Racism rings alarm bells

Tes Editorial

John Cairney A SENIOR education official in Glasgow says that the number of racist incidents recorded in schools is "a worrying trend".

But the figures were unexpectedly welcomed by one of the city's leading ethnic minority councillors as a vindication of the council's monitoring system.

Since 1997, the number of incidents reported has risen from 215 to 420, up by 95 per cent. There was a small rise (135 to 148) in the "unintentional racist" category, while the number of intentional racist incidents rose from 80 to 272 over the same period, a 240 per cent increase.

In a report to the city's education committee last week, Richard Barron, senior depute director of education, said that for the third year since monitoring has been systematically carried out the majority of reported incidents were intentionally racist. This was "a worrying trend that would continue to be monitored closely".

Hanzala Malik, however, told The TES Scotland that as a councillor he welcomed the figures because they show that people are becoming more aware of racial issues. "The fact that incidents are being reported more accurately means that agencies such as the education department can deal with the issue on the basis of realistic and accurate figures," Mr Malik said.

"Previously people were not aware of the seriousness of the problem and, now that they are, hopefully we will see this tapering off because people will know how to deal with it."

The committee heard that 80 per cent of incidents involved name-calling, the vast majority of perpetrators (87 per cent) were white and the largest group of victims were of Pakistani origin. The predominant age groups of the perpetrators were nine-years-old (13 per cent) and 14-years-old (14 per cent). Girls accounted for only 15 per cent of the perpetrators but 30 per cent of the victims.

An increase in incidents involving asylum-seekers rose in tandem with the rise in the numbers of those seeking asylum, from 10 in 2000 when the dispersal programme started, to 43 in 2001 and 77 in 2002.

In neighbouring East Dunbartonshire, the number of reported racist incidents has also risen, especially in primary schools. Between September last year and March, 45 incidents were reported by the authority, a rise of eight on the equivalent period during the previous session. The secondary figures remained static (18 to 17) but in primary they rose from 19 to 27.

Suggestions that the build-up to the Iraq war may have been a factor in the rise were dismissed by John Morrison, leader of East Dunbartonshire Council.

"There is no real pattern or common factor which would lead us to believe that there was a single trigger," Mr Morrison said. "All incidents, the majority of which relate to name-calling and racist jokes, are treated very seriously and we are working hard to see a reduction in the statistics."

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