– Children as young as four reprimanded for racist behaviour (Telegraph, Sep. 14, 2011):
More than 20,000 under-11s were punished for racist and homophobic behaviour in schools last year, according to research.
The equivalent of around 100 primary school pupils a day were reported to local authorities after using offensive language in lessons and the playground, it is claimed.
In some cases, pupils were reprimanded for relatively trivial squabbles and employing insults such as “gaylord” and “broccoli head”.
Researchers said many children – some as young as four – are being reported despite being “unlikely to understand the meaning of these words”.
Schools are obliged to report all “hate speech” incidents to local authorities as part of the 2000 Race Relations Act. Many councils are also demanding that schools log data relating to homophobic incidents.
The reports – including pupils’ names and descriptions of incidents – can be used by police and social services and can remain on children’s records for years.
But the Manifesto Club, a civil liberties group, claimed the system was based on a “profound misunderstanding of children”, saying that adult words “take on a different meaning in a playground context”.
Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows how two primary school pupils – one a Christian and another a Muslim – were reported for calling each other “gaylord” and bursting into giggles when asked what the word meant.
One incident report from the London borough of Barnet showed two children aged eight or nine squabbling over a rubber and calling each other “gay” and “lesbian”.
Another child was reprimanded for shouting out in class: “This work’s gay”.
A school in Bath reported a child for calling a classmate “broccoli head”.
Josie Appleton, Manifesto Club director, said: “Children need free space in which to play and argue, without their words being reported to local education authorities.
“Surveying and monitoring children’s speech is no route to an equal and tolerant society.”
Research reveals that 30,147 incidents were logged by 152 local authorities in England and Wales in 2008/9. Most were related to racism. Only 22 local authorities collected data on homophobia, reporting 561 incidents.
Of the 30,147 incidents in total, around 20,000 related to primary schools.
A smaller scale study was carried out in 2009/10. It found that a rise in the number of incidents logged by the 10 most active local authorities.
In the same year, eight nursery school children were reported for racism and one was reported for homophobia.
Adrian Hart, the report’s author, said: “Teachers are being forced to report every trivial incident, which undermines their ability to judge how to deal with a situation.
“This petty bureaucracy only gets in the way of further equality.”