Open Letter to:
All Saints School Academy
140 Wyndham Rd,
By Email Only 07 October 2021
Dear Ms Lucy Frame,
Re: Banning and Policing of the Use of Black British English
This is a letter from Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health (“BLAM”), a Black grassroots organisation that supports the Black Community in the UK under three limbs: cultural education, advocacy and wellbeing.
In a very short summary, we have a shared commitment to advocating on anti-Black racism/ injustice with particular concern for the impacts of these injustices on the wellbeing of Black communities and/or safeguarding the legal rights of members of our community. More detail can be found about BLAM here.
Fundamentally, we write to raise our concerns with your “banned” language list and demand that you reverse this policy with immediate effect as it is unlawful, racially discriminatory and harmful. We state this for the three following reasons:
- It harms the racial esteem and in turn well-being of Black children
- It reproduces and normalises Anti-Black Linguistic Racism
- It is not in line with the Equality Act 2010, The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and The Education Act 2002.
We note from The Guardian Newspaper, that Your Academy wants to ensure its students thrive in all areas of life. We hope to work constructively with you and your senior leadership team to address this issue and to ensure that your students’ rights are respected going forwards.
History of the Black British English Language
Oxford Dictionary defines language as
“the principal method of human communication, consisting of words used in a structured and conventional way and conveyed by speech, writing, or gesture.”
Black British English (‘BBE’) is a language and a form of expression. BBE is sometimes incorrectly referred to as ‘slang’. BBE is the intersection between African and Caribbean languages and white mainstreamed English. The creolisation of these various languages was initially recognised as Black British Creole, but today is also referred to as Black British English. BBE has its own syntactic and grammatical structure which is different to white mainstreamed English. Recognising this language as slang or ‘poor English’ is harmful and degrading in particular to the identity of Black students who use this language. It can also lead to the internalisation of negative perceptions about themselves and their fellow language speakers.We explain this below.
The freedom to use and embrace BBE is crucial. When describing the progression of Black British culture author Alison Donnell states
“Creole in Britain has since become the language of Afro-Caribbean and, more generally of Black youth culture.”
Negative attitudes towards BBE is a widely studied and well-known area amongst linguists and scholars. Professor Vivian Edwards as far back as 1979 conducted a study that highlighted linguistic misconceptions and negative attitudes towards Black Creoles historically. She noted Black Creoles have been strongly associated with disadvantage and not recognised as a distinct language. Another 1979 study showed Creole as an “integral part” of a Black person’s identity.
Banning this language in formal environments amounts to institutionalised code-switching, with the acceptance of punishment as a given, if not adhered to. It is of note that in the UK Black Children are already over-punished within the education system; they remain 3 times more likely to be excluded from school than their white counterparts. We at BLAM UK along with many Linguistic Activists reject code-switching because it places whiteness and white mainstream English on a pedestal while showcasing Blackness and Black Language as inferior, lesser, and secondary. Instead, we encourage, utilise, and elevate the beauty and brilliance in Blackness and Black Language. The American academic April Baker-Bell explains that Black students
” – – are being asked to switch their language, their cultural way of being and knowing, their community, their blackness in favour of a white middle-class identity.”
We reject the guise of professionalism and preparation for the future as explanations for the ban. The exclusive application of the policy to formal learning settings reinforces the ideology of the inferiority of Black languages. This links back to historically racist and imperialist views of Black people that position us as less than. It also doesn’t allow for the normalisation of the fact that some Black students may be going to work in Black spaces like music, arts, journalism, film and other cultural spaces. These are spaces that would require them to be fluent and well versed in Black British English. It is in fact: “super ironic that Black English speech is dismissed and devalued as being linguistically broken, and at the same time is one of the richest sources of lexical innovation in English”. It should be treated and celebrated as such in all spaces.
The Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 (‘EA 2010) imposes a number of legal obligations on the workplace, public bodies and wider society to protect against unlawful discrimination on the grounds of “protected characteristics” which include race and ethnicity.
Section 13 of the EA 2010 prohibits direct discrimination based on a protected characteristic.
Section 19 prohibits indirect, which includes policies that are seemingly harmless, but disproportionately affect any group because of their protected characteristic.
Section 149 places a Public Sector Equality Duty on authorities exercising a public function. In doing so, they must to have due regard to
- eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act;
- advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;
- foster good relations between persons who share
Therefore, if your current policy does not allow for the lawful exercise of Black British English, a Black language, in the learning space, then that policy is unlawful. Black children who are bilingual speakers and those who speak Black British English as a second language will be indirectly more affected by this ban than their racial counterparts who do not speak this language. The ban disproportionately notes words used by Black British English speakers. Any decisions taken in the application of the policy must be proportionate and in accordance with the law, including that set out above.
Education Act 2002
Section 78 of the 2002 Education Act which applies to all maintained schools states;
General requirements in relation to curriculum:
- The curriculum for a maintained school or maintained nursery school satisfies the requirements of this section if it is a balanced and broadly based curriculum which—
- promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and
- prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.
Academies are also required to offer a broad and balanced curriculum in accordance with Section 1 of the 2010 Academies Act.
The current Language ban does not allow Black British Students to have access to an educational curriculum that accounts for their bilingualism. They are instead punished for speaking two languages which instead harms the cultural development of pupils at the school. Language mastery should not solely be limited to white manistreamed English; children should have the option within their learning environment to become well versed in language that they and their peers regularly use. If the school was promoting a broad and balanced Educational curriculum they would have a language curriculum that is in line with the Education Act 2002, s.78 (1b) that prepares them for opportunities and experiences in later life as Black- British English speakers.
It is also of note that the decision to ban Black British English from the learning space would mean that the works of Black British Poets like Benjamin Zephaniah and Linton Kwesi Johnson could no longer be studied within classrooms at your school. Benjamin Zephaniah is a poet that has been widely read and studied in schools across the UK.
If the school was acting in line with its duty to provide a broad and balanced education, Black Language would be acknowledged and studied within the current curriculum. In providing a broad and balanced education teachers must engage their students with an understanding of anti-Black linguistic racism whilst providing them with the tools to have the agency to critically decide when to use their language, whilst giving them an understanding of the current white linguistic hegemonies in society and ways in which they can disrupt and dismantle this.
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which the young people at your Academy are individual rights holders under, emphasises the importance of minority children being able to enjoy their own culture or use their own language (Article 30).
The Convention highlights minority groups as including linguistic minorities.
The BBE words identified on the list allow for expression, personality and creativity. Subsequently, enabling Black students to enjoy their own culture. While a distinction was made by the headteacher in the Guardian article that this policy will not apply to “general use” and “social interactions” the article does not stipulate there is a limitation as to when the culture may be enjoyed.
As a Public Body the school should be promoting the enjoyment of international children’s rights within its learning environment, the current school policy directly prohibits this for Black British English speakers.
We invite the school to use the current experience as a chance to promote the understanding of the culture and history of Black people. Especially, given the present timeliness of Black History Month. Our organisation BLAM UK would be happy to assist in a collaboration to educate as to Black British English and heritage and find ways your school can promote linguistic justice.
BBE is a rich language and a form of expression amongst Black children in particular. The association of this language with ‘slang’ and seeing those using the language as unable to articulate clearly and accurately is racist. The ban of a language used primarily amongst Black students is disproportionate and is incompatible with the Equality Act 2010 and Education Act 2002. Further, the ban amounts to a gross failure to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty under s.149 EA 2010. Finally, it appears that the policy is contrary to your own policy and ethos as well as the school’s common goals.
- Reverse the policy with immediate effect;
- Ensure staff attend professional training on language discrimination;
- Adjust your existing school policy to honour BBE and other languages used by students from Black backgrounds.
We are open to collaborating with your school and provide appropriate training and education on Black British English and heritage and find ways your school can promote linguistic justice.
In the event that this letter is ignored, we will have no option but to take further action in regard to this matter.
Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health (BLAM UK)
|Queenie Djan, Barrister|
|Roxy Legane, Kids of Colour|
|Temi Mwale, The 4Front Project|
|Jodi-Ann Johnson – Teacher|
|Florencr Cole, Solicitor at Just for Kids Law|
|Andréa Hounto, Lawyer|
|Eve Doran, BLAM UK|
|Ife Thompson, BLAM UK Founder, UN Fellow and Lawyer|
|Pamilerin, Cultural Worker|
|Patricia Daley, Lawyer|
|Kayleigh Broughton, Consultant Social Worker|
|Daria Karim, Doctor|
|Chris Daley, Engineer|
|Donna Guthrie, BARAC UK Women’s Officer|
|Zehrah Hasan, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers|
|London Bell, UN African Descent Fellow, OHCHR – United States|
|Zita Holbourne, National Chair and Co-founder BARAC UK|
|Fatima Jichi, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers|
|Tinu Adeshile, Solicitor|
|Dr Feryal Ryan, Kings College London|
|Grace Saunders, Trainee Teacher|
|Akil Hunte, Trainee Solicitor|
|Ayo Sosanya, Solicitor|
|Olamide Ogunrinade, Barrister|
|Janice Browne, Therapist|
|Benedicte Balande, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer|
|Cyrilia Knight, Partner|
|Ikram Warsame, Global Black Collective Institute, Human Rights Lawyer Canada|
|Brenda Efurhievwe, Lawyer|
|Dr Feryal Ryan, Kings College London|
|Oyin Makinde, BLAM UK|
|Monty Onanuga, Banker|
|Jon Lewis-Darke, Every Interaction|
|Zachary Whyte, Solicitor, BPLS|
|Maria Uzor, Artist|
|Sonia Larbi-Aissa, Paralegal|
|Carlene Jones, Student Mentor|
|Justin’s Obaoye-Ajala, Kentyna Solicitors|
|Farheen Ahmed, Paralegal)|
|Nicole Modeste – Solicitor|
|Jessica Perera, Oxford University|
|Omowammidokun – Mental Health Support Worker|
|Rachel P, LSWU|
|Phoebe Sally Fisher, BLAM UK|
|Tsungai Chikwanha, BLAM UK|
|Yashna Patel BPLS|
|Charlie Sharp, GARA alumni|
|Jessa Mockridge, Goldsmiths Library|
|Edain Bradley, Student|
|Rita Rasheed, BLAM UK|
|Sepphiah Barrett, Studio Assistant|
|Victoria Eyabunoh, General Adviser|
|Sophie Taylor, Baby People UK|
|Princess Gayle, Actor|
|Bernice Ackah, Lawyer|
|Niya Namfua, BLAM UK|
|Ciara Bowen, Red Fightback, Student|
|Lauren Desjardins, Stage Manager|
|Charmel Koloko, Hackney CVS|
|Khallum Caller – HCVS – Youth Leader|
|Neil Barrett, Rackspace Windows Operations Engineer|
|Deborah Martins – Paralegal|
|TOFUNMI DA’COSTA KINGS COLLEGE LONDON|
|Joshua O’Connor – Software Engineer|
|Laura Siebenhaar, student Goldsmiths UoL|
|Jamila Thompson – Educator/Researcher|
|Samuel Fisher – PhD student|
|Student at Goldsmiths College|
|Emily Rose Budinger, Southern Rail|
|Grant McPhillips: Red Fightback|
|Lyndon Walters I-Coach|
|Hazel Faye Davis, AudioActive – Youth Worker|
|Abigail Asante, Hackney CVS , Youth leader/musician|
|Corinna Ritch BLAM UK|
|RH – Red Fightback|
|Emmanuel Akin. Political Lead (YoungPeople) Hackney|
|Sheine Alexander, Employee Engagement Manager|
|Jacalynn Ryder RFB|
|Daniele James, Community worker.|
|Gabriel Okafor – Student, Goldsmiths University of London|
|Eva Goodwin, Student at Goldsmiths|
|Julia Evans, Student at University of Edinburgh|
|Dominika Lloyd-Brown, Asset Management Intern|
|Sam Glasper – Red Fightback, IWW, UCU, ACORN|
|Angela Sun, student|
|Ellie Walton, Goldsmiths College|
|James Foster, Teacher|
|Juhi Patel, King’s College London, Student|
|Ashleigh Thompson-Brown, Fertility Nurse|
|Matthew Hayhow, Collections Associate|
|Jon Lewis-Darke, Every Interaction|
|Ms C Lewis-Darke|
|Jane Morris, Playwright|
|Matthew Lee, NEU member|
|Imma Koigi. Health Promotions Programme Coordinator|
|Riana Meli Browne|