• recplymouth

Ria’s* Education Story

Updated: Apr 27

As we approach two years of living with Covid it is clear that it has affected our communities in a range of ways. Many of us have lost loved ones or have nursed family members back to health. Some of us have wanted to talk about experiences unrelated to the pandemic though social isolation has meant we couldn’t and have bottled them up. Those of us who are parents have had to cope with the challenge of homeschooling and trying to support them as they might have fallen behind, and suffered emotionally from the experience of being locked down.

We feel it is important not only to give communities a chance to talk through their experiences but also to give them a voice, so we have spent the last few months reaching out into the community to do just that.

This is the first story of a series of blogs that we would like to share with you. We are learning about the needs of our community all of the time so welcome your feedback and suggestions for subjects we should include.

Ria’s* Education Story

We moved to Devon 5 years ago. My daughter was 4 when we arrived and due to having to move three times before we finally settled, she was late starting school. We spent time at home learning the letters of the English alphabet together and practicing writing letters and words. She started school in the January and found it difficult to settle in at first.

The teachers were kind but like most of the other children in the school they were white, so I sometimes felt they did not always understand what my daughter was going through. However, I always felt that she was safe and that I could approach the teachers with any concerns if I needed to.

I made a packed lunch for my daughter after she was accidentally given meat sausages at lunch time. We are strict vegetarians for religious reasons. Luckily, she realised after a mouthful and the meal was changed. The school apologised and told me it would not happen again, but I did not want to risk it.

There were so many children in the lunchroom and the dinner time staff were so busy that I could not be sure. This was the only problem we had for a long time. My daughter is very bright, makes friends easily and was very happy in school.

When she was 7, she came home one day very quiet and would not tell me what was wrong at first. Then she told me that a girl she had been friends with since the start of school had told her she did not want to play with her that day because she was brown.

The girl told her that she would play with her tomorrow but for today she wanted to play with her other friends. This girl had been to our home during the school holidays to play with our daughter and I knew her parents although I was not friends with them.

I had to hide how angry and upset I was when I heard this because I did not want to make my daughter feel worse. She had seen the ways that we were treated differently by some people on our street and in town because of the colour of our skin but this had never happened in school.

She did not want me to say anything because she would be embarrassed but I told her I would be speaking to someone in school. I asked to see her teacher after school the next day and explained what had happened. They promised me they would talk to the girl and let me know what they had decided to do.

The next day, the teacher asked to see me when I was picking up my daughter from school. She explained to us that she had spoken to the other girl and that she denied saying anything about the colour of my daughter’s skin.

Perhaps there had been a misunderstanding?

By this time, my daughter spoke good English and I knew there had been no misunderstanding. She told the teacher again exactly what had been said. She also told her that the girl had wanted to play with her in school that day, but my daughter had refused and told the girl why.

The girl did not deny what she had said then. I said that I was not surprised that the girl was not admitting what she had done as she must know it was wrong. The teacher agreed that this might be why the girl had not told the truth. She told us that the class would be taking part in a lesson to explain why racism was wrong. I asked the teacher if these lessons happened often, and she said no, only when there was a problem. I explained that I did not want the girl to be punished, but that I would like someone to talk to her about the way that her words had made my daughter feel.

I did not hear anything for another week. My daughter played with her other friends and seemed to be happy to go to school so I tried to forget about what had happened. We have had to deal with far worse over the years. People have called us names on the street and sometimes in shops they are rude to us, so I accepted that these things happen.

Then my daughter came home and told me they had had the lesson that day and she had felt embarrassed because she was the only child in the class who was not white, and she felt all of the children were looking at her when the teacher was talking about how they were all the same whatever the colour of her skin.

She felt as though a small problem had been made much bigger. She had been so upset that she could not remember exactly what the teacher had said.

I did not agree that it was a small problem, and I was not going to leave it. This time I asked to speak to the Head of the school. She had started at the beginning of that year and was from London. When we met, she seemed surprised to hear what had happened, as if she was hearing about it for the first time, but she did not tell me that.

She told me that she was sorry about what had happened and that she was looking at the school’s policies including their anti-racist policy. She told me that in her last school, they had lots of practice in dealing with these issues and the most important thing was making sure the child felt safe. She said she would speak to everyone involved and then contact me to let me know what was going to happen.

A few days later we met again. My daughter had already told me that the head had spoken to her and that she felt much better.

The head told me she had also spoken to my daughter’s teacher and had asked the parents of the girl to come in too. They were very shocked and embarrassed about what had happened and said they would talk to their daughter.

She showed me a first copy of the school’s new anti-racist policy and asked me to take it home and tell her what I thought when I had read it. She had adapted it from the one she had used in her last school and wanted to be sure it would work at this school. I had not realised that this document existed and would have asked to see it if I had known. My English had also improved, and I was able to make sense of it.

The document explained exactly what the school would do if there was an incident and how a parent could make a complaint. It also explained that acceptance and kindness would be covered in what the school called Personal Social Health Education (P.S.H.E) lessons throughout the year, not just when something happened. I was happy to hear this as this was not as embarrassing for the victim and would hopefully help to make sure racism would not happen so much.

My daughter was back to her usual self after a few weeks. She told me one day that the girl had said she was sorry and that they were friends again. I was angry about this at first and then I remembered that I had always taught my daughter the importance of forgiveness and that this was a good thing.

She told me that the P.S.H.E. lessons covered lots of interesting subjects, not just racism, and that she really enjoyed them. There were no more incidents and I think this is because the Head was keeping an eye on things.

We moved from the school just before lockdown two years ago. We were offered a home in another area with a garden which we had never had before. My daughter has settled into her new school now that she can attend again. Because of what happened before, I know the right questions to ask to make sure problems are handled quickly.

I have looked at the school policies on their website, so I know exactly what to do if there is a problem.

My advice to other parents is to make sure the Headteacher knows what has happened straight away, and that the school policies explain clearly what will be done. I know that to some people what my daughter went through might not be very serious but to me it was. These things can start small but become big very quickly. We do not always feel safe on the streets, but our children should always feel safe and happy in school.

*not real name

PDREC would like to give you the opportunity to share your experiences and any insights you have for coping during this difficult time. We will be sharing stories from community members and have started offering online support for a range of issues, including how to support your children.

Please check our Facebook page and our website for further information, or email us if you would like to share your experiences over the last few years.

3 views0 comments