Racism: Helping schools to lead a legacy of change

Written by: Deborah Lawson | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Stephen Lawrence loved school and he wanted to be an architect. Twenty-eight years since his senseless and racist murder, schools can help to create a legacy for change by focusing on classrooms, community and careers. Deborah Lawson explains

As teachers, our pupils do not just see us as educators. They see us as role models and pillars of their community. Think back to your own childhood, I am sure you will be able to remember at least one teacher who inspired you and helped shape the person you are today.

April 22 marked Stephen Lawrence Day. An annual event, which this year was held on the 28th anniversary of Stephen’s senseless and racist murder. The day is a chance for children and young people to have their voices heard, make the changes they would like to see, and create a society that treats everyone with fairness and respect.

Across the country, more than 200 schools and thousands of pupils joined us to celebrate Stephen’s life and legacy. They wrote poems, short stories, drew pictures and learned about the importance of creating a respectful and tolerant society.

We also hosted a webinar built around the idea of creating a legacy for change.

The Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation firmly believe in the three Cs – classrooms, community and careers. It is by focusing on those three Cs that we can create a lasting legacy for change in combating racism in our society, and it shows us how the teaching profession can lead the way in this change.

Stephen loved school, and he wanted to be an architect. Baroness Lawrence, his mother, who fought tirelessly for justice after his murder, told us on Stephen Lawrence Day about her pride in the drawings of buildings he brought home from school and the pride he took in his work.

Legacy for change

Education is pivotal for young people, and it is through education that we can lay the foundations for the future. So how do we create a legacy for change?

To engage young people of all backgrounds, the national curriculum should reflect all backgrounds. The knowledge of black history in this country is incredibly limited, mostly around the civil rights movement in the United States and rarely from a black British perspective.

A truly anti-racist education system would mean ensuring that learning about different cultures and backgrounds is part of the curriculum, not an optional extra that many schools simply won’t have the time or resources for. Schools must be supported to do that.

The Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation provides activities and resources that schools can use alongside materials they already use that can teach our children about a fair and equitable society for all.

This includes a range of activities appropriate for different ages that will be regularly updated, including topical assemblies at various points in the year.

Teachers, heads and support staff are people too – some have been taught about racism and some haven’t. Our understanding of racism can often be shaped on our own experiences, and whether we have ever experienced racism.

All school staff knowing and understanding more about racism is crucially important; getting more black teachers into the profession is equally vital. We should be targeting recruitment to get more black teachers in the classroom and removing the barriers many people face from becoming teachers or as NQTs.

We all have a role to play in creating a society free from racism and prejudice. We cannot truly thrive until all of us are able to thrive. Stephen Lawrence Day will have been just one in many steps we need to take in creating a better society, and I hope everyone reading this will pitch in, do what they can and take the rest of those steps with us.

  • Deborah Lawson is assistant general secretary of Community Union (Voice Community education section).

Further information & resources

  • Stephen Lawrence Day: Stephen Lawrence Day was established in 2019 on the 25th anniversary of Stephen’s death. It is a day dedicated to Stephen’s memory that also allows people to reflect upon the part we all play in creating a society in which everyone can flourish: https://stephenlawrenceday.org/
  • Voice: For resources, webinars and details of further events, visit www.voicetheunion.org.uk/sldf-partnership

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