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Checks demanded on racist incidents

The Scottish Executive is considering how to present "a comprehensive national picture" of racist incidents in schools - as figures from one authority show children as young as five are being targeted.

At present, authorities are required to have policies aimed at promoting race equality and eliminating discrimination, and to monitor their implementation - but not to report publicly on them.

The number of alleged racist incidents among pupils in East Dunbartonshire schools has more than doubled in two years, with last session's primary reportings almost treble those of 2001-02 and more than double 2002-03.

The Commission for Racial Equality in Scotland believes race incidents in schools should be collated locally and nationally - and published. Maureen Fraser, CRE director in Scotland, commented: "Young people form the largest group of perpetrators and victims of racial harassment and this information can help inform wider community strategies to tackle racial discrimination."

She said that most authorities now produce a written policy that commits them to track the effectiveness of their policies under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act and to collect information about incidents involving pupils. But they must go further.

The CRE's guidance on the 2000 Act suggests that authorities should log information on the performance and attainment of pupils from ethnic communities.

A spokesperson for the Executive says it "encourages" authorities to collect and publish this data. "We are considering how best to develop a comprehensive national picture which would require discussion with a wide range of services, not just education," she said.

Most incidents in East Dunbartonshire involve name-calling and verbal abuse, but the primary sector also featured the first reported physical assaults.

In 2001-02, a total of 44 cases were reported to the authority (27 primary and 17 secondary) which rose to 49 in 2002-03 (31 primary and 18 secondary) and last session reached 96 (69 primary and 27 secondary). All four reports of physical assault occurred during the final three months of last session.

A worrying trend is the growing number of "victims" targeted in primaries 1-3, which rose from one in 2002-03 to 12 last session.

The majority of perpetrators in primary and in secondary are males - 25 boys and three girls in primary, and six boys and one girl in secondary.

A spokesperson for East Dunbartonshire said that the increase in the primary years was due to children being able to report an incident to teachers "in the secure knowledge that each incident will be dealt with in a sympathetic and confidential manner. "By providing teachers with a robust reporting mechanism, we are sending a strong message that we are working to combat this issue."

The council takes comfort from the fact that the secondary figures have not shown the same increase. "We hope these figures prove that, through education and guidance, young people have learnt to be tolerant and treat others with respect," the spokesperson said.

In Glasgow, the number of incidents of "intentional racism" in schools rose from 205 in 2000 to 284 in 2003. The number of physical assaults was up from 23 to 29.

Hanzala Malik, chair of the West of Scotland Race Equality Council, said:

"There is a need for those working in the race relations field to collate these figures to find out where the hot spots are and to deal with them."

Among policies to stamp out racist attitudes are:

* The "One Scotland Many Cultures" campaign, the second phase of which is aimed at young people.

* Funding for anti-racist organisations to take their message to schools, such as Show Racism the Red Card.

* An anti-bullying competition for schools. This year's theme is racist bullying.

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