Parents, school students and campaigners gathered outside Downing Street in London last Saturday to protest against the way the education system fails black children.
Maureen Harvey, a community project manager from Tottenham, north London, said, “The education system needs to take a closer look at itself. African-Caribbean children enter the system with above average educational skills.
“They leave school well behind children from other cultures. Something is happening. I relate the whole issue to what happened to Stephen Lawrence. It took a boy to be killed for an investigation into the police to be launched.
“Our children are not dying in the education system, but their aspirations and their dreams are killed off by the way the system and the government operate.”
The protest was called by the Black Londoners Forum to highlight how black children do not fulfil their potential, and the high level of exclusions of black school students. Both issues particularly affect black boys.
Samuel Adofo, from Haringey in north London, said, “I have children in the education system. The structures have been set up for a middle class environment. If you are not from that background you will struggle.
“Children are labelled from an early age. I am a youth worker and a lot of the people I work with say they are not entered for certain courses.”
Beverley Berrick, who is a part of the Working Group Against Racism in Children’s Resources, said, “The number of children being excluded from school, including white children, is phenomenal. Black children are three and a half times more likely to be excluded than other groups.”
Wade Jacks, from Clapham in south London, said, “It is in secondary schools that the problems start. Teachers often see black boys as the horrid figure of a ‘black man’ that the media portrays.
“I teach extra-curricular studies to a lot of guys, mainly black. A lot of them have been expelled. They all have an attitude that they are useless.”
Valerie, from Islington in north London, said, “A lot of black children are being excluded. This isn’t because they are ruder than white children, but because the system — and some teachers — are not working for our children.
“When a child is excluded it affects their self-confidence. My eldest son went to a Catholic school. It said that no black boys could cut lines in their hair. It felt like they were already starting to exclude him.
“I have brought up my children to have confidence and to ask the question why for everything. The school system negates that attitude. It doesn’t want you to ask why. So my son had a very hard time in school and now he has no confidence in the system.”
Many people on the protest didn’t see individual teachers as the main problem, but the system in which they work.
Maureen Harvey said, “Some white teachers don’t understand black children. My daughter is 11 and she is very big. That is common. Some 11 year old black boys look like they are 16, and some teachers can find that intimidating. Saying that, most teachers want to address problems in a positive way. But they are working in a system that is institutionally racist. They have a large class to deal with and they have targets to hit.”
There was bitterness against the Labour government, and against leading black politicians.
Samuel Adofo said, “The people who rule us see the importance of education. They make sure that their children go to the right schools, while they run down our schools.”
Azaniargem from Tottenham, north London, said, “I am concerned at the lack of opportunity and equality in education. Black Labour MPs such as David Lammy should have been present today.”
For more on Black Londoners Forum go to their website, www.blacklondon.org.uk