Braverman’s dangerous rhetoric puts pupils at risk

Everyone in education has good cause to resist the home secretary's dangerous words on immigration, says Daniel Kebede

Everyone in education has good cause to resist the home secretary's dangerous words on immigration, says Daniel Kebede

5 Oct 2023, 18:00

In April 1968, long before I was born, Enoch Powell made his famous speech on black immigration to Britain. It was an ‘evil to be prevented or minimised’. ‘Ordinary, decent, sensible’ British people were being made ‘strangers in their own country’. He had no compunction in coming out with words which he attributed to a ‘middle-aged, quite ordinary working man’: in a few years, the ‘black man would have the whip hand over the white man’.

By the time I went to school Enoch Powell had left Parliament but the fallout from his speech shaped my childhood. A politician’s words had their consequences – on the streets, in the playground. Powell’s rhetoric translated into everyday racism. Like my father, a migrant from Ethiopia, I felt its impact.

Hearing Suella Braverman speak in Washington last week, I am angry and alarmed. I feel that a cycle is going to repeat itself. Once again, a politician’s highfalutin words are going to encourage expressions of hatred, acts of discrimination and – very possibly – violence.

When Ms Braverman talks in grand historical terms of migration’s ‘existential challenge’ to the ‘political and cultural institutions of the West’ I can guess how this is going to play out, what permission it will give to those who want to make the hostile environment part of the British way of life.

As a teacher and a trade unionist, I am angered almost beyond words to hear her casual claim that ‘multiculturalism has failed’. That is quite simply a lie. Over the past few decades, ordinary British people have created a multicultural society, what the sociologist Paul Gilroy calls a ‘convivial’ way of life.

She is making students’ lives more hazardous and adding to the risks schools must deal with

Of course, racism continues to exist: its effects are felt in health, in education, in employment – and not least in politics. But millions of people have found in contemporary Britain a new way of living; when pollsters explore social attitudes to diversity and inclusion they find a very different picture from that painted by Ms Braverman.

This is especially true of schools, where educators have worked over generations to develop inclusive practices, to learn new ways of sharing cultures. They have done this against the grain of political rhetoric and government choices.

Government policy cuts out questions of ‘race’ and racism from programmes of teacher education. Government has sponsored a report which, in the words of the Runnymede Trust, seeks to ‘pit the white working class against ethnic minorities’. Through frequent announcements and ‘non-statutory guidance’, ministers try to create a chilling effect, so that schools will be deterred from responding to issues that it is vital for our students to engage with.

Now Ms Braverman wants to go one step further. We should listen very carefully to what she is saying and understand its implications. With her talk of ‘existential challenges’, she is pinning a label to each and every student who is, or may be thought to be, from a migrant family.  She is making their lives more hazardous and adding to the risks that schools must deal with.

As educators, concerned to safeguard our students and further their learning, we have every reason to point out where her words are leading and why everyone who works in education has good reason to oppose them.

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  1. Nick Grant

    Teachers and other school workers are often the only adults outside of their own home that children can talk to. Daniel is absolutely right that recently immigrated young people will be coming to school scared and unfit to learn if they have heard Braverman’s rhetoric. It is absolutely incumbent on the National Education Union to speak out.

  2. Peter B

    Many minority ethnic and migrant pupils will, as Nick says, have heard Braverman’s hateful and divisive rhetoric and be worried about what it means for them and their families, now and in the future. Some other pupils will feel more empowered to express racist and Islamophobic views, and teachers will once again be in the frontline of dealing with the fallout of politically motivated hate speech. Unfortunately, the run-down of high quality social and political literacy education (Citizenship and PSHE) in many schools over the past 13 years, together with Ministerial attacks on ‘woke’ concepts such as Critical Race Theory, means that the safe spaces where issues such as racism/Islamophobia and gender based oppression can be discussed and confronted are in short supply. The NEU should, as well as speaking out against far right racist rhetoric from senior members of the government, also demand that schools and colleges are given the tools to deal with the consequences. This would include less interference on what teachers can say in the classroom, more funding and teacher training for high quality Citizenship/PSHE education, and an expectation that social and political literacy returns to being core part of the curriculum for all pupils.