During the course of a lesson addressing the history of African enslavement for six year olds, pupils have stated that they were told by their teacher that “all brown children will grow up to be slaves”.
The issue came to light after one of the pupils raised the topic at home explaining that she was confused and distressed by what had been said.
In the mother’s letter of complaint discussing the lesson that took place on the 28th October 2012 it revealed that;
“[a pupil] was asked ‘what colour are you?’ [she] replied by saying ‘brown’. The teacher Ms Julia Shipman said ‘maybe you will grow up to be a slave and do all the work for [another pupil] (a european boy sat next to her)!’
An official complaint was raised and the matter was discussed with Deputy Headteacher (Catherine Crawford) and the Inclusion Manager (Lanette Gayle).
One mother explained that she sought...
“... an explanation regarding how a teacher could do such an appalling job of teaching such a sensitive subject to young children (six year olds), and [about] the inappropriate and graphic details given which seriously distressed my daughter”.
The mothers contacted the Ligali organisation after their concerns were trivialised leaving them angry.
Beatrix Simpson: Headteacher confident and unapologetic
One of the problems frequently faced by advocates of complaints initiated by young children is dispelling their ‘no one will believe us’ over the word of an adult belief. Just because they are very young does not mean they were not telling the Truth.
Toyin Agbetu said “Ligali approached the investigation considering that this may have been a matter of misinterpretation on the part of the young learner. However when a second complaint was received it rapidly became clear that irrespective of the intent of teacher Ms Simpson, an offensive and derogatory message based on the children’s ethnicity had been communicated to the them.
We have also been informed that following the lesson some of the dark skinned children in the class were taunted in the playground as ‘slaves’ on the basis of their skin colour. This unsurprisingly led to them being upset and as such, their parents believe the children may have been psychologically abused. Considering the young age of the children involved this is a matter we take very seriously.”
Simpson disagrees. In response to our written complaint she writes;
“Overall I am satisfied that this topic was handled carefully and with due care and attention. I accept that the class teacher did use the term ‘brown/white skin’ and did use two pupils in the class... for a comparison example of what would have happened in the enslavement era. However I am confident that on no occasion did the class teacher either infer or state that pupils in the class would or could grow up to be enslaved. Although some might consider these references to be ill-advised, I do not agree with your suggestion that the lesson has inflicted psychological abuse on pupils.”
Ligali considers that even if such reference was not intended to be malicious, explicit reference to ‘brown skin’ as a mark of likelihood of being enslaved by Europeans is an erroneous approach that fails to show the required due care and attention to the spiritual developmental needs of children.
Both mothers seek an appropriate resolution to this matter which includes a commitment to teach this subject with both appropriate resources and sensitivity to the emotional development of the young and vulnerable learners at George Eliot Primary School.
However Simpson has made it clear that she finds this extra step unnecessary and does not even consider a written apology to be appropriate.
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Is it right for the school to dismiss the feelings of the children and their parents after what could be argued is the reinforcement of racist ideology in the classroom and playground?
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