Monday 6 July 2020

Brent Youth Parliament challenges Brent Council on its response to Black Lives Matter

As the Black Lives Matter movement focuses attention on the actions of politicans both local and national it is worth looking at the historical context. Thirty years ago the Council launched the above video. Having been pilloried by the press as 'Barmy Brent', Brent Council tried to put the record straight with this film of the work the council was undertaking in the borough. A young journalist, instructed to get a story reinforcing the stereotypes, discovers something quite different. The section on the Development Programme for Educational Attainment and Racial Equality (DPEARE) starts at 6.33.

One of the main targets of the right-wing press was what they called 'Race Spies' (DPEARE),  advisers sent into schools to help them develop the curriculum and learning strategies to improve the quality of education and race equality:

Mail on Sunday October 19th 1986
The BBC made a notorious Panorama programme, Brent Schools - Hard Left Rules (30.3.87)  that took up the Mail's theme and All London Teachers Against Racism and Fascism tried to set the record straight:

Altarf Newsleter May1987
More than 30 years on the Brent Youth Parliament has challenged Brent Council on its response to the Black Lives Matters movement.

These are the questions and responses tabled for next Monday's Council Meeting.

Question from Brent Youth Parliament to Councillor Muhammed Butt, Leader of the Council

1.As a body that not only represents black communities but also many other BAME communities, does the council feel obligated to speak up on the matter? Is it simply enough to show purple lights to condemn the killing of George Floyd? On behalf of young people in the borough we are concerned that there has been no talk of action that can be taken to support BLM, even though this movement has highlighted the prevalence of systemic racism in the UK.

2. Brent’s communities are very diverse and some themselves do not think about the way they treat black people. Prevalent issues such as colourism in the Asian communities often cause such discrimination. As representatives of these communities would you call upon various ethnic minorities within Brent to consider their treatment of black people?

Questions 1 & 2:  Communities in Brent, one of the most diverse boroughs in the country, continue to be affected by inequalities and require decisive and urgent action by the Council and partners.

 In the context of global and local challenges and events the Council met with 72 black community leaders and representatives on 11 June to listen to concerns and take decisive action to make improvements for residents. In partnership with the black community leaders the Council has created the Black Lives Matter Action Plan and it is a demonstration of the council’s commitment to making long lasting changes for the Black communities of Brent.

The council wants to show respect, support and solidarity to our black community in Brent and that we are a borough where there is no place for racism and where equality and diversity are respected.

3. Moving forward, in order to create change, would the council consider reviewing the education system in Brent? As many schools in Brent are Academies, does this not allow the council some leverage and encourage schools to implement the teaching of Black history?

Brent young people are our future. The Council has a leadership role, in partnership with schools and colleges and a successful track record of working together to deliver good and outstanding education. As an example of the impact of this partnership approach, a project commissioned by the Council and started in 2018 has helped raise the achievement of boys of Black Caribbean Heritage. The most recent (2018/19) achievement data shows significant narrowing of gaps between the attainment of boys of Black Caribbean heritage and all pupils at Key Stage 2. In reading, writing and mathematics combined there has been an improvement of 16pcp representing a remarkable 70 per cent fall in the size of the gap. For the youngest children, there was a significant reduction in gaps for the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage. At Key Stage 4 for older children there was also an improvement, with the gaps between boys of Black Caribbean heritage and all pupils down from 12 percentage points to 8 percentage points.

We will continue to work with schools to encourage the teaching of black history. Brent Council has provided Brent schools with support to help them develop their curricula, for example, as part of Brent’s London Borough of Cultures 2020 programme, an education programme has been co-created with school leaders and young people, to help connect children and young people creatively with their local area, their heritage and their hopes for the future. Brent Council will build on this work to continue to influence and promote the teaching of black history in Brent schools.

Many of our schools offer excellent examples of the teaching of black history. Good practice examples include our schools which have been awarded the United Nations Rights Respecting Schools Award and schools complementing the national curriculum with the United Nations global sustainable development goals to reduce inequality and to promote inclusive societies and institutions.

 For those Brent schools which are academies, it is correct to say that they have some further flexibilities in setting their curriculum as they do not have to follow the national curriculum. Once schools and colleges have fully opened in the autumn, the Council, along with the Brent Schools Partnership, will be discussing the development of curricula with schools, to stimulate the positive teaching of black history in Brent schools.

4. Would the council consider commissioning a project to express black injustice in a creative way such as a Mural, similar to the one dedicated to the Grunwick strike, in order to remind those that come into the borough that we not only recognise black injustice but as a result we are dedicated to correcting the situation?

The council supports the idea of creating a mural in the borough to express black injustice and is willing to explore this idea.

5. Finally, how is the council planning on reaching young people in Brent that may be isolated or marginalised to reassure them about the council's position on the black lives matter movement?

We are committed to young people having a voice. In close consultation with local black community leaders/representatives, including young people, the Council has put together a Brent Black Community Action Plan setting out steps that will be taken to ensure we can help make improvements for local residents. The action plan includes an explicit commitment “to engage with young black people in the borough in settings and ways that are convenient for them. Treating young people as stakeholders with a voice.” Actions being taken include the following:

· The Council is collaborating with Young Brent Foundation to produce a series of podcasts exploring issues and concerns for young people in relation to the BLM movement and the impact of Covid-19 in the borough. The podcast will be designed to engage with young people, particularly those from BAME communities, through a series of conversations designed to encourage meaningful and constructive responses to BLM in their localities.
· We recently commissioned a special ‘Time to Talk Covid-19’, phone-in radio show with The Beat London to discuss why the BAME community is so disproportionately affected by Covid-19. The panel included a Brent Councillor, a community leader and a young person and aired during prime time to reach a large proportion of the young BAME community. We plan to continue working with The Beat London as one of our main channels for two-way engagement with young people in Brent around BLM issues.

The Council see Brent Youth Parliament as a crucial part of reaching young people in Brent who may feel marginalised, to reassure young people as to the Council’s actions and to give more young people the opportunity to have a voice, as you have so creditably done today

Elsewhere on the July 13th Council Meeting Agenda the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee notes:

The cancellation of the 22 April meeting meant a report on School Standards and Achievement Report 2018-19, including Action Plan for Raising Achievement of Boys of Black Caribbean Heritage, could not be discussed; however, the chair has committed to rescheduling it along with the deferred items in the 2020/2021 work plan to be presented to Council in September.

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