Racist bullying rife in (British) schools, says poll

© Published in The TES (Times Educational Supplement)

April 24, 2009

Policies to tackle discrimination against teachers and pupils are not being used.

More than half of all teachers say racist bullying takes place in their schools, according to a new survey. The poll, conducted for Teachers TV, reveals that 55.1 per cent of staff surveyed were aware of race-related bullying in school. And more than one in 10 says racism is often directed against teachers. More than 800 school staff were questioned about their experiences of workplace racism. Almost two-thirds said it was a problem in their schools.

Andrew Bethell, chief executive of Teachers TV, said Muslim pupils and teachers are specifically targeted. “Racist bullying is the unspoken curse of schools at the moment,” he said. “Racism is an issue that schools have been trying to address for 30 years now. Lip service has been paid at the highest policy level, but we haven’t changed the landscape very much during that time.”

And more than half of school staff surveyed said bullying was often linked to religion and religious intolerance. Muslim pupils and teachers are often specifically targeted.

Patrick Nash, chief executive of the Teacher Support Network, said high numbers of black and ethnic- minority teachers regularly call its helpline to discuss racist harassment at school.

Almost three-quarters of ethnic minority teachers interviewed recently by the network had experienced racist bullying or discrimination at school, either by staff members or pupils.

“Amazingly enough, we still live in a society where people have racist attitudes,” Mr Nash said. “And schools reflect the society they exist in. There’s a lot of unawareness still, and a lot of tokenism in diversity training.”

But despite apparently rampant racism, fewer than a third of teachers surveyed by Teachers TV said their schools had implemented a specific strategy to tackle the problem.

“We’d like to feel that racist bullying was being visibly and emphatically rejected and a huge fuss made of it by the school,” said Mr Nash. “It’s about citizenship lessons, it’s about faith awareness. But it’s also about the ethos of the school. You need to say, ‘This is a school that does not tolerate racism’. You need to keep saying it and being seen to act on it.”

Mr Nash believes many schools have anti-racism strategies but that these are rarely put into practice.

“We need to get the policies out of the filing cabinet and into reality,” he said. “People should be constantly talking about it and reviewing it so teachers can easily seek help if there’s a problem.”

A third of teachers surveyed said they wanted more professional development sessions to help them tackle racism, and a third said they wanted to learn how other schools deal with the problem.

John Bangs, head of education for the NUT, agreed that professional development was vital. “Teachers want more time and space in the classroom to follow up injustices,” he said. “To deal with it efficiently, they have to sit together and work out a common strategy. There needs to be genuine space for teachers to collaborate.”