Scottish schools blighted by “prejudice, bullying and sexual harassment”, says report
Teachers accused of being dismissive and unsympathetic towards bullied pupils
Teachers should undergo compulsory training on bullying and schools must be forced to record incidents, according to a controversial parliamentary report which has concluded that the schools system is failing to protect many children from prejudice.
The inquiry into prejudice-based bullying – which has already been criticised by teacher unions – claims to reveal huge inconsistencies in Scottish schools’ approaches and suggests some teachers are “dismissive” about children who have been bullied or simply lack the confidence to do anything.
But teachers have expressed concern that while many of the issues in the report must be addressed, its findings are based on anecdotal evidence and do not reflect the widespread anti-bullying work done by schools.
In a foreword to It is not cool to be cruel, Equalities and Human Rights Committee convener Christina McKelvie warns that for many children “school is becoming a battle against prejudice, bullying and sexual harassment”. She added that “their primary goal is simply to survive their education, emotionally, psychologically and, now more than ever, literally, with 27 per cent of LGBTI young people attempting suicide”.
The report concludes that too often bullying becomes “almost inescapable” when a pupil has a visible difference, citing physical disabilities or clothing such as hijabs. Gender-based bullying and harassment are a “daily occurrence” for some girls and racism has made a “resurgence”, with news reports of terrorism, Brexit and Donald Trump’s election giving “credence to views previously considered off-limits”
A “growth of negative school environments” was blamed on “deficiencies in teacher training and the failure [of CPD] to challenge inappropriate behaviour and language”, as well as online and social media and a “lack of leadership” in building a strong school ethos and supporting teachers to challenge bullying.
Many teachers lacked confidence to address prejudice-based bullying while others were “dismissive” or “unsympathetic” about victims’ concerns, the inquiry heard.
The report calls for mandatory recording of bullying incidents and demands that the Scottish government and local authorities arrange compulsory CPD for teachers on issues such as equalities and children’s human rights.
But the EIS, Scotland’s biggest teaching union, raised concerns about the inquiry’s reliance on “personal and anecdotal” evidence. General secretary Larry Flanagan agreed there was a need for more CPD on equality issues but questioned the need to make training compulsory arguing that could lead to it becoming a box ticking exercise.
A government spokesperson said it was “important for all schools and local authorities to have anti-bullying policies in place, and it is vital that local authorities and teachers challenge any racist, homophobic and abusive behaviour in our schools”.
The education secretary John Swinney will delay the new National Anti-Bullying Approach until he has considered the inquiry’s findings.