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No room for complacency

In recent years, there has been some small progress made in tackling sectarian behaviour in Scotland, from action taken by Rangers and Celtic football clubs to educational initiatives, such as the former Scottish Executive's launch of the "Don't Give It, Don't Take It" online resource in 2005.

However, this is an area where there is never any room for complacency. The most recent statistics produced by the Scottish Government tell us that a grand total of 1,163 charges were reported between 2003 and 2007 for crimes which included a religious aggravation. More needs to be done in order to ensure that future educational policy and practice is firmly underpinned with evidence from recent, relevant research.

Regardless of our own views on the marches, the Old Firm or the faith schools debate, I support the view that teachers need to engage pupils in discussion about sectarianism in the classroom, so that misconceptions and ignorance can be addressed.

I have completed the first round of fieldwork for a small qualitative research project which is the first of its kind to examine the genuine impact of sectarianism on young people in Scotland. The research will draw upon the voices of those aged 16-18, as well as the opinions of youth leaders.

It will explore young people's views about whether they think sectarianism actually exists, whether they have experienced sectarianism or heard sectarian language being used and how their choice of social networks may be informed by sectarian values. In addition, the research will examine young people's own opinions about how sectarian issues could be challenged or resolved, in the hope of supporting teachers and youth workers to further challenge sectarian attitudes and encourage young people to do the same.

However, to do this requires a commitment to continue the good work that stemmed from the former Scottish Executive's highly successful summits on sectarianism and subsequent action plan. More financial and structural resources are needed to build on this study and initiate further research.

It is time for the new Scottish Government to take action on this hugely serious issue, on which it seems to have remained fairly silent since coming to office eight months ago. This is one topic that must escape the threat of relegation.

Ross Deuchar, Senior lecturer, Faculty of Education, Strathclyde University.

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