Schools ‘must do more to tackle racist bullies’

Ezgi Denli and Saaliha Hussain. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Ezgi Denli and Saaliha Hussain. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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ETHNIC minority pupils have given schools a “could do better” mark for their efforts to tackle racism and bullying.

Only 42 per cent of primary school children who speak English as an additional language (EAL) and took part in a recent survey of north Edinburgh classrooms agreed teachers were dealing effectively with the problem.

Just under a third of respondents were undecided or felt their school was failing to crack down, while the remainder said they did not know.

High schools fared better, although a third of those who participated said they felt the issue was not being tackled or had no firm opinion.

The survey is the first in a series which will canvass pupils in primary and secondary schools across the Capital.

It has sparked alarm among anti-bullying campaigners, who said the results were concerning and “not a surprise”. Ezgi Denli, 17, whose family moved to Scotland from Turkey, suffered continuous racist taunts as a P7 pupil at Gilmerton Primary and during her time at Gracemount High.

After appeals to teachers proved fruitless, she decided to take a stand on her own and began setting up anti-bullying group True Colours while a pupil in S4.

She said: “We do peer education, especially in primary schools, and I can see that there are some serious issues. I feel that the kids are not informed enough or aren’t aware of other cultures.

“The anti-bullying policy is there but it’s covered up or ignored. Everything is written on paper but it’s not enforced.”

She said effective policies were more important than ever, given a big jump in the number of children from minority backgrounds being taught in city classrooms. The most recent data shows teachers provide EAL support to 8.6 per cent of youngsters attending primary and secondary schools – up from 3.7 per cent in 2005.

And just over 18 per cent of pupils attending schools were from black and other minority ethnic groups – up from 
11.6 per cent in 2005.

“I think a very good starting point would be to get young people involved – if the teachers are not acting on it or the senior management aren’t dealing with it, that’s when everything collapses,” said Ms Denli.

“It has to start with young people. If you educate young people to be educators against bullying, it’s much more effective because young people can relate to them more and will listen more.”

Political leaders said they were “very concerned” by the survey results. Councillor Vicki Redpath, Labour member for Forth, said: “Unfortunately when times are hard, it does seem that people look for scapegoats. Children listen to their parents.

“Headteachers need to be more upfront about what they’re doing about it. It’s a case of educating and showing that we are all the same.”

City chiefs said they had “well-established links” with black and minority ethnic residents throughout the city and insisted good progress was being made in the fight against racism and bullying. Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “A lot of positive work is carried out in our schools to promote equality and highlight unacceptable behaviour as shown by the True Colours project and our work with Edinburgh and Lothians Racial Equality Council. I hope the progress in tackling this issue will ensure that every child and young person in Edinburgh feels safe and respected in our schools.”

‘I wasn’t brave enough to speak up’

EZGI Denli, 17, who has just completed her schooling at Gracemount High, said her life was made a misery by racist bullies who first targetted her when she was in P7 at Gilmerton.

She said: “A classmate, out of the blue, for no reason, told me to get back to my own country and I guess from there I started to get racial bullying in high school.

“Sometimes it was for my appearance, the way I looked, my skin colour, or the way my arms looked compared to theirs – I was darker-skinned. I was not brave enough to speak up – I was only in S1.”

She said that at its peak, the bullying was a daily occurrence and also aimed at her friend Saaliha Hussain, now 18, with whom she set up anti-bullying group

True Colours.

“They would call her ‘Taliban’ and say, ‘you smell bad’. Because we were always together, they would target us together. [Tackling this] should start with young people – then I think bullying would really decrease.”