London - Tens of thousands of children – including some as young as three – have been accused of racism at school, figures revealed.
Data from 90 councils detail 87,915 “racist incidents” at primary and secondary schools between 2007 and 2011.
The number of recorded incidents would be substantially higher if the picture was replicated across all 200 local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland.
The figures triggered incredulity over the labelling of so many young children as “racists” over playground spats.
Previous research has suggested that dozens of nursery pupils were among those being reported for name-calling.
This includes a study by the Manifesto Club, a civil liberties think-tank, which found evidence that nearly 50 under-fours had been effectively branded racists.
Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club, said: “It’s just not the case there are all these racist incidents. The majority of them involve primary school children who don’t really understand racism.
“Incidents include calling each other ‘broccoli head’. Obviously incidents of physical violence or bullying should be dealt with severely, but they are very rare.”
Labour put schools under a duty in 2002 to record all incidents involving perceived racism and report them to their local authority. The Coalition removed the duty in 2010/11, declaring that schools should “exercise their own judgment’”
New figures released to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act show reporting trends over the last four academic years.
In 2007/08, 22,285 racist incidents were reported to the 90 councils; in 2008/09 there were 22,663 incidents and in 2009/10 there were 23,971.
Some areas saw sharp increases, including Luton, where cases rose 40 percent from 176 in 2007/08 to 246 two years later. The far-right English Defence League has been accused of inflaming racial tensions in the town, where it has staged marches and demonstrations.
Following the guidelines issued by the Coalition, nationwide racism cases dipped to 18,996 in 2010/11. Many councils said the increase in incidents up until then was due to better recording methods.
But Miss Appleton said: “There are still high levels of over-reporting. Even in 2010/11, we are looking at at least 30,000 incidents across the country (if all council data was looked at).
“There are not 30,000 serious racist incidents in schools. The Government was right to reform the guidance on this and we have seen a drop in incidents, albeit a small one. Schools should not be under an obligation to fill in forms.”
Amid confusion over whether schools were legally obliged to report incidents, some were taking a ‘”etter safe than sorry approach”, she said.
But anti-racism charities warned that racism was a “real issue” in classrooms and getting worse in some areas. Sarah Soyei, of Show Racism the Red Card, said: “We are seeing a real increase in racism in some areas which is down to factors like a growth of Islamaphobia in society which is filtering into classrooms. Racism towards eastern European and gipsy and traveller communities is also on the increase.”
Labour guidance to schools urged them to “record all incidents of bullying, including by type, and report the statistics to their local authority”. It suggested teaching anti-racism “through every curriculum subject at every key stage”.
Coalition guidance says some schools “do not want to keep written records” and emphasises creating an ethos of good behaviour.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: ‘”e want all forms of bullying, particularly bullying motivated by prejudice, to be tackled. Different schools face different issues, so it is for them to develop their own robust strategies to improve behaviour and to prevent all forms of bullying.”
HOW SCHOOLS DEFINE RACISM
Schools were advised by Labour to make written records of all racist incidents and report the statistics to local councils.
Although the Coalition dropped the obligation, many schools still do so, and some councils wrongly claim on their websites that heads are under a legal duty.
Many local authorities define a racism as ‘”ny incident perceived to be racist by the victim of any other person”. Schools should record and report incidents ‘however trivial’ they may seem.
Some councils ask schools to classify incidents into one of three groups – “very serious”, “serious” or “fairly serious”.
They also advise schools to use a 14-point checklist to see what offence has been caused.
Many schools use a checklist to classify racist behaviour by pupils.Its 14 categories are:
* name-calling, insults, racist jokes and language
* verbal abuse and threats
* physical assaults
* ridicule based on colour, race, nationality, religion or language
* refusal to co-operate with others because of these differences
* racial stereotyping
* racist comments
* racist graffiti
* written abuse
* damage to property
* incitement of others
* provocative behaviour such as wearing racist badges or insignia
* bringing racist material to school
* recruit others to racist groups - Daily Mail