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Responding to the adultification of Black girls in secondary education

This report of is the result of a roundtable at Westminster, convened by the NEU and the All-Party Political Group on Race and Equality in Education in December 2022, to discuss the issue of adultification of Black girls in secondary schools.

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Race equality

Racism is a structural barrier perpetuated by individuals that lead to discrimination against a person because of their race.

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The National Education Union has committed to working with its members on anti-racist approaches to both understand and challenge the varied manifestations of racism in education systems and practice. These manifestations include educational attainment/awarding gaps across racially minoritised groups (Gillborn et al, 2021), racial disproportionality in school exclusions (Department for Education and Skills, 2006) and the racism experienced by teaching professionals in the sector (Haque and Elliot, 2017). With regards to pupil outcomes, historically, more focus has been placed on the disproportionately negative experiences of boys, particularly Black boys. Government data and academic research show the significance of race, gender and class in all areas of education – while a focus on Black boys is entirely legitimate, further attention on the specifics of Blacks girls’ experiences in school in the United Kingdom is perhaps overdue.

The publication of the Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review – Child Q (Gamble and McCallum, 2022) pushed the term adultification into the public domain. Media outlets, practitioners and community groups grappled with the specific and disturbing aspects highlighted in the review while also entering into a more general discussion of adultification and its impact on Black girls. The high-profile case raised serious concerns around the role of police in schools, the responsibilities schools have to the children in their care and their families, and the ways racism operates throughout our school systems and practices.

In this context, the National Education Union and the All-Party Political Group on Race and Equality in Education convened a roundtable at Westminster to discuss the issue of adultification of Black girls in secondary schools in December 2022. Chaired by Diane Abbott MP, the roundtable received contributions from experts in adultification and safeguarding; sexual violence against girls and women; racial inequality; social work and child sexual exploitation; the school-to- prison pipeline; parliamentary policy and education practice. Members of Parliament, members of the House of Lords, representatives from funding bodies and interested activist groups also joined the table. The discussions were led by the contributors’ expertise, their lived experience and professional reflections.

This report aims to capture the substantive themes that emerged from the roundtable contributions across the diverse experience and expertise represented. It begins by providing a background to the roundtable focus through a brief overview of existing literature around adultification.

It then lays out the issues raised at the roundtable and recommendations made by the contributors. Finally, it poses reflective questions for NEU on the nature of further research or practitioner development that might be undertaken to further enhance the organisation’s approach to anti-racist practice.

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