"We got a shock in the spring," Malcolm Green, the council's education convener, admitted as the education committee approved a new policy statement and action plan which declares that "race equality is fundamental to quality. " The education department is to set up an anti-racist group to monitor the implementation of the action plan.
Dr Green said the policies inherited from Strathclyde were understood at senior levels but the message had become "diluted" in the classroom and the playground. "We had adopted the policies but hadn't done very much about it. Nobody had raised it and it wasn't a political issue. We were in a sense living on inherited capital."
The hardening of the council's stance is evident by the absence of "multi-culturalism" from the policy statement. Dr Green said they did not want to alienate those involved in that approach, but the success of the policy would be judged in terms of its anti-racist content.
"Talking about Islam, India or Pakistan during lessons has its place but, when we talk about anti-racism, it concerns that person we see at the bus stop or the person staying next door," he added.
The report is the work of a task force set up by the council in March which proceeded with "a real sense of urgency" after the death of the Shawlands schoolboy, according to Dr Green. He was stabbed out of school hours and died later in hospital.
As they gathered evidence, Dr Green said it became plain there was "a sense of alienation" among black people in the 18-25 year age group, not only from white society but from their own elders. This had not been previously appreciated, which led black members on the council to stress the need for young black people to be listened to directly.
The racial equality action plan requires special initiatives to allow young people, especially from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, to communicate their views to the council. More effort will be put into recruitment and training, while courses with an anti-racist content will be given priority.
Willie Hart, one of the teachers' representatives on the education committee, welcomed the council's move. "This excellent paper sends out a positive message in the fight against racism. We welcome the move from multiculturalism to anti-racism, especially in the context of in-service training and staff development" Councillor Bashir Maan suggested there should be more emphasis on preventative action to change attitudes. Early curricular measures in primary schools were also desirable, although Dr Green said this was covered in the action plan.
In a strong statement of support for moving from a multicultural to an anti-racist stance, Councillor Chris Mason, leader of the Liberal Democrats on the council, suggested there was no link between understanding the culture of a group and racist attitudes.
He said he felt strongly ``as an Englishman'' that he should not have to explain where he came from and having to do so ``is beginning to get me down.'' The action plan has been distributed to all council departments for a three-month consultation period.
* The committee also heard that recorded racist incidents in schools were only "the tip of the iceberg." A report said many more incidents were going unrecorded, sometimes because staff failed to recognise them as racist but more often because staff were unaware of them.
There were 162 racist incidents reported in the first nine months of this year, compared with 215 in 1997 and 243 in 1996.
The most commonly reported offence is name-calling (129 so far this year against 186 in 1997 and 192 in 1996). Incidents of verbal abuse have risen,racist graffiti and racist comment remain the same, while there was a significant drop in reported physical assaults.
In future, reports on racist incidents are to be issued every six months.