Early years and racism by Sarah Neville

19th September 2016

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ChildIt is very worrying to read in the national press that British police are reporting an increase in racist and xenophobic abuse since the recent Brexit referendum. This situation is of concern to all early years professionals who are charged with protecting vulnerable children from abuse and many feel their pre-registration training has not fully prepared them for supporting children or challenging abusive comments.

Record keeping

The Early Years Inspection handbook (2015) states: ‘Inspectors should tell the provider that the relevant documentation and information they are likely to need access to includes: all logs of incidents of discrimination including racist incidents’ (point 37, page 10). This suggests that racist comments should be logged to show Ofsted – but as the requirement is not found in the current Early Years Foundation Stage (2014) many providers are confused about how and when discriminatory and racist incidents should be recorded.

Best practice suggests all incidents of discrimination and racism are recorded on an incident form which is signed by the parents of the affected child; a separate form should be signed by parents of the child who made the comments (if the incident occurred in the setting) and care should be taken to ensure confidentiality for all the children. Notes can then be added to evidence how the children have been supported to learn tolerance and mutual respect through the active promotion of British values and teaching children about life in modern Britain and their place in the wider world.

Record keepingIs it a big problem?

I remember being told a story about some children watching a group of gentlemen chatting in a local park from their nursery window. The men were wearing traditional salwar kameez and included one of the nursery children’s grandparents. The nursery practitioner was just about to call the child over to see her granddad when she overheard one child saying to another ‘look at the terrorists’.

This is not, if you believe what you read in the British press, an isolated incident. Children might be hearing racist language in their homes and when on the bus, tube or at the park. They typically overhear adult conversations and watch television or listen to the radio when adults might not be aware of their presence.

Finding the ‘right’ response can be tricky at short notice and all practitioners need to think through how they would reply to a discriminatory or racist comment. Clearly they need to take a zero tolerance attitude to bullying in any form, but they also need to think through how to reply to a 3 year old who is simply copying what he heard elsewhere and how to respond to an adult using xenophobic language on, for example, public transport if it might put them in danger of being abused or injured.

Teaching children

The recently updated ‘Inspecting Safeguarding in early years’ handbook (2016) recognises the need to protect children from ‘bullying, including online bullying and prejudice-based bullying; racist, disability and homophobic or transphobic abuse’ (point 10, page 5) and requires that ‘the setting takes effective action to prevent and tackle discriminatory and derogatory language’ (point 18, page 11).

An early years providers’ annual planning calendar should include a range of activities including those drawn from the multicultural calendar. Similarly, resources including books, posters and toy boxes should include a wide selection of world images which teach children about life in modern Britain. One would hope that if planning is in place early in their lives, children will have an awareness of life in multicultural and diverse Britain and the confidence to challenge any comments they hear.

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