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Don't let our children down on racism

Community leaders in Glasgow fear a rise in ethnic tensions, reports Raymond Ross.

Senior officials from the West of Scotland Community Relations Council claim that racist incidents in and around schools are seriously under-reported despite Strathclyde Police reporting that complaints about racist crimes are up by 61 per cent. They involve bullying, intimidation and assaults.

Sajid Hussein, the council's mental health officer, told The TES Scotland: "We have no faith in the education authorities to deal with multicultural issues in the west of Scotland. They are trapped within a subculture of colonial ideas. They don't seem to realise that globalisation is happening. Education has a responsibility to a child's future but these children are being let down."

Dr Hussein and his colleagues claim a whole catalogue of racial incidents within the past year are not being dealt with properly by schools, are not being recorded as racial incidents and are not being reported to either the education authorities or the police.

Malcolm Green, the city's education convener, said that he had had no reports of incidents through the education service and commented: "If the CRC wish to be as explicit as saying they have no faith in the system I would ask them to put it in writing and come and see me. It is obviously a very serious statement to make, especially as we continue partially to fund them."

Incidents the CRC has detailed include alleged harassment of Asian pupils by teachers, hints that Asian pupils would be better off at "other schools", bullying in the playground and corridor, the deliberate removal and attempted removal of Sikh boys' turbans and Muslim girls' hajibs (head scarves) by white pupils, racist taunts and running fights between groups of Asian and white pupils.

Schools in and around which incidents are said to have taken place include Holyrood Secondary, Shawlands and Bellahouston academies and Blairdardie primary.

Nighat Bashir, the CRC's youth development officer, claims that both Asian and white pupils at Bellahouston have formed vigilante groups outside the school grounds. A Sikh parent confirmed incidents of interference with turbans and hajibs as well as street fights between Asian and white pupils.

Jim Cassells, Bellahouston's headteacher, denies assaults have taken place in the academy itself although he acknowledges there were two assaults on white pupils outwith the school. In both cases the police were contacted.

"A recent meeting with parents also dealt with Sikh youths terrorising the local primary, setting off the fire alarm," Dr Cassells said. "Sikh boys are deliberately disobeying instructions not to come through the primary school grounds on their way to school."

The CRC agrees racial incidents are not one sided but is particularly worried by British National Party activity in the Bellahouston-Govan area, a concern echoed by Asian parents.

The council says it has been told of BNP activity outside the school gates as well as outside nearby Ibrox Stadium on match days. "The BNP is rife in the area, especially around Ibrox where they parade themselves as the Scottish Ku Klux Klan. Ibrox knows it is going on and does nothing to stop it," a Sikh parent said.

Dr Cassells was unaware of any BNP activity in the area. John Greig, spokesman for Rangers, said: "I wouldn't say there wasn't BNP activity in the area and I wouldn't say there was. We don't entertain any of that within the stadium. But what they do in Copeland Road or outside the tube station is outwith our control."

Gita Skinner, who chairs the black teachers' group of the Educational Institute of Scotland, agreed that racial incidents in schools are under-reported. "We do have incidents reported by black teachers but I am sure there are more than we know about. The sensitivity of the situation often means that people will not come forward."

Ms Skinner, who teaches at Lorne Street primary in Glasgow, said: "There are also racial incidents between teachers which are mentioned within our black group. But it is very difficult to prove. From my experience, and that of other black teachers, I would say that bullying was common and that a lot of racism would come under bullying, though the racist nature of that bullying is not always recorded as such. Racist bullying among teachers definitely happens also. It comes up within the group. People relate personal incidents.

"Also, some white pupils pay more attention and respect to white teachers than to black. Community racism has a rub-off effect which might undermine the authority of a black teacher more than a white."

Willie Hart, the union's local secretary, said he was aware of "occasional incidents in the past at Shawlands Academy".

Ms Bashir said: "Shawlands Academy now has a multicultural youth council to help resolve problems internally with teachers and parents. But there is not enough parental involvement. It is often only when a child has been harassed or beaten up that the parents know there is a problem. Parents must become more involved."

Dr Cassells, who has three black parents on Bellahouston's school board, acknowledges this is a problem. A recent meeting on multicultural issues drew only one Asian. An Asian community activist said: "Sometimes there is little solidarity between different ethnic minorities and leaders don't always get the support of the community except during periods of tension or following a particular incident. We need continued support."

But Dr Hussein says change is frustrated by a strong education authority subculture. "They are bodies with their own agenda for survival, as are police, housing departments and so on. But the education subculture is the strongest. They have got this attitude that they have been dealing with problems longer than we at the CRC have, so don't tell us about it. They just don't recognise that racism is there."

Ms Skinner feels the CRC's position is weakened because it has no effective voice in the education system. "If parents go to the CRC, the CRC can get in touch with the education authorities. But the school can disclaim anything has happened if it is not recorded."

Action plans on race, such as that drawn up by the former Strathclyde Region in 1993, are ineffective Ms Bashir says. "The authorities have developed policies and paperwork but multicultural education is not being implemented in the schools as a general rule."

But Dr Green disagrees. "The CRC is always inclined to say nothing is being done and such general statements are not very helpful. Compared to 10 years ago multicultural education has much improved and we are far more sensitive to the demands of different faith groups.

"With regard to the CRC's claims, I wish to make it quite clear that it is unacceptable for anyone's religious observances or faith to be mocked or disturbed in any way and we will take a very serious view of such matters."

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