Monday, 21 February 2011

Schools not ordered to go easy on gypsy children

There are few things the Mail group likes more than a nice "political correctness gone mad" story, and the website of the Equality & Human Rights Commission regularly provides a happy hunting ground for under-pressure hacks on a deadline. Here's today's effort:

"Schools have been told they have to make special allowances for misbehaving pupils from gypsy and traveller families Teachers have been warned they could be taken to task under the Equality Act if they discipline or exclude such children from schools."

I'm sure you'll all be shocked to learn that there's slightly more to the story than this. The source is guidance on the 2010 Equality Act, which appears to have been published last year. It explains what the phrase "you must not discriminate against a pupil by excluding them from school" means, and gives several examples. They include not expelling one misbehaving child because he is a boy while allowing an equally troublesome girl to remain, and not excluding a child because they are autistic. All sensible stuff that even the Mail doesn't have a problem with, which explains why the paper's headline doesn't scream "Schools told to go easy on disabled children".

Journalist Gerri Peev has seized upon the one example that deals with a group the Mail has no time for - gypsies and travellers. The guidance, in full, states:

...the procedures you use for deciding what punishment a pupil will receive and for investigating incidents must not discriminate against pupils with a particular protected characteristic.

For example:
As part of their procedures for investigating and deciding on a punishment, a school arranges for parents or guardians of pupils to come into the school and discuss a course of action with the head teacher. In cases where parents cooperate with the head teacher and are shown to be committed to assisting the pupil to manage their behaviour it is less likely that the pupil will face exclusion.

This procedure may indirectly discriminate against the Gypsy and Traveller pupil whose parents may be less likely to come to the school to speak with the head teacher as they face a range of barriers including a lack of confidence in speaking to school staff and a level of mistrust based on a perception that they are not valued by the school community.

The school reviews their procedures and puts specific measures in place to assist Gypsy and Traveller parents, including an outreach programme with a dedicated member of staff to build trust with the parents so they can get more involved in theschool community and their child’s education. This is good practice which can help avoid indirect discrimination.

Again, it's pretty sensible stuff that boils down to "don't expel a pupil because their parent fails to engage with the school disciplinary process." Nowhere does it say "go easy on disruptive pupils" if they come from gypsy families. Nowhere does it say schools should make "special allowances" for gypsy children. It certainly doesn't warn of terrible concequences if teachers discipline certain children. It simply notes that children from some cultures might have parents who, for whatever reason, are suspicious and distrustful of authority figures and don't want to engage with them, and that it's not fair for a child to be kicked out of school because their parents take this attitude. Nor is there any threat of "action" being taken schools that fail to do this - although you wouldn't know it from the headline.

However, these facts haven't stopped Tory MP Priti Patel (who has taken to sitting next to fellow "anti PC-campaigner" Dominic Raab on the Commons benches) splurting out this ill-informed rent-a-quote garbage:

"I have concerns with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission dictating to headteachers how to run their schools and burdening them with more bureaucracy. There are times when schools do need to exclude pupils to protect the rights of others to learn and headteachers should not be put off making these decisions by the patronising diktats of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Commission’s recommendation on travellers only serves to reinforce stereotypes as well as showing that political correctness and the human rights agenda are being skewered further against common sense."

Note that she only manages to get the EHRC's name right the second time around. Had Patel bothered to read the guidance rather than just react to Peev's phonecall, maybe she'd have noticed that it does not do anything she accuses it of. If nothing else, the fact that it is guidance for schools - not an order - knocks down her accusation that it is a "diktat" from the EHRC.

It's bad enough that tabloid hacks churn out this kind of crap day after day, but you'd hope that an MP would be able to engage their brain before commenting.

It's interesting to note one story about the EHRC that doesn't make it into today's Mail - namely the news that the Commission is looking into hotels that advertise themselves as "gay-only". The paper was full of condemnation when the EHRC backed a court case against a Christian hotel owner who discriminated against gay people, but it seems that gay people being targeted by the "politically correct brigade" doesn't fit in with the Mail's worldview that all equality legislation is a bad thing.

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