Edinburgh head teacher speaks out over support in schools to stamp out 'endemic' racism

Pauline Walker, head teacher of the Royal high School, Edinburgh
Pauline Walker, head teacher of the Royal high School, Edinburgh
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ONE of the Capital’s head teachers has spoken out about work being done to “stamp out” racism in schools – a problem she admits is “endemic in our society”.

Last week, three young people gave their personal accounts of being victimised for racist abuse at the Capital’s schools. The three people, speaking as part of charity Intercultural Youth Scotland, told councillors that staff “brush it under the carpet” and that there is a “massive lack of cultural understanding” in schools.

Pauline Walker, head teacher of the Royal High School, has spoken out about initiatives taking place to ensure no pupil is victimised.

She said: “We don’t have a big problem with racism but it’s something we are aware of as a school.

“I don’t think there’s a school who would say they don’t have a problem with bullying. It happens in every school, so it’s about facing up to that and thinking what can we do. We want to really stamp it out, so we have taken a pro-active approach.”

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She added: “As a society, things are getting more challenging, so we are going to be taking a stance from the school.

“We are a rights-respecting school so it’s part of our ethos to try and improve society. It could be racism, or it could be someone because they have ginger hair.

“What we have done to support that is put training in place for the young people and staff to show what it means to have a lack of respect for people.”

The school has taken part in an Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council (ELREC) programme for S1 and S2 pupils as well as the Human Utopia scheme, which Ms Walker said is a “very challenging programme to get pupils to explore” by hearing “very personal accounts” from victims of racist abuse.

She added: “We find some young people are not always getting positive role models within the communities. We want to put a real structure in place that deals with it – if that means involving the the police, that’s what we do.

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“As well as the victim, we are also supporting the perpetrators to try and change their behaviours. We try and explore the perpetrators thoughts and feelings in the hope the next time, they will respond in a more positive fashion.”

At St John’s Primary School and Preston Street Primary School, unconscious bias training has been give to all school staff. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that people form “outside their own conscious awareness”.

But Intercultural Youth Scotland has blasted the term as a cover for racism.

Co-founder of the charity, Khaleda Noon said: “I find teachers have what people call unconscious bias. That doesn’t sit well with me because I actually feel it is racism – it’s a nice way to say it’s racist, which is quite dangerous.”

Cllr Ian Perry, education convener, said: “A lot of positive work is carried out to tackle racism in our schools however we fully realise that much more needs to be done. This involves listening to those pupils who have experienced racism to drive forward change, carrying out increased staff training and offering more support.

“Our work with partners such as Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council and Show Racism the Red Card Scotland will continue as we promote equality and highlight unacceptable behaviour.”