Talking tactics at Ibrox

9th May 1997 at 01:00
Located in an area dominated by Ibrox football stadium, Bellahouston Primary in Glasgow has pioneered much anti-racist work in Scottish schools. With one of the highest concentrations of people from the ethnic minorities in Scotland it is, according to the headteacher, Joyce Leaville, not an easy place for them to live.

On her arrival at the school 12 years ago, Ms Leaville sought to tackle the acceptance of casual name calling involving racist language, in an era when there was either ignorance or avoidance of the subject. "There were a number of initial difficulties with parents who did not understand why we were doing things. Anything we did at all was perceived as favouritism on behalf of one group at the expense of another," she says.

A key part of legitimising the process for all the parents was weaving the anti-racist strategy into the overall discipline policy of the school, and explaining why it needed to be done. Indeed, Joyce Leaville objects to an anti-racism policy being a "bolt-on extra'', maintaining that it should gradually permeate the whole school.

Primarily, she says that openness is the key to the process. If a child has used racist language, it is explained why that is unacceptable both to him or her, and the parents. Like all schools in Glasgow, Bellahouston Primary now works in accordance with the formal guidelines issued by Strathclyde Regional Council in 1990. An element of counselling is incorporated, to ascertain why the pupil has made the comment and if there is a deeper problem with behaviour.

The school has now moved on from tackling the problem of racist language to promoting awareness of other cultures through, for instance, the use of trips to mosques, Sikh temples and churches. Also, in an imaginative use of Scottish history to study discrimination, the school has undertaken a project using "The Desperate Journey'', which looks at the prejudices victims of the Highland clearances faced when they where forced to leave their homeland and arrived in Glasgow.

Kamal Kuashal works as a bilingual teacher helping pupils, who have hitherto used their mother tongue, to use English in class. She outlines the effect this has in creating a multicultural ethos: "When you're speaking Punjabi in your work, the kids who don't speak it are hearing it and accept it. They even want to know more about it. If I'm reading something, they want to know what I just said. It's now something that they know."

And the pupils themselves? Eram Akram and Johnny Singh are both in P7. They say there is now little or no racial abuse in the school. Eram says: "If there's any name calling, the headteacher looks into it. It's not something that she leaves.'' Johnny says that most of his friends are white, and in a moment of candour confesses to being a Rangers supporter.

Joyce Leaville says that in many respects the job of eradicating racist behaviour is made easier by the presence of large numbers of ethnic-minority pupils, and their overall presence in the community at large. But she cites a heartening example of the rewards that all teachers can gain from fighting prejudice: "Not so long ago a parent came up to me and said she was glad that her daughter was not going to grow up a racist."

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