The council has been accused of taking an illegal approach to children’s education and to its equalities duties by adopting a five-year “anti-racist schools strategy” based on a controversial doctrine.
Anti-racism campaigner, author and educator Adrian Hart said that the council had approved the use of “critical race theory” rather than a more liberal and universalist approach.
The council said that it had chosen critical race theory but defended the decision and said that its training provider had received a lot of positive feedback so far.
Mr Hart told Brighton and Hove City Council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee that critical race theory created confusion, distress and division instead of fostering good relations.
He said that the council should adopt a secular universalist approach ad teach children “how to think rather than what to think”.
Critical race theory, he said, was a “partisan political ideology” and said that the divisiveness of this approach was appalling, adding that it was “illiberal and undemocratic”.
His comments appeared to echo those of the government’s Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch last autumn when she said: “We do not want to see teachers teaching their pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt.
“Any school which teaches these elements of critical race theory, or which promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law.”
Mr Hart said that he suspected few councillors had heard of critical race theory when they backed a motion last summer to become an anti-racist council.
And he complained that his request to see the teaching materials had been turned down on commercial grounds under the Freedom of Information Act.
He said: “Hiding this from scrutiny is unwise – but to cite commercial interests in your ‘freedom of information’ request refusal is … a misreading of the Act.”
Critical race theory, he said, “invites teachers and children to define and treat one another differently according to the immutable characteristic of skin colour.
“The invitation CRT issues to children is, precisely, that they should define themselves and each other as victims or oppressors according to their colour.
“Among younger children in particular this will foster confusion, upset and division.
“Your choice of CRT is, therefore, a breach of the Equality Act and, specifically, the ‘public sector equality duty’ – the duty to foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.”
Mr Hart put forward some alternatives to learning materials based on critical race theory and added: “We strive to offer children a politically neutral sphere where they learn how to think as opposed to what to think.
“At GCSE or A level stages, partisan political or religious ideologies are rightly presented, discussed and balanced with differing perspectives, but we accept that they should never be promoted.”
Green councillor Hannah Clare, who chairs the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee, said: “The council has pledged to be an anti-racist council, with an immediate focus on addressing racial discrimination and disadvantage across all our public services and within our own organisation.
“The work is central to the council’s legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between communities – as well as to encourage civic engagement by under-represented groups.
“As a council, we believe that racism is not just a product of individual bias or prejudice but something embedded in our systems which is why the rich ethnic diversity of our city is not represented in council or in employees in our schools.
“Talking about systemic racism is not divisive but racism is.
“Our race and literacy training for schools explains that we are all one human race and that race is a social construct used, for example, to justify slavery and the holocaust.
“By understanding the history of racism, we will equip school staff to take steps to prevent and mitigate the experiences of racism in our community.
“Critical race theory is our lens for developing our understanding of the complexities of racism – and not an ideology.
“There is nothing in our strategy that aims to engender guilt or victimhood – and the development of critical thinking skills is one element of our educational output.
“Staff training is just one aspect of the anti-racist schools strategy. In the latest version of the strategy, it is made clear that the local authority does not plan to make any training offered to schools mandatory, although schools will be encouraged to work in partnership with us under the strategy.
“Schools are also free to engage any training providers to deliver training for their staff in line with school values and policy.
“The provider they have chosen has delivered a lot of training for the council and in Brighton and Hove schools and has received a lot of positive feedback.
“It is my understanding that people who have engaged with the strategy are overwhelmingly in support of it.
“I do not take your criticism that the public would not support this work.
“I’m really proud of the work we are doing in our schools to be anti-racist and the wider work across the council.
“We accept that as a council we have got a lot to learn and a lot to do to prevent and mitigate against the racism that pupils, students and their families have told us happens in our schools.
“We are proud of how Brighton and Hove schools are engaging with us and leading on this complex work and hopeful that our approach will make a difference.”
An update on the council’s anti-racism pledge is due to go before the Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee on Thursday (17 June).
The meeting, which starts at 4pm, is scheduled to be webcast on the council’s website.
LIKE WHAT WE DO? HELP US TO DO MORE OF IT BY DONATING HERE.