School Probes Racism Claim against Boy, Four

London Telegraph, October 20, 2007

A headteacher has defended her decision to investigate an allegation that a four-year-old boy was guilty of racism during a game of chase.

Anne Phipps acted after Rocky Smith spat at a 10-year-old black boy on the school’s playing field. She said she had no choice but to pursue the accusation, despite the child’s age.

The investigation, at Bedenham Primary School in Gosport, Hants, has angered Rocky’s parents.

Racism campaigners have also expressed surprise at the school’s actions, but insist that even very young children can be racist.

Mrs Phipps said: “When a child makes an allegation of any kind, whether it’s bullying, racism, or general unhappiness, we investigate by talking to them. We couldn’t dismiss this.

“A nursery nurse spoke to Rocky and I spoke to the older boy. We talked to them about what happened and why it might have happened. That’s what an investigation is in a primary school.

“In this case, a little boy did think something had happened and felt he had been singled out. But after investigating, I decided this was not the case—it was just naughty behaviour.”

Rocky’s parents, Sarah, 35, and Iain Smith, 37, are demanding an apology from the school.

Mrs Smith said: “After it happened, I said to Rocky ‘what is a racist?’ and he said ‘it’s when you have races with your friends and the person who wins is it’. I can’t believe they even called me. Rocky was wrong for lashing out and I’ve spoken to him about that, but how can a four-year-old be racist?

“His best friend at nursery was a boy of Indian background—colour doesn’t mean anything to him. I think my four-year-old deserves an apology.”

Tunde Bright-Davies, the chairwoman of the Racial Harassment Forum, said: “A very young child can hate another person because of the colour of their skin—I have met with a boy of six who said he used to be racist.

“But with the circumstances of this incident, there was no name calling, no racial connotation, no ‘get away from me’, so you can’t found racism on just spitting.

“I don’t know why it was investigated as a racist incident.”

In its last Ofsted report in 2004, Bedenham Primary School was judged to be excellent in the category of pupils’ care, welfare, health and safety.

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