A Labour councillor has criticised the secrecy over “racially divisive” training in schools which is being promoted by Brighton and Hove City Council.
The council has given its support for the use of “critical race theory”, prompting more than 4,000 people to sign a petition that was presented at Hove Town Hall this afternoon (Monday 10 January).
The petition, presented by former teacher Adrian Hart, said that “critical race theory” was “racially divisive” and could place the council and schools in breach of equalities law.
The same point has been made by the government’s Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, a former Sussex University student, who gave a similar warning in the House of Commons.
Mr Hart told the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee that critical race theory had been “smuggled” into schools without parents’ consent and without councillors’ informed consent.
He had asked to see the teaching materials being used in local schools but his “freedom of information” was request was refused because it was “commercially sensitive”.
Mr Hart, author of the Myth of Racist Kids, told councillors: “From December 2020, the council began to promote ‘racial literacy’ staff training to schools.
“The strategy simply states ‘anti-racism practices’ will be ‘embedded in the Brighton and Hove school system over a five-year timeframe’.
“I suspect the fact that this training operates a CRT (critical race theory) approach was unknown to you when you agreed to it.
“Given that the policy targets children, it is deeply troubling that CRT’s role in it was never explained to you.
“Prior to agreeing the policy, you were denied the opportunity to scrutinise CRT and assess how it shapes a strategy clearly impacting the daily lives of pupils.
“For this reason alone, you must call a moratorium on the Anti-Racist Schools Strategy and urgently review it.
“CRT is a set of beliefs about society – not facts. Its message to children is that they are either the bearers or the victims of ‘white privilege’.
“If you had known of the controversies surrounding CRT, you would have had reason to investigate if the strategy breaches the ‘public sector equalities duty’ by fostering divisions among children.
“Take one example: the strategy document proposes ‘racial literacy’ for pupils via focused lessons and justifies this by mocking the vast majority of parents who regard young children as indifferent to colour.
“This is shocking. In playgrounds across 21st century Britain, kids model a version of multicultural, multi-ethnic co-operation and friendship that could teach the adult world a thing or two.
“Yet the strategy seeks to overturn and racialise children’s indifference to skin colour differences.
“Parents of young children expect schools to uphold safeguarding duties. They expect councils to risk-assess potentially harmful interventions.
“They trust that schools and councils will not introduce a belief system and teach it as fact.
“I cannot believe that it was the intention of this committee to let that happen.”
Green councillor Hannah Clare, who chairs the Children, Young People and Skills Committee, said: “I don’t have anything more to add as I think you’re aware of our positive position towards the importance of discussing the reality and existence of racism in schools
“And I understand that you’ve brought this issue to several committees and had a response there too.”
Labour councillor Jackie O’Quinn said: “There is some concern among some councillors that we have not been allowed to access this critical race theory – that we are not allowed to see the content of it.
“Our feeling is that it should be transparent. We represent residents in the city and obviously that includes parents.”
She said that she and her Labour colleagues were all former teachers and added: “We should be able to see this material. It should actually be available to us and parents as well.
“We would just like to ask that we are given access to this material … but we’d also like to have a report … as to how the anti-racial teaching is going in our school.
“It’s a very important issue. We are deeply committed to it. But we do feel that it must be democratic and transparent – and it’s very, very important to have that.”
Councillor Clare said: “My understanding is the training is commercially sensitive but also it’s schools who decide what materials they use.”
Deb Austin said: “I’m aware that Mr Hart has been trying to access the training materials used by an independent trainer who is employed outside of the city council – and that request has been refused on the grounds of commercial sensitivities.
“A paper on progress of the anti-racist schools strategy is due to come back to the next CYPS for an update.”
Councillor O’Quinn said: “Councillors have actually been refused access to these teaching materials.
“I can go on to my laptop if I want to look at what is being taught in secondary schools and I can go to the examples and I can find out what is being taught and so on.
“I am deeply concerned that we are not able to view what is being taught in this. I do find it worrying.
“It is controversial. It is a controversial programme so it’s even more (reason) that we should have some access to it.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever heard ‘commercially sensitive’ regarding information or stuff being used in schools ever before so I find that deeply worrying as well.
“I am asking that we have, as councillors, some access to these teaching materials. It’s very important that we should.
“And I would be very concerned – and I am concerned – that we’re being denied that. And I know that other councillors are concerned about that … These are all things that we should know about.”
Councillor Clare said: “I’ve been told … that information is commercially sensitive.”
Councillor O’Quinn added: “We need to say very plainly that we would like to see it.”
Conservative councillor Alistair McNair said: “I support what Councillor O’Quinn has said and I agree with Mr Hart as well.
“We should be deeply concerned that the council is using very contentious and divisive philosophies to influence its guidance to schools such as CRT.
“Of course, racism is still very much a real issue unfortunately but words such as ‘systemic racism’ and ‘white privilege’ are inappropriate.
“Training is not education. Training means making people think in a certain way and the council should not be in the business of making our children think in a certain way especially on something so contentious.”
The committee voted six councillors to four in favour of a report about the subject – due in March – and for councillors to see the teaching materials in question. The committee also agreed to note the petition.
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