A geography teacher is being investigated after using the N-word to demonstrate to pupils the pitfalls of pronouncing Niger, the West African country.
David Collins, who is also an assistant head, told the class of 13 and 14-year-olds that the country’s name should not be confused with the deeply offensive racial slur, which he spoke aloud.
He said Niger was pronounced ‘nee-zher’, which approximately rhymes with Pierre.
David Collins, who is also an assistant head, told the class of 13 and 14-year-olds at Chestnut Grove Academy in Balham, South-West London (pictured) that the country’s name should not be confused with the deeply offensive racial slur, which he spoke aloud
One pupil is said to have walked out of the lesson last week at Chestnut Grove Academy in Balham, South-West London, in disgust. Mr Collins, described as highly regarded and conscientious, later apologised to the class.
But the matter then escalated as teachers, parents and other students complained, with some apparently not realising the context in which the word was used.
‘During a lesson later the same day the children were handed complaint forms and told to write down comments if they were unhappy with Mr Collins’s behaviour,’ said a school source.
In a letter to parents, headteacher Christian Kingsley admitted that ‘a member of staff used racist language in a Year 9 lesson’ and promised to ‘robustly’ investigate the matter, adding: ‘The language was not directed at a student. However, we understand that students and their families have, justifiably, taken great offence to this and that there was no reason for the term being used.’
It is particularly embarrassing for the school because it prides itself on diversity and a ‘decolonised curriculum’ that highlights the effects of British imperialism.
Mr Kingsley said in the letter: ‘We understand that racism is systemic and that, like all institutions, we are far from immune to it. However, we do not want this incident to detract from the efforts we have been making to provide a decolonised curriculum and to reflect upon and improve our policies and practices in relation to equality.’
One pupil is said to have walked out of the lesson last week in disgust and Mr Collins, described as highly regarded and conscientious, later apologised to the class. Picture: Stock
He added: ‘We know you value our work in these areas and, whilst this shows a genuine commitment to equalities education, we appreciate that this does not mean that we will not, as a school, make mistakes or that we do not have a lot of work to do, only that we are committed to improving.’
It is understood Mr Collins pointed out the correct way to pronounce Niger – and how not to say it – as he assigned different African nations to small groups of pupils to study. A source said: ‘What he said clearly wasn’t meant in an offensive way or used in an offensive way or context. He was just trying to ensure nobody made a mistake that could be offensive.’
Last year the BBC’s former director general, Tony Hall, was forced to apologise after the N-word was used in a TV news broadcast, which repeated the language allegedly shouted during an attack on a young black man in Bristol.
It is not clear if Mr Collins now faces disciplinary action or what form it might take. Mr Kingsley told parents the school was taking the ‘matter extremely seriously’, adding: ‘We place great emphasis on the importance of valuing every member of our school community regardless of their background. Every member of our community needs be valued, respected and treated fairly.
Last year the BBC’s former director general, Tony Hall (pictured), was forced to apologise after the N-word was used in a TV news broadcast
‘You place a great deal of trust in us and I am saddened that on this occasion we have fallen short of our own and your expectations. For that, we are sincerely sorry.’
The school has invited families to ‘an anti-racism forum’ to discuss ‘concerns and suggestions’.
Mr Kingsley said in a statement yesterday: ‘Chestnut Grove is an inclusive school, and we know that families appreciate our genuine commitment to equalities education. An incident happened this week in which a member of staff used racist language in a lesson in a way that we consider was both inappropriate and out of character.
‘While this language was not directed at a student, the term being used in any context has understandably caused great offence within our community. We apologised to students and families and are investigating through our staff disciplinary policy.’