Christopher Hope, The Telegraph, April 3, 2021
Playgroup teachers need an “understanding about white privilege” so toddlers can learn to “recognise racist behaviours and develop anti-racist views”, according to new guidance.
The new advice, drawn up as an alternative to the Government’s statutory guidance by representatives from unions and charities, said it was “time to challenge the widespread notion that ‘children do not see race’ and are colour blind to difference”.
It states that “children’s racial prejudice” is at risk of being “maintained or reinforced” unless teachers had specialist training to develop an “understanding about white privilege, systemic racism and how racism affects children and families in early years settings”.
On Saturday it was criticised by Conservative MPs for being the “wrong way to go about” combating racism as it risked early years learning “becoming some kind of political Soviet indoctrination session”.
It came a day after an official government report found that factors such as family structure, class, socio-economic background, geography, culture and religion had “more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism”.
The new 128-page guidance – titled Birth to 5 Matters from the Early Years Coalition – was developed over the past six months by a 18-strong steering group including representatives from the National Education Union, the National Day Nurseries Association and the Association for Professional Development in Early Years.
Birth to 5 Matters is seen as an alternative to the Government’s non-statutory guidance on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), titled Development Matters, which comes into effect in September.
The official government guidance requires five-year-old children to “know some similarities and differences between different religious and cultural communities in this country, drawing on their experiences and what has been read in class”.
However, Birth to 5 Matters goes further, advising staff that “talking about race is a first step in countering racism. It is a mistaken assumption that treating all people in the same way and ignoring differences in race is a sufficient response to racism.
“This approach simply allows the continuation of bias in society which disadvantages people from black and minoritised groups. Instead of a colour-blind approach to race, more proactive anti-racism is needed.
“Practitioner training is an important step toward opening dialogue and developing understanding about white privilege, systemic racism, and how racism affects children and families in early years settings.
“It is also time to challenge the widespread notion that ‘children do not see race’ and are colour blind to difference.
“When adults are silent about race, children’s racial prejudice and misconceptions can be maintained or reinforced.
“Encouraging dialogue and conversation about difference can evoke children’s strong sense of fairness and break down false assumptions about everyone being able to succeed on their merits, so that children recognise racist behaviours and develop anti-racist views.”
Robert Halfon, the chairman of the House of Commons Education select committee, said: “This is just unacceptable. This dogma and doctrine is totally out of place. We have all got to combat racism but this is the absolute wrong way to go about it, and insults white working class people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“The whole purpose of children learning is to learn, not for some kind of political Soviet indoctrination session.”
Sir John Hayes, the chairman of the Common Sense Group of Tory MPs, said: “Most parents would be horrified by the idea that their toddlers are going to be lectured about how privileged or underprivileged they were depending on their race.
“If you tell some children they are privileged you have to by definition tell some others that they are not, that they are somehow disadvantaged or underprivileged. It is really destructive to the welfare of children.”
On Saturday Beatrice Merrick, chairman of the Early Years Coalition, told The Telegraph that Birth to 5 Matters “includes a section on equalities to support practitioners in understanding how their legal duties under the EYFS and equalities legislation impact on their practice, and issues they need to consider in ensuring all children and families are treated equitably.
“There is an increasing understanding of the importance of sensitively addressing these issues from the earliest years, and the guidance, drawn up by 100 practitioners and commented on by hundreds more, has been widely welcome by practitioners.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Birth to 5 Matters is not government guidance. It has been produced by an independent organisation and it has not been endorsed by the Department.”
A department source added: “Ultimately practitioners must assure themselves they are working in line with the EYFS statutory framework, which requires all early years settings to deliver a broad and holistic curriculum which helps children develop their own positive sense of self and learn about and understand our culturally and socially diverse world.”
Last December The Telegraph disclosed how Barnardo’s had issued new guidance saying parents and grandparents should be teaching children about “white privilege”.
The guidance from Barnardo’s, still available online, says: “If you’re a parent or carer, grandparent or guardian, we’re produced a helpful guide to speaking to children about the subject of ‘white privilege’.
“Teaching your child about the world – about who they are, what they can achieve, how they should treat others, what’s right and what’s wrong is a core part of nurturing. We believe educating children about white privilege is a part of that, and so is talking to them about how to be actively anti-racist.”
That came after Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister, said that teachers who tell their pupils that white privilege is a fact are breaking the law.