Brexit has sparked more racist bullying of Eastern European pupils and made them fearful of speaking their native language for fear of being attacked, researchers have warned.
The findings have prompted calls for better training of teachers and improved anti-bullying approaches in schools.
Daniela Sime, a social policy lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, said that “particularly vulnerable groups”, such as Roma children, have been targeted more frequently since the 2016 vote to leave the European Union.
“They would not use their home language in schools or on public transport for fear of attack,” she told MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.
“They try and blend in as much as possible. They don’t want to stand out and that has a direct impact on their attainment, as well as their mental health and wellbeing.”
She made her comments at the Equalities and Human Rights Committee yesterday, which was considering bullying in schools.
Recent research by the universities of Strathclyde, Plymouth and Durham – first highlighted by Tes Scotland in November 2017 – has examined the experiences of 1,000 Eastern European pupils across the UK. More than 500 had experienced racism, from physical attacks to xenophobic jokes.
Children reported being called “terrorists”, “illegals” and “prostitutes” and being mocked about their appearance or accent, but Dr Sime said they often did not report this as racism had been “normalised” in schools and had become more prevalent since Brexit, with teachers sometimes the “perpetrators”.
Dr Sime added: “The issue of teachers not being able to manage the incidents was raised and quite a lot of [pupils] said it wasn’t taken seriously because [the pupils concerned] were white.
“We were interested to see if Scotland was different from the rest of the UK, but there was no statistically significant difference in the data.”
Dr Sime called for better training of teachers in handling such incidents and improved anti-bullying policies in schools. Last month, the Scottish government published guidance designed to standardise the recording of bullying incidents in schools from 2018-19.