'People brought in knives'

12th December 2003 at 00:00
Each morning, Jill Shaw knew she faced the real prospect of violence. "I didn't know what I was going to meet," she said. "People brought in knives and chains, and hid them in bushes. You couldn't concentrate on your teaching, because you had to keep an eye on what was brewing in the yard."

Ms Shaw has been a learning mentor at Thistley Hough comprehensive for 18 years. Many of these years were spent in a state of perpetual vigilance, uncertain where racist violence would erupt next.

Pupils felt teachers could not handle their problems. Year 11 pupil Sharaz Liaqat, 15, said: "There were guys in my history class who used to be racist to me. I told the teacher twice, but nothing was done about it. So when they called me a racist name again, I fought them."

Ms Shaw said: "There were unreal expectations of staff. They wanted us to conjure up a special trick to help problems go away."

Now pupils realise they must play an active part in solving the school's problems.

There were fears that the new-found tolerance would disappear when the first cohort of anti-racist students moved on, after GCSEs this summer.

But, she says, other pupils have stepped up to take their places and there is real desire for change. "People just need to be reminded of what's right," said Ms Shaw. "We're all moral in our hearts."

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