Race and racism

Learn how to support your pupils and tackle racism at school or college.

Race and racism

Racism is the unfair treatment of a person because of their race or ethnicity. It can take several forms:

Direct racism: Treating someone less favourably because of their race or ethnicity.

Indirect racism: When a practice, policy or rule applies to everyone in the same way, but disadvantages a particular racial group.

Institutional racism: The failure of an organisation to ensure and promote appropriate processes, attitudes and behaviours, resulting in discrimination against racially minoritised people.

Racism in schools and colleges

Children and young people can experience racism in many different forms. This can include:

  • racist comments, verbal abuse and name-calling
  • ridicule because of cultural differences (such as food, dress, or language)
  • distribution of racist material, racist jokes and cyberbullying
  • damage to property, physical intimidation or violent attacks.

Research from Mind found that over half of those from Black and Black British backgrounds (55%) and mixed ethnic backgrounds (57%) had experienced racism at school, as had over a third (36%) of young people from Asian or Asian British backgrounds.

As well as facing racism from their peers, some young people may experience racism from adults. They may also have to deal with unfair or discriminatory processes and policies.

It's important to remember just because pupils aren’t reporting racist incidents, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t happening.

All schools have a statutory responsibility under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that pupils are not discriminated against because of their race.

Racism and mental health

Experiencing racism has significant mental health consequences for young people.

In a survey carried out by the Anna Freud Centre in 2021, when asked about their thoughts on the relationship between racism and mental health, most young people (88%) answered that racism affects mental health ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’. Only 2% answered ‘not at all.’

Mind’s research found that 70% of young people who had experienced racism at school said it had negatively impacted their mental health.

How to support children and young people who have experienced racism

All schools and colleges should have a clear process for reporting and recording racist incidents. All staff and pupils should be aware of this. 

If a child or young person approaches you to talk about a racist incident, you should follow your school policy and procedure.

When discussing the incident with the pupil, you should: 

  • actively listen to the pupil’s experience. Be curious and empathetic. Don’t minimise, trivialise or deny their concerns or feelings
  • don’t talk over the pupil or keep linking what they’re saying to your own experience. Repeat back what they’ve told you to make sure you have understood.
  • thank the pupil for sharing and acknowledge that it has been difficult for them. Tell them what you are going to do
  • ensure that the pupil is satisfied with the outcome and has access to appropriate ongoing support - whether personal (friends or family) and/or professional (e.g. a school counsellor)
  • Record the incident in accordance with your school’s racist incident reporting system. These notes should be reviewed regularly – look for patterns and discuss outcomes with relevant staff.

Supporting staff from racially minoritised groups

What your school or college can do to tackle racism

Schools and colleges should create opportunities to hear students’ voices, and adopt a whole-school approach to anti-racism and mental health.

Here are several tips with associated resources to help you do this.

Top tips

Emphasise your zero-tolerance policy towards racism

Ensure everyone is fully aware of your school or college's policies towards racist incidents, and that every incident is taken very seriously.

Prioritise pupil voice

Listen to the experiences of racially minoritised young people, and ensure their voices are at the centre of any anti-racism work.

Educate and support staff

Improve staff knowledge of race and racism, and support those staff members from racially minoritised backgrounds.

Further information

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