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The rise of xenophobic bullying in UK schools

By Mark Richards,

24 Jan 2020

It’s probably the case that the last thing you want to read right now is another Brexit-related article.

However, it’s hard to ignore ‘The ‘B’ Word’ these days.

Virtually everything seems to be connected to Brexit in one way or another.

One of the most disturbing Brexit-related issues since 2016 has been the rise in racism.

The UN has produced a report that states that racism has increased in the UK, and cites Brexit has a key influence in this worrying development. Reports of incidents of racism and bullying have certainly risen since the EU referendum in 2016.

Sadly, this disturbing rise has been seen all across society, and also been evident in schools. Eastern European pupils bearing the brunt of racism and bullying A study by the University of Strathclyde has found that 77% of Eastern European pupils have experienced xenophobia and racism whilst at school.

Almost 50% say the problems have escalated since 2016. Another worrying trend is that some of the abuse has been described as ‘xenophobic bullying’ often ‘disguised as banter’. Let’s be clear ‘xenophobic bullying’ is racism – pure and simple.

The fact that racism might be ‘dressed up’ as banter is as worrying as it is unacceptable, especially as some of the Eastern European pupils who were respondents in the study claimed that some teachers have not only failed to protect them, they’ve even joined in. Impact on pupils’ mental health and sense of belonging Unsurprisingly, the author of the University of Strathclyde report, Daniela Sime, has highlighted the disturbing impact that bullying has had on Eastern European pupils.

The attacks, which have included physical attacks and verbal abuse, have happened on public transport and in the street.

However, most have occurred when pupils have been in school.

This is having an impact on the mental health of many Eastern European pupils and seriously damaging their sense of belonging in the UK.

If pupils are facing this type of abuse and it becomes normalised as part of their everyday experience of school life, it increases feelings of marginalisation. Schools not doing enough to counter racism It seems that schools are always blamed in some way for things that are wrong with wider society.

Very often, such criticism is unfair and unjustified.

However, the findings of this report do suggest that some schools need to be doing more to prevent and address racism and the culture of xenophobia prevalent in schools. Several of the respondents spoke of incidents being ignored by teachers.

Worse still, there were claims that some teachers had joined in the racism or expressed xenophobic attitudes and made racist comments during lessons.

This was given as the main reason why many pupils had decided not to report incidents when they had occurred. The report makes for grim reading.

It paints a disturbing picture of Britain in 2019.

Teachers should not be blamed for what is obviously a wider societal problem.

Having said that, teachers must realise that ignoring or failing to intervene when racist abuse occurs is not just unacceptable, it’s tantamount to serious professional misconduct.


1- Steps to put an end to bullying

2- Is there a chance that you might be the bully in your classroom?

3- Is restorative justice the right approach to bullying?

4- How to avoid making bullying worse

5- Five ways towards banishing bullying from your primary classroom