Netherwood Academy: "My school did nothing when pupil wrote racist slur on Windrush Day"

The school is run by Jonny Mitchell, who appeared on Channel 4's popular 2013 show Educating Yorkshire
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A black teacher has slammed a Barnsley school for "doing nothing" when a Y9 pupil wrote a racist slur on a classroom chair - on Windrush Day.

Agency teacher Sarah Gowers discovered the racist graffiti while working at Netherwood Academy, in Wombwell, South Yorkshire, when she came into class and found a black student sat on the chair who said: "Miss, I don't want you to see what's written here, it's horrible."

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The vile incident on June 22, 2022 - Windrush Day - saw the pupil responsible suspended for the rest of the school year.

But Miss Gowers says the school and its operators, Astrea Academy Trust, failed to support her in front of pupils or in the weeks to come, failed to take the chance to teach students why it was hurtful - or even remove the chair for when she returned to class the next day.

Miss Gowers said: "It was Windrush Day - race should have been at the forefront of the mind of teachers and students. Instead I was questioned in front of my class when I was upset, there was no all-staff email about what happened, there was no assembly for Y9s - they didn't even remove the chair.

"The incident was bubbling under the surface around the school. Pupils were talking about it among themselves. Pupils came up to me and said 'is it true you got so-and-so expelled?' The school did nothing about this to support me or break up these discussions. It continued until the end of the term.

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"There is not enough done to protect minority teachers from abuse and hurt in the industry."

Astrea Academy Trust said in a statement Miss Gowers was "offered support" and racism "has no place" at Netherwood Academy.

Miss Gowers says the Y9 pupil responsible wrote the slur in the same period she called him out for using racist language to refer to people of Asian origin.

When the next class arrived, a black student first discovered the graffiti on a chair at the back of the classroom, and sat on it to hide it, saying: "Miss, I don't want you to see what's written here, it's horrible." Miss Gowers says the same girl would later come to her about racial abuse she was suffering "every day."

Netherwood Academy, in Wombwell, South Yorkshire. Its headteacher, Jonny Mitchell, is best known as the star of Channel 4's 2013 show Educating Yorkshire.Netherwood Academy, in Wombwell, South Yorkshire. Its headteacher, Jonny Mitchell, is best known as the star of Channel 4's 2013 show Educating Yorkshire.
Netherwood Academy, in Wombwell, South Yorkshire. Its headteacher, Jonny Mitchell, is best known as the star of Channel 4's 2013 show Educating Yorkshire.
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After finding the chair, Miss Gowers called for senior management. But while she was distressed and trying to control her class, she claims the senior leadership team questioned her in front of pupils about it and focused on taking pictures of the chair - but didn't ask if she needed help at that moment, she claims.

"No one offered to speak to me privately somewhere while SLT stayed in the classroom," said the teacher.

"I could hear the students who had already seen the writing telling the other students."

The SLT told Miss Gowers the chair would be "taken care of" - but it was still there when she came to class the next day, she claims.

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"Nobody thought it was important enough to protect me from being subjected to this abuse again," said Miss Gowers.

"I was prepared to come into school and start again with a clean slate, but it made me extremely upset to find that no one cared, no one could be bothered to clean or remove the chair."

By the afternoon, and despite speaking to senior staff about it, Miss Gower just removed the chair herself, she said.

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In the days to follow, Miss Gowers claims the school "failed" to act on the incident or support her.

An email she sent documenting what happened went unacknowledged, she claims, and a reported promise by vice-principal to formally speak to her about how the pupil responsible was suspended became a "chat in the car park" on the way into work, and not a sit-down meeting.

There was no email to all staff about the incident, to reinforce their policy on racial abuse or ensure their help breaking up gossip around school.

Miss Gowers said: "I was frequently being asked by other classes if what happened was true.

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"An assembly for the year 9s should have been the least as a chance to use what happened to teach pupils that racism is taken seriously.

"Racial abuse was just lumped in with everything else. I was let down."

The headteacher at Netherwood Academy, Jonny Mitchell, is better known as the star of Channel 4's 2013 show 'Educating Yorkshire'.

Miss Gowers left Netherwood before the new school year in September 2022 and would later take Astrea Academy Trust to court over their handling of the incident.

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The employment tribunal case in September 2023 failed, but Miss Gowers and the trust disagree on why. She says the panel dismissed it when they "could not find a hypothetical, comparable case of similar abuse against a white teacher for balance."

Astrea rejects this and says the case was dismissed as "the tribunal did not find that the school had failed in its responsibilities."

The case was concluded orally and neither Astrea's legal team, Miss Gowers, or the His Majesty's Court and Tribunal Service have a copy of what was said.

Meanwhile, Miss Gowers says her physical and mental health have suffered since the incident, and it has eroded her trust in friends and communities she previously felt at home with.

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She said: "Everyday situations now appear hostile and intimidating, from lunch in staffrooms to family events... I now see myself as different and if I am not included I see it as being due to my race. It is hard to explain the impact on me. It has turned my life upside down."

A spokesperson for Netherwood Academy said: "The incident that Miss Gowers experienced was completely unacceptable and we are sorry that it happened. The student concerned was sanctioned for it swiftly.

"The matter was investigated at a senior level and Miss Gowers was offered support. "Racism has no place here at Netherwood, where we are proud of the 'It Stops Now' campaigns which have run following this incident. The importance of tolerance, respect and non-discrimination is fundamental to the school’s ethos and the Personal Development curriculum.

"We do not accept there was a technicality [in the tribunal] - the case was dismissed as the tribunal did not find that the school had failed in its responsibilities. This is no cause for complacency and we continue to strive to tackle racism and other prejudice. 

"Netherwood is a warm and welcoming community which has high expectations for how students conduct themselves. This is the norm, but we are sorry that it wasn’t what Miss Gowers experienced in 2022."

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