial incidents, addressing them promptly with disciplinary consequences.  
  • Organising events celebrating many different cultures such as multicultural fairs, having cultural heritage months, where students are allowed to dress in their cultural attire, and hosting international food festivals. 
  • Strive for diverse staff and faculty; representation amongst teaching staff is essential as it brings more diverse perspectives into school environments and gives students role models to look up to. 

By recognising the many ways racism is apparent in the education system and by taking action to combat this issue, schools across the UK can create a more supportive environment for all students, involving collective efforts to implement policies and promote diversity. 

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