• Charlotte Jones

Institutional Racism: How the UK Education System is Failing

Updated: Jul 4

Institutional racism has been a longstanding issue, however, in light of recent events and the widespread momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, the failures of the UK education system are once again highlighted as an example of the prevalent racism that still exists in UK society. Education, as an institution, in the UK requires reform, it consists of racist and patriarchal values that hold no place in our society, and as a result, it fails the youth and reinforces generational racism. Racism is learnt behaviour and by failing to make changes to education, we thereby allow the continuation and dissemination of racist attitudes. It is not enough to disagree with racist views, we must actively campaign and promote for the necessary reforms needed to eliminate racism and create a much more equal society.

The racism that exists in our education system takes on both overt and nuanced portrayals of discrimination. In direct ways, racism within the education system can stem from teacher expectations of black and ethnic minority pupils and consequently their behaviour and attitude towards them. In a study conducted in 2000, Gillborn and Youdell found that teachers were quicker to discipline black pupils than others for the same behaviour due to the teachers’ ‘racial expectations’. This study suggests that teachers expected black pupils to display more discipline problems and acted on this misconception. An important aspect of Gillborn and Youdell’s research is their conclusion that much of the conflict between white teachers and black pupils stems from the racial stereotypes teachers hold, rather than the pupils’ actual behaviour. The consequences of this racism against pupils can have detrimental effects on the educational attainment of black pupils and puts them at an unfair disadvantage.

The nuanced ways in which the education system reinforces racism is through the National Curriculum. The current UK National Curriculum was introduced in 2014 by the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, and his advisor Dominic Cummings. Often labelled as the ‘ethnocentric’ curriculum for its focus on the dominant ethnic group while disregarding others, the National Curriculum only provides limited knowledge on topics outside of the European sphere. A good example of this can be seen in the topics delivered in UK history lessons, which primarily focuses on domestic British historical events. Stephen Ball, writing in 1994 criticised the National Curriculum for ignoring diversity and promoting an attitude of ‘little Englandism’. He suggests that the history curriculum tries to recreate a ‘mythical age of empire and past glories’. When teaching topics surrounding the era of the British Empire, the national curriculum paints an idealised picture of Britain during this time and focuses on the benefits that it provided to the British economy and society. By teaching the historical era of the British Empire in this way, we ignore the impacts of colonialism on other counties, and the use of slavery and brutality that was used during this period. As a result, the National Curriculum in the UK gives a distorted narrative of Britain’s role throughout history and denies children an honest education of true events.

UK society consists of subtle notions of racism that are reinforced through its institutions that discriminate on the basis of race. #BlackLivesMatter movement that is currently at the forefront of people’s minds must not be forgotten in the media and in our thoughts as new stories take coverage. We must ensure that the necessary reforms are made to ensure that racism no longer has a place in our society, and the education system is vital in the promotion of this equality and diversity.

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