By Nadeem Badshah
THE sharp rise in the number of primary school children suspended for racism is linked to antimigrant comments and the spike in hate crimes since the Brexit vote, campaigners believe.
Primary schools in England issued temporary exclusions to pupils for racist behaviour 496 times in the 2017-18 academic year. It is an increase of 40 per cent in just over a decade, as Eastern Eye reported last week. There were 350 temporary exclusions linked to racism in 2006-07.
In the northwest, there were 36 temporary exclusions in 2006-07, compared with 76 in 2017-18. It is the region with the biggest increase, figures from the Department for Education showed. They come after police recorded a rise in hate crime in the past seven years in England and Wales. There were 103,379 hate crimes logged last year, up by 10 per cent on the previous year and more than twice the number in 2012-13.
Dr Zubaida Haque, deputy director of the Runnymede Trust think-tank, told Eastern Eye: “It’s important that schools take a robust approach to racist bullying and abuse. Whether that should result in exclusions is another question, but it’s important to ask why there are so many incidents of racist bullying and abuse in primary and secondary schools.
“Schools are a microcosm of society so, of course, increases in anti-migrant, racial and religious hate abuse on the streets – particularly since Brexit – will be reflected in the classrooms.
“But it’s also significant that in 2012, (then prime minister) David Cameron removed guidance for schools on how to deal with racist bullying and promote community cohesion. It has meant that schools have been left on their own – and with no accountability – on how they deal with racist bullying.”
The number of temporary exclusions from primary schools for racist abuse fell during the academic year that included the 2016 Brexit vote.
There were 430 such exclusions in 2014-15, but this dropped to 385 in 2015-16. In 2016-17, the number rose sharply to 470, and it rose again to 496 the following year. Temporary exclusions are most commonly for two or three days, although they can be for longer.
Temporary exclusions of secondary school pupils rose over the referendum period, from 3,300 in 2014-15 to 3,510 in 2015-16, and again the following year to 3,870. But the number of exclusions for racism across all schools in England has fallen over the same period, suggesting that a clampdown on the behaviour in secondary schools have been successful.
Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson said the political events of the past few years and the divisive rhetoric of some politicians has made some people think they can get away with racist abuse.
She told Eastern Eye: “Children are watching, and some are repeating what the adults around them are saying. All of us, particularly those in positions of influence, must stand up to those who seek to spread hate, whether on the basis of race, religion, or anything else.
“The government must support schools to tackle racist bullying, and help children learn more about what it means to be a good citizen, neighbour and friend.
“Liberal Democrats are calling on the government to ensure every child gets proper personal, social and citizenship education, by introducing a curriculum for life to be taught in all schools.” Khalid
Mahmood is the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr and shadow foreign affairs minister. He said: “There is a huge link with what is going on. It is learned behaviour. When children see what is going on at home, they will repeat that. They don’t see it as being nasty when it is acceptable in the household. There’s been real bad behaviour from all political parties and what’s going out in the media and social media.”
The Department for Education said bullying of any kind was completely unacceptable in any setting, including schools. It carried out an external review in 2018 probing how exclusions were used and why certain groups were disproportionately affected.