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Racial literacy training should be mandatory for teachers

Training about racism and anti-racism should be a statutory part of the mandatory safety training that all teachers have to go through. 


August 29 2023, 12.43pm

‘Candy floss head’ was my nickname in primary school. It came from a dinner lady who would run her hands through my long, fluffy, brushed-out mane and say: “It’s lovely, just like candy floss.” It was one of many microaggressions I had no choice but to accept while I was at school. Inevitably, I internalised these messages, and like many other Black girls in majority white schools, I dreamt of having smooth, straight locks. 

Fast forward 34 years and I’ve just facilitated my first hair workshop for Black students at the school I now teach in. There were no ‘candy floss head’ comments, rather students discussing the beauty and richness of having afro textured hair and the wonderful array of styles and products we have access to. 

Now I’m a teacher myself, I reflect and wonder what it would have been like to grow up with this level of understanding and positive, affirming messages from the educators I encountered.

Rather than being asked to be the slave masters’ wife in the secondary school play, perhaps we would have abandoned the need to showcase Black trauma through the white lens, or even studied at least one writer of colour. Perhaps we would have learnt about history which didn’t only involve the enslavement and oppression of Black people and people of colour, but also the rich creativity and contributions that were made by groups other than those racialised as white.

Recent headlines show us that racism is still impacting students up and down the country, with one of the most harrowing cases being that of Child Q - the 15 year old Black girl who was strip-searched by police without an appropriate adult present after she was wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis. In 2021 it was reported that schools recorded more than 60,000 racist incidents over five years, and of course they are only the ones that were reported.

Racism is a safeguarding issue and we cannot with all integrity protect our children against discrimination if we don’t have the most basic understanding of how it presents in our schools.

The teaching workforce in the UK is still overwhelmingly white, with just 5% of school governors being from an ethnic minority background, a figure that has failed to shift over the last 20 years. Pupils from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds make up around 30% of the state school education system, yet many will never encounter a teacher or school leader that reflects their heritage and in 2021, it was reported that fewer than 1% of students had even studied a non-white author at GCSE level.

We know that pupils with Black Caribbean heritage and Gypsy/Roma and Irish Traveller backgrounds are more likely to be excluded from school and have lower attainment than their peers, yet there fails to be any robust response from the government in addressing these issues - within both teacher training and the curriculum. The responsibility for making positive change currently falls on the shoulders of individuals, one such example being Headteacher Nadine Bernard who founded Aspiring Heads - a six-month training and coaching programme which seeks to redress the disproportionate amount of African and Caribbean heritage teachers in the UK.

At Everyday Racism - a company I founded in 2020 alongside my sister specialising in Anti-Racism trainingwe strongly believe racial literacy training should be a statutory part of initial teacher training programmes and the mandatory safeguarding training all teachers must undertake. 

Last year, we created our own training programme called The Anti-Racist School, which outlines how white supremacy continues to manifest itself within the education system, from the normalised language used to the ongoing lack of representation within the curriculum. Since the launch of the course, which we deliver both in person and online, we have trained more than a thousand teachers and uptake continues to grow with many individuals and leadership teams contacting us for training or resources. 

But why are we still relying on individuals to come to the realisation that training like this is needed, rather than taking a collective approach? What about the schools who don’t even recognise the need for this work, or those whose management takes the flawed Sewell Report as gospel and insist racism is not a systemic issue? What we need is a standardised approach in which all educators receive racial literacy training as part of their pedagogical practice.

Racism is a safeguarding issue and we cannot with all integrity protect our children against discrimination if we don’t have the most basic understanding of how it presents in our schools. The resistance to change is not coming from teachers themselves. In a 2023 survey, carried out by the Centre for Mental Health, 90% of teachers said they wanted anti-racism training, with many never having had any at any point in their careers, or feeling ill-equipped to deal with the issues.

Wales seems to be on the right trajectory when it comes to implementing anti-racism work within the education system. In 2021, the Welsh government announced that racial inequality and the contributions of Black people and people of colour throughout history would become mandatory within the curriculum. This was followed by the launch of DARPL [diversity and anti-racist professional learning] for educators which they describe as “professional learning for those working in education to develop an understanding and development of anti-racist practice.”These changes were led by Chantelle Haughton, Principal Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at CMU. 

The next step is to channel public support into something tangible. We have launched a petition calling for racial literacy training to become a statutory part of the mandatory safety training for all teachers, but we know we have a precipitous hill to climb in England before we get to the point of statutory training. 

It would, in the first instance, require the existing government to acknowledge the institutional permeance of racism which has allowed it to exist for so long, but instead we have denial which manifests as clunky statements like that of Kemi Badenoch who, in a general debate about the teaching of Black History Month, said: “We do not want to see teachers teaching their white pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt.” 

Until we grasp that this is for the benefit of all our teachers and students alike, it will remain an optional extra that some educators will choose to prioritise and, in the meantime, it is the students who will suffer.


Naomi Evans is an author, teacher, speaker and activist. In 2020 she founded the anti-racism platform Everyday Racism alongside her sister Natalie which has accrued over 200k followers. In July 2022 Penguin published their first book “The Mixed Race Experience” and in July 2023 a children’s book entitled “Everyday Action, Everyday Change” was published by Hachette. Naomi’s work has been featured in Red Magazine, the I newspaper, BBC news and Grazia. She currently works part time as a DEI lead in a large secondary school and is writing her first fiction book. 

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