The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

How to teach community cohesion in a time of turmoil

The EU referendum has been connected with a 57% increase in race related hate crimes. Elizabeth Holmes examines how to keep schools and pupils safe and champion equality.

After months of campaigning and ugly politics, the United Kingdom looks set for Brexit, if the necessary constitutional wrangles can be worked through.

With such a close result there has, understandably, been fallout.

While distance from these events will give us greater clarity, it does seem that the vote to leave has lead far right groups to believe they have a green light for action and the number of race related hate crimes is rapidly on the increase (up 57% according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council).

Social media sites are awash with examples and video footage shows wretched moments of racial abuse being played out on trams, buses, trains and streets around the country. National Front stickers are appearing on lampposts in our cities too, carrying hate-filled messages.

The brutal murder of Jo Cox on 16th June, allegedly by a man (Thomas Mair) who gave his name as ‘Death to traitors, freedom for Britain’, has offered yet further fuel for the fire. These have been ugly scenes indicative of a confused electorate.

How to achieve community cohesion

Schools have a central role in the encouragement of the absolute rejection of racism and hate, although we must be clear that the responsibility for addressing racism and hate cannot rest solely on educational establishments. But while community cohesion begins in the home, it is nurtured in schools, and at times of unrest, we must sharpen our responses to it lest our tolerance of hate increases. But how to achieve that?

From speaking to experts in the field (and I make no apology for that), it is clear that three steps must always be taken in the face of racist hate crimes. First, they must be acknowledged for what they are, second, they must be challenged and thirdly, they must be reported. While the police obviously have a dramatically increased workload since the referendum result, David Cameron has promised extra cash to ‘drive appalling hate crimes’ out of Britain. We must expect any reporting to be followed through as a priority.

Start with teaching

So what does this mean for schools? Kevin Courtney, Acting General Secretary of the NUT has emphasised the need to ensure that your school is familiar and reassuring. ‘In a time of turmoil and change, education is the anchor of civilisation and progress. Teachers commit themselves to teaching children to think for themselves and act for others. We must empower teachers. Teachers can enable students to think critically about the negative stereotypes and prejudice they hear, so every child is safe to learn.’

This recognition of the need for every school to hold together as a cohesive group intolerant of hate crimes is shared by independent education consultant, Bill Bolloten. He feels that ‘It is really crucial that all schools remember their responsibilities to keep all pupils safe, and tackle any types of prejudice-related bullying or derogatory language. Schools will need to be extra vigilant and develop awareness of how the post-Brexit situation might be impacting on children and their families.’

A school’s own ethos and values are the starting point for working together to ensure all children feel safe. ‘These can be reaffirmed in assemblies and curriculum activities, and might focus particularly on values of respect, kindness and community,’ Bill said.

Meg Henry, an adviser for Schools Linking is well aware of the dramatic rise in the incidents of hate crime. She feels that ‘sense of belonging for all, relationships in the school community and a deep understanding of equalities in action are all needed to create a great school. Thoughtful assemblies, engaging curriculum activity reminding pupils of the values and ethos of the school all play their part in building community cohesion.

'In a time of turmoil and change, schools are well placed to develop a positive, cohesive ethos by helping children, young people and adults explore their identity, celebrate diversity, champion equality and develop dialogue.’

Further information

The work of many organisations in pursuit of a better life has never been more necessary. The links below may support you in developing community cohesion in your school.


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