Don’t be fooled by the cuddly Comic Sans font, this was a letter home to parents that packed a truly sinister punch. It was sent out by the head teacher of Littleton Green primary school in South Staffordshire, asking parents’ permission for students to take part in a workshop ‘explor[ing] other religions’ and outlining the consequences of not taking part: ‘Refusal to allow your child to attend the trip will result in a racial discrimination note being attached to your child’s education record, which will remain on this file throughout their school career.’
It was unsurprising that it soon hit the Twittersphere and came to the attention of the press. ‘Children of eight are “racist” if they miss Islam trip’, was but one shrill headline.
So was this a case of political correctness gone mad? For years head teachers have been told that ‘a good school’ is one that operates a zero-tolerance approach to instances of ‘perceived’ racism, however trivial. Ofsted inspectors now require schools to produce evidence to show not only that ‘prejudice-related incidents’ are logged but that pupils have ‘understood and appreciated the range of different cultures within school and further afield as an essential element of their preparation for life’.
Furthermore, schools are expected to demonstrate compliance with the Equality Act 2010 and show ‘due regard’ for ‘fostering good relations and eliminating discrimination’. Add all this to the fact that these guidelines frequently infer that white, working-class parents are riddled with racism and Islamophobia (and that children in mainly white schools thus require a diet of ‘cultural awareness’) and the scene is set. Little wonder, then, that a particularly bullish head teacher of a school - which, it turns out, is currently under intense scrutiny from Ofsted - would see fit to treat parents with such contempt.
Rather than forcing schools to report every supposedly ‘racist’ incident and hold endless cultural-awareness workshops, policy should help to promote education as a unifying, universal experience. Diversity flourishes when disparate groups converge and affirm not the differences that set them apart but the similarities they share. This is something that schools are uniquely placed to do. For Littleton Green, a ‘mainly white Christian’ school, developing joint projects with other schools of differing ethnic make-up in, say, Birmingham, would allow children to mix with children from a variety of backgrounds.
Less a case of political correctness gone mad, this head teacher’s incendiary letter is merely a particularly tactless example of anti-racist policy gone mainstream.