Scotland’s first black professor Sir Geoff Palmer slammed a top school for wanting to scrap teaching To Kill A Mockingbird – and said it helps young students to understand the legacy of racism.

The English department at James Gillespie’s High School in Edinburgh wants to ditch lessons on the texts for third year pupils.

It said the representation of people of colour in the book was dated, and also criticised the use of the N-word and the white saviour motif in the 1960 Harper Lee novel.

The school said it was part of efforts to “decolonise the curriculum” by bringing in modern texts that would better reflect diversity.

But Sir Geoff said youngsters should learn how the book embodies the racism of its time and warned against ditching texts with “uncomfortable realities”.

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He said: ‘We can’t just throw the book in the bin.

“It’s part of the story of racism.

“We need to keep it, teach it and explain it.

“I fully support the principle of decolonisation of the curriculum, but where would it stop?

“If we remove To Kill A Mockingbird is Othello next – or the Slave’s Lament?

“We have to be careful here.

“Instead of removing this book from classrooms we need to show how the book embodies the racism of its time.

“That same racism that killed George Floyd.

“The injustice depicted in the text helps give us a view of and understand why we still have racism today.

“If we hide it away, the fact is we are saying children are not capable of understanding.

“It’s not ‘white centric’.

“The fact is black people at the time were not able to defend themselves in court.”

He added: “Today, we have black lawyers but recently we saw one being mistakenly perceived as the client.

“We still need to look at racism and explain it to help better understand where it comes from and why it’s unacceptable.”

It comes after it was revealed this week curriculum leader for English at James Gillespie’s, Allan Crosbie, said the department no longer wanted to teach the text.

Speaking at the EIS union’s AGM, Mr Crosbie said: “Probably like every English department in the country, we still have Of Mice And Men and To Kill A Mockingbird [on] the shelves.

“They are now taught less frequently because those novels are dated and problematical in terms of decolonising the curriculum.

“Their lead characters are not people of colour.

“The representation of people of colour is dated, and the use of the N-word and the use of the white saviour motif in Mockingbird – these have led us as a department to decide that these really are not texts we want to be teaching third year anymore.”

But Sir Geoff, who leads the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group, called for a survey of pupils to inform any decisions to remove important literary works.

He suggested: “Let’s see evidence and ask the pupils their views before making these arbitrary decisions.

“To me, the book is an opportunity to discuss, debate and to learn from.

“I don’t want to see this approach being extended to other books with black people in the stories.

“You can’t solve racism by putting texts with uncomfortable realities in the bucket.

“The next thing I want to hear from educational institutions is that they have removed racism, not books.

“That’s an easy option, it’s a diversion.”