Black educators come together to call out racism in schools

Children in classroom
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Harris Academy Tottenham fired teacher Josh Adusei after he publicised allegations about the school’s draconian ‘zero tolerance’ policies. He accused the school of institutionalised racism, adding that new policies disproportionately impacted Black pupils and children with special educational needs (SEN).

Moreover, Adusei also accused the school’s senior leadership of bullying staff. He’s taking the academy to tribunal on grounds of unfair dismissal. As part of the National Education Union (NEU)’s Black Educators’ Conference, the union’s Black Educators Alliance is has tabled a motion in support of Adusei, calling for an end to racist discrimination against all Black staff and students.

Allegations of institutional racism

In April 2021, Adusei launched a petition accusing Harris Academy Tottenham of institutional racism. The petition urging the school’s executive principal to resign has gained over 6,690 signatures at the time of writing. He launched the petition just weeks after student protests at Pimlico Academy and Batley Grammar.

In the petition, Adusei alleged that, since taking up the leadership role in September 2020, the school’s executive principal introduced ‘zero tolerance’ behaviour policies which disproportionately impacted Black and other racially minoritised pupils, as well as students with SEN. The petition alleged that during his first month in the role, the principal excluded three Black students.

Highlighting her concern about the lack of oversight and accountability in the academies sector, NEU Black educators executive Denise Henry told The Canary:

Academies like the one where Josh worked, are particularly concerning: they are not democratic structures in that they are not accountable to their local authorities and local communities; they are often in highly ethnically diverse areas with high levels of socio-economic disadvantage; they are proponents of zero tolerance behaviour policies which disproportionately affect Black pupils and those with SEND [special educational needs and disabilities], amongst other already marginalized groups.

Harris Academy Tottenham is located in the north London borough of Haringey. Fixed-term exclusion rates in Haringey for Black Caribbean children are more than five times higher than their white counterparts. The school is part of one of England’s biggest multi-academy trusts, the Harris Federation. A 2018 Guardian investigation raised concerns about academy heads’ excessive use of their power to exclude pupils.

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Bullying staff

Adusei also alleges that the school’s principal was “bullying staff into accepting redundancy” as part of restructuring plans.

On the day Adusei published the petition, senior leadership suspended him from his role as PE teacher. He was “swiftly fired” following a misconduct investigation, according to a Crowdfunder set up to support him. According to Adusei, he’s been living without a salary for eight months. Meanwhile he has appealed against his dismissal, claiming that Harris Academy Tottenham leadership fired him after whistleblowing. School leadership hasn’t responded to his request, but Adusei has taken the case to tribunal.

Zero tolerance policies

According to Adusei, pupils took to the petition’s comments section to share their experiences. They shared their accounts of the draconian environment the school’s new leadership instilled. One stated that teachers “treat us like inmates”. Another claimed that their experiences as a student at the academy had contributed to their mental ill health, and that since the change in leadership, the school was “run by white people…who don’t understand the children”.

Following a spate of alleged threats against the executive principal, suspended the petition’s comments section. Adusei stated that he did not condone the alleged threats. However, he argued that by removing all comments, the platform was curtailing students’, staff, and parents’ free speech. He agreed to remove the principal’s name from the petition.

Not a unique experience

Henry told The Canary:

There is abundant evidence spanning decades that institutional racism is alive and well in education and Josh’s case brings it to light very sharply.

She added:

Black staff are more likely to be made redundant, be on temporary, precarious posts, be on support plans, more likely to lack pay progression.  We know about the ethnicity pay gap and there is very limited support for Black educators to progress. Black children need and deserve to see themselves represented in education at all levels.

Highlighting that school leaders are more likely to discipline Black educators nationwide, labelling them as “aggressive” or “troublemakers”, she concluded:

Black lives should matter in Education.  Too many Black workers are forced out of their jobs, and too many are considering leaving because of feeling devalued and because of the impact of racism on self-esteem.

Black educators unite

On 11-13 November, Black educators are coming together for NEU’s Black Educators’ Conference. Henry is moving a motion in support of Adusei and all Black educators. The motion, seconded by Adusei, states:

Sadly, a number of our members have reported feeling let down by the Union in race discrimination cases, in particular being denied legal assistance.

And it goes on to say:

Conference believes this situation has to be addressed without delay, and that the Union must ensure that members facing racism have robust support and representation, including re-evaluating the criteria of our threshold for taking cases to [employment tribunal].

NEU’s Black educators are calling on the union’s executive to develop robust mechanisms for dealing with cases of discrimination, and to develop a new, more inclusive executive committee.

An NEU spokesperson told The Canary:

It’s absolutely right to say that many Black staff face discrimination in schools and things aren’t changing fast enough. Everyone has to do more, and do better. We need better training for leaders and good policies and practices embedded in every school and college.

And they went on to add:

The NEU is here to support every individual member if they’ve faced discrimination at work. We need to challenge all discrimination but also change things through proactive conversations about racism. This should include asking Black staff and Black young people what they feel about where they work and learn and what’s happening for them.

They concluded:

The NEU keeps our advice and procedures under review to ensure good access to advice and support.  There is always more to do and more to learn and we’re fully committed to doing that.

Support for Adusei

As well as supporting Henry’s proposed motion, the Coalition of Anti-racist Educators (C.A.R.E.) has launched a crowd-funder on Adusei’s behalf, saying:

Josh is the example of exactly the kind of teacher our young people desperately need and deserve

The coalition is urging supporters to donate to the fund to help Adusei get back on his feet, fight his case at tribunal, and realise his proposed community initiative supporting young people’s mental health.

The Canary contacted Harris Academy Tottenham, the Harris Federation and the NEU for comment, but received no response by the time of publication..

Featured image via CDC/Unsplash 

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