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Children: Racist and Islamophobic Bullying

Volume 751: debated on Wednesday 29 January 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps are being taken to address the reported increase in the number of children who contacted Childline in the last year complaining of racist and Islamophobic bullying.

My Lords, all schools must have a behaviour policy with measures to prevent all forms of bullying. Ofsted specifically considers how well schools tackle bullying and discrimination and we have strengthened teachers’ powers to discipline pupils for poor behaviour including bullying. We are also providing £4 million to four anti-bullying organisations to tackle bullying in schools. The new curriculum also offers opportunities to address some of the underlying causes of bullying, including racist bullying, through developing greater understanding and tolerance.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is he aware that ChildLine reported a 69% increase in this form of bullying in the past year alone, where students were forced to go to ChildLine rather than go to their school to have this matter addressed? Is he aware that ChildLine further said that it links this specifically to the intemperate language being used around immigration and with Muslim children being called “bombers” and “terrorists”? Will this be specifically taken up and systems put in place so that teachers can deal with it at source rather than children having to go to ChildLine?

My Lords, every school must have a policy and systems in place and bullying in school at any time is completely unacceptable. The Government are funding Show Racism the Red Card until the end of March to deliver workshops to 10,000 young people in schools. Of course I entirely agree with my noble friend that all of us in public life have a duty to behave responsibly and set positive examples.

My Lords, I was the first substantive chief executive of ChildLine and while I was there we produced a booklet in which children talked about racism. That was 15 years ago and it was one of our most in-demand booklets. It was especially in demand among schools which used it as a base for discussions among young people. Could Ofsted also look at how peer groups are developed? The other thing that ChildLine found was that it was far more progressive when young people worked together with other young people and talked about these issues, rather than direct teaching.

The noble Baroness is extremely experienced in these matters. Ofsted does look specifically at all types of bullying—cyberbullying and race and religion-related bullying—and in its inspectors’ handbook it says that they will look at the,

“types, rates and patterns of bullying”,

and at the school’s effectiveness in dealing with them. The noble Baroness raises a very good point on peer groups which I will undertake to discuss with Ofsted.

My Lords, I was a victim of racial abuse so I personally know the distress and trauma it can cause. Some children react very violently when they are racially abused at school and find themselves excluded, which is even more traumatic—they have long-term complications and implications because of it. Can my noble friend tell the House what sort of counselling and support victims of racial abuse receive from their schools?

I am very sorry to hear of the distress that my noble friend suffered when she was at school. School staff should support all pupils and the nature of that support will depend on the circumstances. It may well be that the staff can support the victim adequately but otherwise the school can involve a specialist charity or organisation which can provide counselling or mentoring, such as Kidscape or Beat Bullying, which my department funds, or Place2Be, a very good counselling charity.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, mentioned the bullying of Muslim children and their being called “bombers”, linked to the media. The Government have a clear strategy—the Prevent strategy. Can the Minister tell me how his department links into the Prevent strategy and what it is doing to support teachers in that respect?

My department pays significant attention to this area and has a particular group of people who carry out due diligence for it. It is also looking at concerns or issues about extremism in schools. We are heavily focused on this.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell us what guidance and support trainee teachers get in methods of dealing with this sort of abuse and bullying and how that is built on in their continuing development programmes?

We recently reduced the length of the guidance to schools on bullying from 481 pages, which of course nobody can absorb, to 11. There is a view that we may have gone slightly too far, and we are looking again at whether we should improve certain aspects. Of course, all teachers should receive behaviour management training in ITT. We are also substantially improving the amount of in-school training with the expansion of teaching schools. We have a high number of SMEs and NLEs that are especially focused in this area.

My Lords, are the Government aware that the everyday otherisation of children in terms of their creed and colour results in their feeling that they do not belong in this society? It is hardly surprising that they grow up radicalised. Surely we have long since passed the time when you were defined by your creed or colour. What are the Government doing to eradicate from common-day parlance—in Parliament, in the papers and elsewhere—the definition of people by their religion?

My Lords, our society is now multiethnic. The only way we will succeed in making it truly civilised is if we eliminate all forms of racism and all celebrate the diversity of our country—I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. We expect all schools to teach tolerance and understanding of others in PSHE. We are heavily focused on this. The new national curriculum, which will come into force in September, will offer varied opportunities for pupils to learn about different cultures and religions. The citizenship programme is heavily focused on this, and the history curriculum should also celebrate the contribution of different races and ethnic groups to the history of our country.