You witness an incident of racial bullying: a student being called a "terrorist", having his accent mimicked or derogatory references being made to his skin colour. What action does your school require you to take?
If you are not sure, you are not alone. It turns out that many teachers have little or no guidance in this area, often because their school leaders are not aware of the proper protocol.
More than 1,400 young people contacted Childline to seek counselling for racist bullying in 2012-13. According to the charity, many of the victims said that when they reported the issue to teachers, either nothing happened or they were advised simply to ignore the bullies. When action was taken - such as racism being discussed in whole-school assemblies - Childline says that many young people felt the situation was made worse, because the action in effect "advertised" the issue and increased bullying behaviour.
Anecdotally, too, teachers and parents report that racism is not being treated with the seriousness it requires. One mother, whose son was bullied for being Jewish, said that she had to go to the local authority, schools inspectorate Ofsted and the police before the school would act. What makes this slow response more serious is that the police should have been involved already. When racist bullying is reported, schools have to decide if it amounts to a hate crime. If it does they are required to report the matter to the police.
The government definition of a hate crime is broad enough to encompass a wide variety of incidents. The Home Office website states that "crimes committed against someone because of their disability, gender identity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation are hate crimes and should be reported to the police. Hate crimes can include: threatening behaviour, assault, robbery, damage to property, inciting others to commit hate crimes [and] harassment."
Failure to act properly when racism is reported, particularly if it amounts to a hate crime, could result in a school being taken to court. Institutions are required to have clear policies that set out what processes an employee should follow if they suspect racial bullying. A school that does not do enough to combat racist bullying risks censure from Ofsted, damage to its reputation and, ultimately, legal action for negligence.