A council has changed its race training for teachers to say toddlers are “racially unaware” rather than “racially innocent” in a public climbdown after outrage from parents.
Brighton and Hove City Council sparked outcry in January after The Telegraph reported its “racial literacy” sessions for hundreds of school staff would see seven-year-olds told they view “white at the top of the hierarchy”.
It prompted the intervention of Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, who sent officials to investigate the “concerning” lectures amid accusations from MPs that they potentially defied education and equality laws.
Now the Green-led council has published a new version of its five-year “anti-racist education strategy”. It says “there is ample evidence” that three-year-olds learn the markers in racial hierarchy and adds: “Yet the widespread view that children, particularly young children, are racially unaware persists.”
Previously this section had said: “Yet the widespread view that children, particularly young children, are racially ‘innocent’ persists.”
The new strategy, published this week, has also removed the entire section endorsing Critical Race Theory (CRT), a radical ideology which deploys the concept of white privilege and rejects a “colour-blind” approach.
Since the five-year project was launched in 2020, the first of its kind in Britain, the council had proudly said how its lessons were “underpinned by a CRT analytical lens” with a focus on viewing individual racist incidents as a systemic issue.
The climbdown to remove explicit mention of CRT comes after 5,000 parents petitioned council officials objecting to it “teaching our kids that they are racists or victims of their classmates”.
But the council’s new approach, to be approved on Monday, extends its “racial literacy curriculum framework” to nurseries, with early year foundation settings and key stage one pupils – from birth to age seven – now covered. Previously it applied to age seven and above.
The council plans to “embed specific racial literacy” lessons into curriculums through summer and autumn term this year and says it will “scope philosophy for children and other pedagogies that support meaningful racial literacy”.
Adrian Hart, whose son is in a sixth form in the city and led the petition with the campaign group Don’t Divide Us, said “this is merely a case of scrubbing the label off the tin, the contents remain the same”.
“The policy remains entirely informed by and based upon racially divisive ideas and beliefs that continue to be presented as uncontested facts,” he added.
Hannah Clare, the council’s deputy leader who last week lashed out at “vanity” Tory councillors for wanting a £200,000 statue in the south-coast city to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee, is spending £500,000 on the race lessons.
She denied the council is breaking the law and said the amendments were driven by community engagement, not comments from the Government or legal advice.
“We simply want our education settings to be places where every child can learn and thrive, where everyone feels safe and equal and where we all have a strong sense of identity and belonging,” she said.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Councils and schools should be mindful of their legal obligation to teach certain issues in a balanced way.
“Given the particular sensitivity and range of views around some theories that go beyond the shared principle that racism is unacceptable, teachers must ensure children are taught about them in an age-appropriate and impartial fashion and not present contested ideas as facts.”