Students protest and parents call for change after 'lack of action' on racism
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A Potters Bar school has responded to students protesting and parents calling for change after a "lack of action" to combat the use of racist language by pupils.
On Friday, May 7, more than 800 students from Dame Alice Owens school walked out of lessons in protest, with children and parents reporting a number of incidents in which racist language or graffiti was used by students.
One of the children’s parents, who asked to remain anonymous, told the WHT that they hope the protests will help force change at the school.
“I think the protests helped the school take on board some of the problems they have to deal with,” they said.
“I think it’s amazing they all came out and did it. There was no trouble at all and they got their opinions across in the right way. I think the protest has made a difference because 800-odd children stood outside and made their voices heard.
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“The children have said enough is enough and using this language is not acceptable.
“Individual teachers supported what the children did, but that isn’t going to change anything. I hope the school listens and the senior leadership team needs to be held to account, but I’m really worried they won’t be.”
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Explaining more about the racial incidents at the school, the parent continued: “These isolated issues have been happening for the last three years where there has been frequent use of the N word, anti-Semitic and other racist language.
“This is being used casually or in the form of ‘banter’, and when it first happened it was really shocking.
“A lot of children go to the school from inner-city London and there is zero tolerance to use of that language in London.
“Letters have been written to the governors about these incidents and the perpetrators got an hour detention on a Friday, which is the same for breaching uniform policy.
“Apart from various assemblies, they haven’t engaged in improving the culture of the school.”
The parent also revealed that the school did not address the Black Lives Matter campaign, and called for more to be done to educate students.
“We have suggested to the school that more needs to be done in terms of education about racism,” they said.
“A lot of schools have lessons about it, staff have anti-bias training and there is a lot integration, but that hasn’t happened.
“There was no acknowledgement of Black Lives Matter either. It was a massive thing, but there were no letters or reading references sent out to the school community about it, whereas other schools did.
“It’s about the education, looking at anti-colonial teaching, black curriculum, the culture of unconscious bias and the power of language, all things to make the school more inclusive and change the culture.
“It’s all about education and inclusion, and it has to start at school because that’s where learning before going out into the world happens. They need to be firm on their policies about racism.
“They’ve had assemblies but nobody has actually got to engage with it because you can just sit there and not listen.”
In a statement to the WHT about the protests and racial incidents, Dame Alice Owen’s School apologised for letting students down and said they would be working to deepen their understanding of the issues raised.
“Dame Alice Owen’s School has always striven to be an inclusive environment where everyone can feel supported,” the statement read.
“The events last week demonstrated that we have not always lived up to this aim. Where we have let anyone down in this respect, the school sincerely apologises.
“We have been privileged enough to have been able to speak to students who now feel more able to bring negative experiences to the fore.
“The school, fully supported and encouraged by the governing body views all forms of discrimination as totally unacceptable. It has always investigated incidents brought to its attention and continues to do so, issuing firm sanctions, including exclusions, for such behaviours.
“The school is constantly reviewing everything that it does to try and ensure that issues surrounding all forms of diversity are explored, discussed and respected.
“Staff and students will be working with external, specialist, organisations over these next months to refresh and deepen our understanding of the issues our students have raised with us.”