FOUR Helensburgh siblings are leading calls for an overhaul of Scotland's education system to address racism in schools.

Florence Joseph, along with sisters Madeleine and Juliet, and brother Reuben, have written an open letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney, and the Scottish Government, demanding an "extensive examination and remodel of our education system".

A petition has also been set up by the quartet - attracting more than 9,000 signatures already - as they seek to transform Scotland's relationship with racism.

The letter, titled 'Reparation in Education: Addressing Race in Scottish Schools', includes three key objectives which the signees are asking to be implemented: a Curriculum for Black Excellence, which focuses on education of the social, historical and political context of BAME experiences, as well as inclusion of material written by BAME creatives and academics; greater diversity in staff representation at all schools in Scotland; and the compulsory completion of a racial awareness course for all trainee teachers, along with continuous, up-to-date training for already qualified teachers.

The letter states: "We understand that these changes would require financial support from the Scottish Government in order to ensure effective implementation.

"We are also aware of the tangible, long-term economic impacts of Covid-19 and the restraints that this will inevitably place on government spending.

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"However, we believe that this investment is not only owed by the government, but it is long overdue.

"The Scottish Government has made incredible strides regarding inclusivity, especially as we are now the first country in the world to implement LGBTQIA+ compulsory learning in our curriculum.

"We encourage you to, again, lead by example and support BAME communities which make Scotland our home."

More than 20,000 people have signed two other petitions calling for an end to systemic racism in Scottish schools and better education on BAME experiences, while a similar campaign for British school children to be taught about the realities of British imperialism and colonialism has gathered around 200,000 signatures.

In the wake of the death in police custody of African-American man George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, mass protests have erupted across every state in America, while gatherings in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign were also held in Glasgow and London at the weekend.

Ex-Hermitage Academy pupil Florence, now a nurse specialising in children's oncology at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, said she was unable to attend Sunday's rally at Glasgow Green but she has been inspired by the fallout from the movement.

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The 25-year-old told the Advertiser: "It's such an important issue to my heart but I look after children who are immuno-compromised, so I could not take the risk of infecting my patients.

"It's really courageous that people are protesting, especially in times like this.

"People protesting now are going out for a purpose and are trying to stay safe and are doing it for a very important cause."

Last week Florence shared an emotional post on social media appealing for a change in attitudes, as she detailed her own experiences of racism in the UK.

She said the current situation in the USA encouraged her to speak out.

"There's been horrific murders of black men and women by police and institutionalised racism in this country and in America before, but this time it feels different.

"People are fighting against it and wanting to show that this isn't acceptable and it has made me feel that I needed to say something.

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"When I was younger I remember being out a few times with my dad and my uncle and people shouted racist things at us in the street. I remember feeling really anxious when I was out with them in case anyone said anything to us.

"My dad used to run a cafe in the town and even four years ago there were people running in and shouting racist things at him then. I think it has got a bit better but it's still prevalent. He's had some really horrific experiences in his life.

"My sister Maddie has got beautiful afro hair and growing up people have tried to set fire to her hair or put things in her hair.

"We get asked a lot 'Where are you from?' We'll say 'Scotland', but folk will say 'No, no, you're not Scottish, where are you from?' People won't accept that we are Scottish, we were born in Scotland and have lived in Scotland our whole lives."

Florence says that growing up in Helensburgh, her family was the only one with mixed race children when she was in her early years at Hermitage Primary.

And her experiences of racism in an institutionalised setting have pushed her to call for better education of the problem from a young age.

She said: "I remember one of my high school teachers made a point of saying this big story in class about how 'when you go around the world there's varying differences in skin colour, you have the black people who are poor, you have beige people, Florence, you're beige, you could be the ugliest person in the world but because you're beige, you're pretty'.

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"And then she went on to say 'you've got yellow Asian people' and she made hand signals with her eyes, she did that in front of the full class and didn't think twice about it.

"Mostly my poor experiences of racism in this country have actually been from teachers.

"In preparing our letter we spoke to lots of teachers, deputy heads and education students and all of them informed us that there's no racial awareness teaching for them and no mandatory training.

"For most teachers, the first time they'll have to deal with racism is in the classroom as it's happening, so how can you expect them to deal with that in the correct way if they don't know how to do that, if they've never been faced with those questions?

"We're trying to get momentum up and make a change.

"If there had been things like this in place when we were coming up through school we wouldn't have had as many negative racist experiences, or at least they would've been dealt with in the correct way."

Brendan O'Hara, MP for Argyll and Bute, has also received a copy of the open letter and gave his backing to efforts at tackling racism through education.

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He said: "It is great to see young people playing their part in this important debate and coming up with practical, workable solutions for tackling racism in society.

"The open letter to the Scottish Government clearly sets out how this could be delivered and help Scotland move closer to becoming the open, inclusive and fair country we want to live in.

“Racism, discrimination and prejudice have no place and we need to learn about racial awareness and the mistakes of the past not just through history lessons but within the entire curriculum and beyond that.

"We must bring an end to all inequalities that contribute to unfair and damaging divisions in society.

“I am grateful to all constituents across Argyll and Bute who have written to me over recent days to ask me to support the Black Lives Matter campaign.

"We must do more to eradicate racism and I will write to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney MSP, to give my backing to this campaign.”

Education Scotland says all organisations must adhere to the Equality Act, which prohibits “direct or indirect discrimination against people who possess any of the protected characteristics including race”.

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However, when asked for their response to the open letter and petition produced by Florence Joseph and her siblings, the public body said that the power to make changes rests in the hands of councils.

A spokesperson for Education Scotland said: “In Scotland, Curriculum for Excellence does not deliver a prescribed curriculum.

“We believe it is best for schools and teachers to design and deliver a curriculum, based on the advice and guidance set out in the Curriculum for Excellence framework, that meets the needs of learners and their communities, and to determine what is taught in their classrooms.

“Helping children and young people to develop as responsible global citizens is a key feature of the curriculum in schools in Scotland.

“Learning about current and past attitudes and values, historical events and their impact on society today is a key element of the curriculum.

“This can include learning about slavery and human trafficking and exploitation. Learning about slavery is an option in both the History National 5, Higher History and Advanced Higher History national qualification courses.”

The open letter can be viewed in full at and the petition can be signed online by searching for 'Madeleine Joseph' on

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