by Ben Morris
“Why has nothing changed in 3O years?”, was the cry of one angry parent as a recent meeting at SADACCA called for a campaign against black under-achievement in schools. The meeting was called by Sheffield National Union of Teachers (NUT), to raise the issues highlighted in a recent book – ‘Tell It Like It Is – How Our Schools Fail Black Children’.
Christine Blower, Deputy General Secretary of the NUT, said many teachers wanted to do more to confront these issues which were sidelined in training and the curriculum. Weyman Bennett, contributor to the book, spoke angrily of how he had had to attend Saturday classes on Black history to learn of figures such as Toussaint L’Ouverture, who had led the greatest slave revolt in history, in Haiti in the 1790s. Greater competition between schools fuelled inequality and exclusion, to the cost of black children and their white working-class counterparts.
Raphael Richards, from the Sheffield Ethnic Minority Achievement Services, said there were things to celebrate, such as closing of the gap between different ethnic groups over the last five years, but acknowledged that much needed to be done, particularly around exclusion, with children of dual heritage (African-Caribbean/English) well over twice as likely to be excluded from school as others.
Parents at the meeting spoke with emotion about how this reflected their own experiences. Dee Ramsey said she was attempting to get these parents to organise together in order to give themselves a stronger voice.
One teacher argued that an increase in exclusions was due to competition to attract ‘the right sort’ of pupil, while a student said that some staff had low expectations of black pupils. Others stressed the role of parents in keeping children on the straight and narrow. A teacher from Parkwood school said more needed to be done to break down the ‘them and us’ barrier between communities and schools.
Well-attended and angry meetings have been organised by the Tell It Like It Is collective around the country and a national campaign is emerging, with calls for a national demonstration in the New Year.
If you would like to get in touch with the campaign, ring 0789 008 8456.