The HfL Wellbeing Team have launched a learning resource pack for Hertfordshire schools to use in RSHE to teach about Hate Crime. The resource has been commissioned on behalf of the Hertfordshire County Community Safety Unit (CCSU), who recognise the importance of educating children and young people about respect for diversity and the law as it applies to incidents of ‘hate’. The official data tells us that high levels of ‘hate crime’ are perpetrated by those under 25, and we know that hate is a learned behaviour. Where are young people learning to hate?
Here is one example. Social networks are keen to inform users that hate speech is not welcome on their platforms. The loud statements of intent are there, but action to remove hate speech is all too often lacking. The evidence was clear last July, for example, when thousands of racially abusive posts against footballers Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho followed England’s loss to Italy in the European Championships. The posts were undeniably racist in content, attributing penalty failures to these footballers’ race and/or including monkey and banana emojis. The major platforms made strong public statements on the issue, using words like abhorrent, de-humanize, degrade and hateful. Their action, however, remained significantly toothless. Instagram, as one example, made the public statement, “No one should have to experience racist abuse anywhere, and we don’t want it on Instagram.” Yet at the same time they responded to individual users who reported the abuse with: “our technology has found that this post probably doesn’t go against our community guidelines.” What do our football supporting youth learn from this? That racism and hate speech are, at the same time, both ‘untenable’ and far too difficult to define and to deal with.
Are children and young people learning better messages in school? Britain’s schools assure parents and carers that they are committed to equality and do not have a problem with racism, homophobia, transphobia or other forms of prejudice. Of course, abusive and prejudiced remarks and other experiences of hate are being experienced in schools. How schools respond in such instances really matters. Sadly, some schools can behave just like the internet platforms discussed above. Policies confidently declaring a commitment to equality and opposition to all forms of prejudice and discrimination; yet, when incidents occur or reports are made, staff find it challenging to recognise, accept and deal appropriately with the allegations. Denial and down-playing of concerns teaches those who are being ‘othered’ not to report their experiences next time and it diminishes their value in our society. It also teaches those who are ‘othering’ that they will be given the benefit of the doubt.
In responding to every incident of prejudice in school there is a required definition that should be used:
A prejudice related incident is "any incident which is perceived to be prejudiced by the victim or any other person". This definition is not a conclusion of what will come from any investigation, but it will ensure that such dimensions are properly recorded, investigated and responded to.
This definition should be clear in school policy and staff need to understand their responsibility to record each and every allegation so that it can be investigated and monitored. Living and working in an equitable environment is rare; maybe even unattainable. However, that is what the law expects schools to actively aspire to deliver. So, in responding to each and every allegation of prejudice, the lived experiences and concerns of children and young people from our diverse groups must be heard and explored. If we are struggling to see legitimate cause, we must go the extra mile to consider where this belief has come from by considering the wider context in which this young person has become vulnerable.
The unconscious bias of individuals and groups can develop into systemic prejudicial behaviour that professionals simply do not see. The stereotyping of groups by making assumptions about their interests, needs and abilities can evolve into hard-wired barriers. And a failure to represent diversity with positivity, as a normal part of British and human diversity, across the school curriculum reinforces attitudes that some groups have reduced power and worth. The impact of all these, often unwitting, errors are evidenced in data across our educational outcomes. Therefore, it is important to be open-minded; looking at school systems from diverse perspectives and teaching with a determination to bring about change that will improve outcomes for every young person.
We hope that the Hate Crime teaching unit available to Hertfordshire schools has some small part to play in helping teachers feel more confident to teach against prejudice. It might be a beginning.
The HfL Wellbeing Team are here to offer training and support to all schools who are ‘grasping the nettle’ of delivering real equality and truly challenging hate and prejudice. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org