Highlight colonial past to tackle racism – Somerville

Education secretary suggests a more inclusive curriculum in response to concerns about racist incidents in schools

Henry Hepburn

Teach colonial past in schools to tackle racism, says education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville

The Scottish curriculum must become more inclusive and address issues such as the country's colonial past, education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has said in Parliament.

She was responding to concerns about the number of racist incidents in Scottish schools and a call for "urgent action".

Ms Somerville said work was ongoing on how to improve existing anti-racist education.


Also this week: How we can decolonise geography – starting with exam papers

Background: Thousands of racist incidents recorded in Scottish schools

Comment: Why must we wait for racial equity progress in schools?

Diversity: The proportion of BAME teachers barely changes in a decade


The education secretary said "curriculum reform" was "being looked at very closely to ensure that the curriculum is inclusive; that it recognises, for example, Scotland’s colonial past, and that it respects the identities of young people and supports them on their journey through school".

Tackling racism in schools: teaching about colonial oppression

Ms Somerville was responding after Alexander Stewart, a Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife, ask the Scottish government what its response was to a report from the Show Racism the Red Card charity, which highlighted that more than 2,000 incidents of racism had been reported in schools over the previous three years.

Ms Somerville said: "The Scottish government is clear that there is no place for racism in our schools and is committed to addressing and tackling all forms of bullying, including on the grounds of race."

She added that in 2019 – with local authorities' body Cosla, as well as local authorities and teaching unions – the government had started a new "national approach to the recording and monitoring of bullying in Scottish schools, [which] enables schools and local authorities to monitor all reported incidents of racist bullying and take all appropriate actions".

Mr Stewart, speaking in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, said that data from Show Racism the Red Card’s consultation with 700 teachers around Scotland showed that nearly half of teachers were aware of a pupil or pupils expressing negative attitudes relating to skin colour, while 61 per expressed a lack of confidence about educating pupils on anti-racism and just under a quarter had received training on the subject.

"Those are serious and worrying statistics," he said. "Given that 85 per cent of respondents said that tailored anti-racism workshops would be beneficial for all concerned, what urgent action can the government take to ensure that that happens?"

Ms Somerville said in response that the Race Quality and Anti-Racism in Education Programme is leading work in this area, "which includes school leadership and professional learning as one of its four strands".

She added: "It aims to ensure that Scotland’s professional educators are confident and empowered to promote equality and foster good relations and, importantly, to identify, prevent and proactively deal with racism if they see examples of it. It is important that we ensure that school leadership and professional learning is further developed and that we also increase the diversity in the teaching profession so that it further reflects the Scottish population, just as we wish to see in the Parliament."

Mr Stewart followed up by saying that Show Racism the Red Card’s chair had written to the Scottish government to call for anti-racism to be included in the national curriculum, following announcements about a similar move in Wales earlier this year.

He added: "Given that 93 per cent of respondents to Show Racism the Red Card’s consultation said that 'anti-racism must be included within the curriculum', will the cabinet secretary confirm that the Scottish government will seriously consider that request in order to further protect children from harm?"

Ms Somerville said that one of the strands of the work of the Race Equality and Anti-Racism in Education Programme is curriculum reform, and it was at this point that she highlighted the need for an "inclusive" curriculum that delved into issues such as Scotland’s colonial past.

The education secretary was then asked by Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy if, given "the incredible work of the Time for Inclusive Education initiative, which aims to combat homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools", the government would "back a similar programme to tackle racism and disablism in schools".

Ms Somerville said: "The government is looking closely at racism and all forms of bullying in schools. Importantly, it is working with young people as it considers how to tackle the problems and what the solutions might be. That is why I will be meeting young people to follow up on meetings that took place with the deputy first minister [John Swinney] when he was education secretary and with the minister for equalities and older people [Christina McKelvie], particularly on the racism issue, to ensure that we are learning from their experiences and that they are part of our work to develop the right solutions.

"We take that approach with any type of bullying or harassment in schools."

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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