By Adina Campbell
BBC Community affairs correspondent

Black children are more likely to face tougher punishments at school because they are viewed as "less innocent" and more adult-like, a report says.

This process of "adultification" means black children can feel unsafe and over-policed at school, the Commission on Young Lives in England report says.

This can lead to black children being disciplined more harshly - including being more likely to be excluded.

The government said it had strengthened safeguarding guidance for schools.

Vulnerable teenagers

Former children's commissioner Anne Longfield, who chaired the commission, said adultification was a significant issue.

"It's very real and it has a huge impact on children's lives," she said.

"Essentially, it's young people being viewed as older.

"That means that we look after them slightly less, and they don't get the protections and safeguarding they should."

The year-long independent study is looking at how to improve support and life chances for vulnerable teenagers to prevent them being exploited in schools or by criminal gangs.

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About one in every three of state-school pupils belongs to an ethnic minority - but more than 90% of the teaching staff are white.

Recommendations from the report include:

better race-equality teacher training
a more inclusive curriculum to tackle racial discrimination
more black teachers in classrooms and leadership roles

The report highlights the strip-search of a 15-year-old girl, known as Child Q, by Metropolitan Police officers as a shocking example of adultification.

This kind of treatment is having a damaging impact on young black people's confidence in both schools and with the police, where they are less likely to be seen as victims, it says.

Jahnine Davis, director of the child-protection company Listen Up, which works to combat adultification bias, said: "Black children are at a greater risk of experiencing this form of bias, due to preconceived ideas about black children being aggressive, deviant, and almost needing to be safeguarded from, rather then safeguarded."


Black girls tend to be met with suspicion," Ms Davis said.

"They tend to be perceived as being loud, as being aggressive and being hyper-resilient.

"If you want to explore the adultification of black girls, we have to look at the history, which is rooted in slavery and colonialism."

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In the past three years, children belonging to ethnic minorities were up to three times more likely to be strip-searched by police in London after an arrest than white children, according to a BBC News analysis of Met Police data.

Most of those strip-searched are black, even though, according to government figures from 2019, only one in every five secondary pupils is.

And black Caribbean children, who make up 5% of secondary pupils, account for 17% of strip-searches.

The way Child Q was left naked and alone with two police officers, when according to rules an "appropriate adult" should also have been present, has left some parents wondering how to protect their daughters.

"As an adult, if somebody did that to me, I'd be so upset, hurt and embarrassed," mother-of-one and local authority governor Carina White said.

"Experiencing that as a teenager going through puberty is not OK."

Miss White and her governor friend Natalie Duvall, both members of the Black Mums Upfront collective, feel adultification of black girls is rife in school cultures - which does not help how these children are perceived by police.

"A lot of this comes down to racism - and all the things people think about black women need to be debunked," Miss Duvall said.

"Yes, I am a 'strong black woman'. I'm also a soft black woman, a sweet black woman and a vulnerable black woman - and it's those narratives that come out again and again.

"Black girls are seen as older - but their black skin isn't a threat."

Carina White and Natalie Duvall are worried about adultification

The Met Police said it was reviewing its strip-search policy for children, in light of the Child Q case.

And it had already acted to ensure officers had a refreshed understanding of the policy around dealing with schools, ensuring children were treated as children.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We are looking into what more we can do to make sure all students feel safe in their school.

"We have strengthened our safeguarding guidance and extended it to all schools and post-16 settings - staff should receive regular safeguarding training to improve their confidence in managing sensitive situations."