Classrooms are vital to the fight against racism

22 Apr 2021, 5:00

Leading academy trusts United Learning and Oasis are among those pushing through diversity reforms.

Stephen Lawrence Day is a reminder that while fighting racism is complex, the educational goal is a simple one, writes Deborah Lawson

This Thursday marks Stephen Lawrence Day. A day to celebrate the life and legacy of a young man whose premature death forced a nation to rethink its attitude to race. A day to refocus on our work to create a society free from racism.

Central to Stephen Lawrence Day is recognising the part we all play in creating environments in which everyone can flourish. It is an opportunity for children and young people to have their voices heard and to make the changes they’d like to see to ensure everyone is treated with fairness and respect.

Stephen was just 18 when he died. Like any other young person, he had dreams and aspirations. He wanted to become an architect – but he was denied his dreams. His life was cut short simply because of his race. Many of us still remember vividly the shock we felt at the news of his senseless murder 28 years ago.

Tremendous strides have been made since. The aftermath led to profound cultural changes in attitudes towards racism, the law, and the way our institutions operate. It also paved the way for a greater understanding of discrimination of all forms, and new equalities legislation.

As welcome as this progress undoubtedly is, we must not rest on our laurels and declare the fight against racism as mission accomplished. The death of George Floyd last year appalled the world, and the conversations following highlighted to us in the starkest way just how much work is left to do to eradicate racism.

There is no room for complacency on the part of government and our institutions

The recent report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has understandably furthered conversations on racism in our society. We welcome the report’s recognition of the powerful impact that education has in transforming both the lives of individuals and society.

The report has provided much to debate, but actions as well as words are required to build on it. There is no room for complacency or self-congratulation on the part of government and our institutions.

Racism still exists and affects people every day – whether that be discrimination, access to decent jobs, equal pay or the disproportionate deaths that BAME communities have suffered due to Covid.

Our younger generations are looking to us to provide them with the answers, and to support them to make our world a better one. We all have a role to play to help ensure that values of tolerance and anti-prejudice become embedded in our society.

It is because of the key role of education in building a fair, inclusive and civilised society that values difference, that Community has partnered with the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation to take practical steps to promote racial equality in our schools and workplaces.

Because while schools are already expected to promote values of fairness and equality, too often they are left alone to develop the resources and expertise to do so. That’s why we have been working to ensure the annual event to mark Stephen’s memory and legacy supports schools in that effort.

Working in partnership with schools and professional associations, the foundation has developed a range of age-appropriate materials, which include a staff briefing, suggestions for assemblies and a suite of further resources for different curriculum entry points. At their heart is a focus on building pupils’ confidence and skills relating to emotional intelligence, resilience, respect and care.

Building on each year’s events by showcasing and sharing curriculum resources and related activities, our aim is to support teachers and school leaders in their efforts to teach children and young people to value difference, embrace diversity, behave responsibly and make positive choices to contribute as active and engaged citizens in multicultural Britain.

It is incredibly inspiring to witness the Lawrence family’s determination to build something positive from the story of Stephen’s life and the tragedy of his death.

It’s a reminder that, while issues of race in education may be complex, the goal is a simple one. Stephen Lawrence Day is an opportunity to deliver on the promise of giving young people hope and creating a better world for the future.

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