Dear Head Teachers, Teachers and Governors,
We are writing to you as representatives, supporters and friends of the local Polish community, concerned with certain events that have taken place since the June 2016 referendum results were announced.
The referendum campaign and the decision to leave the EU have given rise to a certain negative attitude directed towards the Polish community in general. This in turn has led to a rash of post Brexit hate crime and hate incident cases. Among the victims were Polish pupils and their parents/families, the perpetrators were often children or teenagers themselves and they could have lived or do live in our locality, attending our local schools.
Taking into account recent events in Harlow and Leeds, some of us are concerned for our safety and the safety of our children. We think that there is a need to tackle the situation.
One of the steps that seems necessary to us, is to write to local schools. We think that you play a crucial role in shaping the outlook of children and young people living in the UK and that you may want to help us to broadcast some important messages. We want to present a more positive message/image of the Polish community living in the UK and we think that your school could play an important role in rebuilding the sense of community cohesion that has been put at risk by recent events.
The positive message could be spread, for example, by talking generally about the contribution Polish people have made while living in the UK (e.g. World War II) or by including in the teaching some information about the culture, language and history of the Polish pupils that may be attending your school. Such an approach follows the guidelines provided in the publication ‘Integrating Global & Anti-racist Perspectives within the Primary Curriculum’ developed by the Nottingham City Council.
Your school may teach about World War II. Polish people, servicemen and servicewomen, served in the ranks of the army, navy, airforce, and made a significant contribution to the defence of Great Britain and the eventual allied victory. In Nottingham and the East Midlands there are many sites which honour the heroism of Polish servicemen – like Newark Cemetery, RAF Ingham Memorial Gardens in Lincolnshire or the graves in Calverton of the first RAF Polish aircrew to lose their lives on active service during WWII. These elements could be easily incorporated into your history lessons. There remain today a dwindling number of elderly Polish post WWII migrants still living in our area. Some of them played an active part in WWII, for example in the battle of Britain. We know a lady in West Bridgford (Mrs Wanda, age 94) who served in the Polish Squadron of the RAF. This wealth of cultural and historical cross references could also be incorporated into the pupils’ discussions.
There are a number of Polish people who gained universal recognition for their achievements in a variety of disciplines and whose work remains relevant to the content of the National Curriculum. There are, for example, Fryderyk (Frederick) Chopin, Maria Curie-Sklodowska, Nicolas Copernicus, Joseph Conrad (Korzeniowski). Maybe it is possible to introduce such figures during lessons at your school, not only to enhance the sense of cultural diversity within your school but also to allow Polish pupils to feel proud of their cultural background.
Polish children learn – as do all other pupils – about the cultural diversity of other major ethnic groups living in the UK (about Diwali, Ramadam, Black History Month, Eid, etc) an approach that we applaud and support. Polish migrants constitute the largest group of migrants living in the UK and constitute a large percentage of the pupils at many schools and yet, generally, schools do not appear to promote any awareness of the cultural background of their sizable Polish community.
We think that it is very important for schools to include in their teaching, information and activities that promote/show an interest in the cultural background of all of their pupils. Such an approach can only lead to an enhanced sense of community cohesion, not only within the school, but also in their locality and, secondly, enable the pupils of a particular ethnic group to feel more confident and more accepting of who they are/their own identity. (We know of situations when – due to peer pressure – Polish pupils questioned their own roots and struggled with their own sense of belonging.)
We would be very happy if local schools would consider including into their busy teaching schedules some reference to aspects of Polish/Eastern European cultures. Such an approach would make a positive and welcome contribution towards tackling hate crime and hate incidents directed at Polish migrants and to show an interest in the cultural background of their Polish pupils, to nourish their sense of belonging and enhance their school achievements.
Please view this letter as being a polite request (born out of concern) for you to consider the points we raise. We are happy to meet up with a school representative should you wish to engage in further discussions with us.
Polish Community and its Friends and Supporters