How to talk to pupils about racism

Help pupils find the words and the confidence to have difficult conversations about race and racism. Get guidance on preparing teachers and pupils for these conversations, and find resources to support their learning.

Last reviewed on 27 January 2023
School types: All · School phases: All
Ref: 40933
  1. Have these conversations all the time 
  2. Train your staff to be equipped to have these conversations 
  3. Start these conversations early
  4. Don’t take a colour blind approach
  5. Challenge stereotypes and prejudice in a non-judgemental way
  6. Start from where pupils are and encourage questions 
  7. Be honest about racism in Britain (past and present)
  8. Download and share our staff handout
  9. More resources to help you with these conversations

Have these conversations all the time 

This isn’t just about "not being racist", it’s about being actively anti-racist

This isn't just about ''not being racist'', it's about being actively anti-racist. 

Conversations about race and racism shouldn’t be limited to a big one-off assembly or annual Black History Month event – they should be taking place all the time.

Encourage staff and pupils to have these conversations in classrooms, in the playground, during pastoral times (e.g. form tutor time or circle time) and within lessons. These issues should be incorporated into your curriculum – find out how to do this using our anti-racism curriculum review tool.

There shouldn’t be anywhere or any time when these discussions are off-limits. 

Train your staff to be equipped to have these conversations 

This could be as simple as talking your staff through the points in this article during a staff meeting or INSET, and sharing the staff handout.

If you don't feel comfortable running training yourself and you'd like an external organisation to get involved, find out about training from organisations like Show Racism the Red Card.

Share our anti-racist reading lists with staff and choose books from the lists to have in the staff room. To create an anti-racist curriculum and teach in a way that's truly inclusive, you and your staff need to first understand the issues – these books will support you on this journey. 

Start these conversations early

  • Children recognise race from a young age and they're never too young to start talking about it (see the PDF infographic)
  • Talk with pupils from the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) onwards about the similarities and differences between people in an open, positive way. For example, discuss how characters in picture books are different and how they're the same (e.g. "these children have different skin colours, but they all laugh at the same things")
  • Make sure you have a diverse representation of people in your books, images around your school (for example, displays, posters and murals) and the toys and dressing up clothes in your EYFS areas. Find out how to review and improve diversity in books
  • Don’t shy away from more difficult topics. Police brutality and incidents like the death of George Floyd might not seem “age appropriate” for primary school pupils, but children of all ages are likely to have heard about these issues in the news or discussed them at home. By opening up the conversation at school, you can offer pupils a solid foundation of knowledge which can help protect them from believing the misinformation they might be exposed to online

Don’t take a colour blind approach

It's easy to think that the best way to promote race equality is to pretend to pupils that you don't see race (for example by saying, "everyone is the same at our school, we don't think/talk about people's skin colour"), but race is an important part of people's history and identity, so don't ignore it.

Celebrate diversity

  • Talk openly about the different ethnic groups in your school and celebrate the different identities or countries of origin within your school community – include staff and families within this too
  • Create displays that show the different languages spoken in your school, and different places around the world that pupils or their families are from
  • Hold international days or events where pupils, parents and staff wear traditional dress or bring in traditional food or objects of cultural significance to share

Talk about the fact racism exists

  • Don't just celebrate all the good things about diversity: be honest about the challenges. Talk to pupils from a young age about the fact that racism sadly exists and could even happen in your school. Make sure pupils know the processes you have in place to deal with racist incidents and what they should do if they think they've witnessed or experienced racism
  • A Kids Book About Racism, by Jelani Memory is a great tool to explain racism to younger pupils and This Book Is Anti-Racist, by Tiffany Jewell is helpful for older pupils
  • If you’re white, understand your own experiences and make it part of the conversation. Be open with pupils about the fact that, as a white person, there are things about racism you can never fully understand, because you haven't experienced it first-hand. Show Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) pupils that you’re an ally by actively challenging and discussing different forms of racism
  • If you feel comfortable, share your own experiences of racism, e.g. talk about the number of times you’ve been stopped by the police while driving, compared with white colleagues
  • Show white pupils how they can be an ally by recognising and actively challenging racism, so they don’t feel like they’re the problem

Challenge stereotypes and prejudice in a non-judgemental way

  • Always challenge pupils when they say something based on prejudice or stereotypes, and correct misconceptions which could lead to prejudice if they go unchallenged. Use everyday incidents (such as a pupil in the playground saying "you can't play in our game because you don't have blonde hair") as an opportunity to educate all pupils
  • Use non-judgemental questions, such as "why do you say that?" or "what makes you think that?", rather than telling pupils off or closing down the conversation
  • Help pupils to recognise how stereotypes and bias can be hurtful and untrue, and give them an alternative point of view
  • Find out more about incorporating these kinds of conversations into your personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) curriculum in our article on how to review and re-frame your curriculum

Start from where pupils are and encourage questions 

  • Ask pupils open-ended questions about what they know already about racism, and what questions they have
  • This will allow you to pitch your conversation at the right level, correct any misconceptions and fill in gaps in understanding. Don't assume pupils know nothing, but don't assume they have lots of pre-existing knowledge either
  • Educate yourself as much as possible (our anti-racist reading lists for staff is a good place to start), but you don't have to have all the answers. Be honest if you're not sure about something and show pupils that you're eager to find out. Research together and model good research methods (e.g. using trusted sources such as reliable news websites)
  • Create a safe environment to have these conversations, where everyone is listened to and respected. Encourage pupils to speak from their own experience if they want to

Be honest about racism in Britain (past and present)

  • Don’t make present day or historical racism seem like an "American problem" to pupils: this denies the racism that goes on in Britain today and has shaped Britain's past
  • Don't just talk about Rosa Parks and the American civil rights movement: talk about the Bristol Bus Boycott and the struggles for equal rights in the UK (e.g. the origins of Notting Hill Carnival)
  • Talk about Britain's central role in the slave trade and how the UK benefited from slavery, not just that slavery happened in America
  • Find out more about incorporating these topics into your curriculum using our anti-racism curriculum review tool

Download and share our staff handout

Download and share the handout below with your staff: it summarises the key points above.

More resources to help you with these conversations

Having these conversations with pupils is a good place to start, but it isn’t enough on its own. This should be part of a wider work that includes:


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