Huge disquiet as minority ethnic schoolchildren singled out

By Savi Hensman
October 10, 2016

Some schools have demanded that pupils who are not white British bring in their passports and parents have been asked to confirm they are not asylum seekers. This has shocked many people and led to protests.

At any age, being treated as an outsider – with the hint that you may one day be further excluded or even removed – is unpleasant and unsettling. For children, the effects can be profoundly damaging.

To white majority ethnic young people and adults too, it also sends out disturbing signals. It may fuel fears that minority ethnic pupils are a drain on resources, holding others back or even not truly entitled to be there.

The move is apparently the result of misinterpreting a new government policy. However it takes place against a background of growing hostility to immigrants and minorities, fuelled by politicians and sections of the media.

Schools Week had earlier reported that the then education secretary, Nicky Morgan, had raised concerns about education being a factor attracting migrants. It was decided, from October 2016, not simply to ask about ethnicity but rather probe more deeply, collecting information on each child’s nationality and country of birth.

However parents were not required to answer, nor was there any requirement to ask for documents such as passports and birth certificates. Yet in some schools this was not made clear and minority ethnic children were singled out.

The background was of growing mistrust of, and hostility to, ‘foreigners’. This was fuelled by aspects of the Brexit campaign and subsequent statements by politicians, along with sections of the media.

Numerous British workers have indeed faced deepening insecurity. But this has been largely as a result of government policies. These have weakened protection in the workplace, punched holes in the social security safety net, undermined public services and made housing largely unaffordable.

However the government and ruling class have managed to deflect much of the anger which might have been directed against a deeply unjust system. Migrants and refugees have contributed hugely to UK society and continue to do so. But people can all too easily be persuaded to focus their insecurities on ‘outsiders’.

There has been a surge of racist and also homophobic incidents since the Brexit result, though of course many who voted ‘no’ would deplore verbal abuse and violence.

There has also been resistance to some of the most extreme notions and the government has now indicated that it will not ‘name and shame’ firms that employ foreign workers. However, a YouGov survey showed widespread public support for the proposal to make firms disclose the proportion of non-British employees.

Concerns about firms bringing in large numbers of overseas staff are understandable. But there are many people settled here who have non-UK passports and it would be profoundly unjust if they faced even greater obstacles in getting jobs.

The mishandling of the school census is the symptom of a deeper problem. If allowed to worsen, it may wreak grave damage not only on children’s developing minds but also on the values underpinning society.

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© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.