A suggestion by a councillor that Merton’s schools are institutionally racist has sparked off a row. Her assertion has been met with anger not just from the teachers, but also the unions and the community.
A Labour member for Cricket Green ward, Councillor Agatha Akyigyina, had asserted that the schools “may unwittingly be institutionally racist”. Her assertion came after statistics brought out that the rate of children excluded from Merton’s schools was double the London average. The data also revealed that with black children were excluded at a rate higher than the national average.
The remarks were made at a Children and Young Person’s scrutiny panel last week. Councillor Akyigyina may now find herself before the Merton Council’s standards committee for alleged misconduct following her remarks.
Already, head teacher of Rutlish School in Merton Park Alison Jerrard has responded to the assertion. She has vehemently defended the professionalism of teachers, before going on to explain school governors were responsible for school exclusions.
According to This Is Local London, so far, Councillor Akyigyina has neither confirmed, nor denied the alleged assertion after the meeting, despite attempts to get in touch with her.
On the other hand, she has come out with a written statement asserting: “David Cameron has complained that black pupils are permanently excluded from school at more than twice the rate of white pupils.
“I share the Prime Minister’s concern this is an issue for the whole of our society.”
Conservative spokesman for education Councillor Hilton, meanwhile, said the comments “undermine the professionalism of all Merton teachers when extraordinary comments like these are banded around without proper consideration and evidence.
“To ignore the facts in this case, that white children are also excluded at a much higher rate than the national average is dangerous and divisive.
“We want to see exclusion rates of children of all races reduced in Merton but this requires that we work with our schools and teachers, not against them.”
Another panel member, Councillor Karin Forbes of Merton Park Independents too took a stance contrary to the one taken by Akyigyina by saying she did not believe racism existed in Merton’s schools.
A Merton head teacher suggested the data called for reexamination of strategies for tackling exclusion rates. But, it was too simplistic to suggest the different rates for ethnic groups were essentially the outcome of institutional racism.
He said: “It’s about solving the behaviour issues – that has to begin with an individual approach.”
An National Union of Teachers (NUT) representative in Wandsworth, Spencer Barnshaw, said teachers working in inner city schools had multiculturalism and anti-racist policies “driven into them”. He added institutional racism was a very general statement, which was not based in fact.
“It is ill advised and unfair.”
Agreeing with him, the south London representative for the NASUWT teachers’ union Graham Cluer said it was unfair to describe schools as racist on the ground of ethnic minorities being excluded from school at a higher rate.
He said: “The figures also show that boys are excluded at a higher rate. That hardly means schools are institutionally sexist.”