As racism rears its head after the EU referendum, a chain set up to counter sectarian education is offering solutions for the UK.
In a horseshoe, sitting around teacher Laura Clarke, year 1 pupils from Redfield Educate Together academy in Bristol discuss the EU referendum. “Do you remember what happened?” asks Clarke. “There was a vote and people were unkind to people from other countries,” pipes up Ben Wycherley, aged six.
“How do you feel about that?” Clarke asks her class. “Shocked,” says Tarren Dwyer-Reid, also six. “Sad,” says classmate Angelo Marmolejo, whose parents are Spanish.
“How do you think being unkind might make other people feel?” asks Clarke. “I’d feel lonely,” says Zoe Papp.
“Not very welcoming”, written up on the whiteboard, is the phrase that seems best to sum up the children’s view.
This new school – the first established in England by the Irish Educate Together multi-academy trust – serves a diverse catchment in central Bristol: 60% of children come from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
The city, like others, is feeling anxious after incidents of racial hatred and immigrants being told to “go home” following the referendum. One local primary school posted a notice on its Twitter feed offering to help families report racism and hate crime.
The headteacher here, Ros Farrell, is keenly aware that her school’s unique “ethical education curriculum” is needed as never before, as its children grow up in a multicultural city where a higher than expected 38% of voters opted to leave the EU.
The ethos of this chain of schools was developed in the Republic of Ireland – the first was founded in 1978 to offer an alternative to faith-based education, still the only option for 97% of pupils there. Educate Together’s “ethical education” approach, Farrell says, is intended to help children understand and value belief systems other than their own, and explore concepts of equality and justice.