Working to stop sectarianism

22nd March 2013 at 00:00
A charity is dispelling myths and enlightening pupils through its free workshops. Emma Seith finds out more

Sectarianism is not just about football; only 33 per cent of arrests are connected to football. It's not just a west of Scotland problem; there have been arrests in every local authority area. Neither is it a malaise confined to an older generation; 60 per cent of arrests involve people under 30, with social media now a "massive" issue.

These are some of the myths Yvonne Donald, an education officer for anti-sectarian charity Nil by Mouth, attempts to dispel when delivering free workshops for pupils and teachers in Scotland's schools.

One of the biggest challenges the charity faces is how it combats the comments and pictures posted on social networking sites that are "vile, full of hatred and violence," she says. "You see things online that if they were said face-to-face would be petrifying."

When Nil by Mouth works in schools, it tries to make youngsters see the consequences of saying things online, that they would never say face-to-face. It could damage their employment prospects and even lead to jail.

It's not just pupils, however, who fail to comprehend the consequences of their online actions. "You get some teachers who might suddenly think again as well. Another myth is that this is about the working-class man, but you see this issue across the board," says Ms Donald.

Nil by Mouth pupil workshops focus on the idea of morality; those aimed at teachers attempt to give staff the confidence to talk about sectarianism.

The charity has recently started to take a more strategic approach to getting its message across and schools can now apply for accreditation as a Champion for Change in Challenging Sectarianism. So far 40 schools have achieved accreditation, all in South Lanarkshire, but Nil by Mouth has schools from every authority going through the process, Ms Donald says.

There are eight criteria, which include: having an ethos where rights are respected; evidence of embedding anti-sectarian education across the curriculum; and specific procedures for recording and dealing with incidents of a sectarian nature.

Duncanrig Secondary was the first school to gain accreditation. It established the Duncanrig Anti-sectarian Action Team, which resulted in an anti-sectarian charter being produced, including rules about behaviour, jokes, songs, football strips and logos; information on the disciplinary process; and what pupils should do if they witness a sectarian incident.

"Our charity was set up by a young girl," Ms Donald says. "Ultimately we hope our work with schools will inspire the next generation of Cara Hendersons."

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