Report on Evidence Session of Bullying and Harassment in Schools – EHRiC

Posted by on 6 June, 2017 | 0 comments

“A Committee examination of various issues relating to the bullying and harassment of children and young people in the school system based on various characteristics, such as gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, faith, race or ethnic background, disability etc. as well as issues around the growing normalisation of sexualised bullying of girls and young women in education.”

– Equalities and Human Rights Committee (EHRiC)

Agenda & Report | Full Responses | SSS Evidence


Below are notes taken of the discussion that commenced on 15 June, 2017, Scottish Parliament-Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. The following are not direct quotes.



Panel member A: Anthony Horan Director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland
Panel member B: Reverend Dr Richard Frazer Convener of the Church and Society Council, Church of Scotland
Panel member C: Samena Dean representative for Scotland Against Criminalising Communities and author of a study of Islamophobic bullying in schools in Edinburgh
Panel member D: Brittany Ritell representative for The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities
Panel member E: Charlie Lynch, Secretary, Scottish Secular Society

Question 1:

What can be done to help faith communities feel protected in the same way other groups are?

A: We believe there is a culture of fear for students about being open about their faith.
We do not want to impost our views and want to emphasise open discussion.
The problem of bullying is exacerbated by social media
Furthermore, this problem extends to adults on social media and not just the children
We are clear that the church works with many different faith groups
We believe that the amount of faith based bullying is underestimated
B: There is a problem with the lack of religious and secular literacy in the classroom
Children can feel singled out when asked to represent their faith to a classroom
Secular issues should also be taught and experienced
We recognise the journey Scotland has taken in terms of the changing nature of faith and culture
We want to remove church power and have more presence and support in and for schools
C: There needs to be more support for Muslim specific issues
Muslim children cannot hide their faith due to physical manifestations (headscarf, beards….)
67/100 Muslim children surveyed would not tell teachers of islamophobic experiences due to a perceived lack of understanding of the issues and a fear that nothing would happen
21/100 surveyed feared going to school due to anti-muslim bullying
more than 50% experienced mental islamophobia (name calling, abuse)
more than 40% experienced physical islamophobia

Question 2:

The number of kids fearing reporting of bullying due to lack of response has been similar across the board. (To D) What perspective do you have on a recent report on anti-semitism which provided a clear definition of what anti-semitism is?
D: Having a clear definition of the problem helps and this relates back to earlier points on religious literacy. Educating teachers on various religions would help children learn and respect other religions.
Children should also be educated on being a bystander so that the support system for bullied children expands beyond just teachers
E: Our perspective is that the religious observance practice creates a sense of otherness for children which can contribute to bullying. We have compiled a body of evidence to support our case from several parents and have noted that the problem is particularly prevalent in the Western Isles.

Question 3:

Some of the problem seems to have stemmed from a lack of enforcement of the guidelines. How do we ensure both parents and children feel like their complaints are listened to and feel safe?
E: Children themselves cannot currently recuse themselves from religious observance. Children’s voices must be listened to more within the system. The Humanist Society of Scotland and various psychologists are looking into at which stage a child can be said to make such decisions.
Schools must be clear on religious observance guidelines. Many schools are currently unclear on the process of recusal and opting out of religious observance. There should be an increased compassion for the child’s views.

Question 4:

What is the Scottish Secular Society’s position of RME? Should learning about religions be done in another way?
E: We are in favour of RME in our organisation however we would argue for a greater focus on philosophy as well as religion. Our opposition is with regular communal prayer and, essentially, religious observance.

Question 5 (directed at C):

Have you noted any recognisable increase in bullying towards Muslim children because of their faith?
C: Yes, in 2013 there were over a thousand calls to childline from children suffering from islamophobic bullying. Some children were even victims of abuse which would be considered a criminal offence.

Question 6:

Is there any systemic recording of such incidents?
C: There has been very minimal recording of racist incidents. Furthermore, any action that was the result of a child’s complaint would result in nothing more than a sorry from the offending party. Most children did not think this was enough and reported a lack of closure or support. If this trend continues then the minority who do report incidents will be discouraged from doing so.

Question 7:

Despite talk from the Catholic representative that schools are dealing with bullying claims like any other school would; we have heard evidence on several occasions that poor practice still exists. Can you talk more about that?
A: We would like to take on board the issues raised in the previous session of this committee. However, we have had a training session with both teachers and head teachers to help them conform to the stipulations of the Equalities Act (2010). The aim is to equip teachers with the tools to help deal with a range of issues related to, and forms of, bullying. This is reflective of an ongoing process of anti-bullying training. We agree with Semena that there needs to be an improvement in recording and monitoring of abuses.

Question 8:

We have seen success with anti-bullying in the Kirkcauldy school model. Can Catholic schools comply with that school’s model?
A: We believe that every child has an inherent value and worth. No child should feel excluded. There is always a chance to learn from good examples.

Question 9:

There is a lot of work to be done regarding the attitude towards sex identity. St Johnson’s in Dumfries has been cited as a good example. Have you any details on that school? Also, How do you deal with the tension between your beliefs and moral culture? And details?
A: 1st accept the inherent dignity of each person as they are made in the image of god. We also need to look after young people in our society. We admit that there is a tension between the modern cultural life and the Catholic tenants which we need to discuss as a group. We need to also work with all faith groups to overcome some of these issues.
B: There is an interesting tension between theology and culture however no one should feel excluded and we should live with different ends of the spectrum of views. There needs to be an openness to learning. This is particularly prevalent in the perception of sexual identity in which there has been an updating of understanding. We endorse the position of the Scottish Secular Society that there is an importance of diversity and understanding in RME. This extends to philosophic and non-religious views as well as religious ones. We should frame religious observance as a learning opportunity to enrich diversity. We view the tension as a journey of understanding.

Question 10:

How do you (c) believe we should educate kids on faith?
C: There is a split between kids who enjoy talking about their faith and those who feel worried about expressing it. 65% of respondents in my study were worried about talking about terrorism because of a perceived connection between terrorism and Islam. We need to provide a safe space for religious minorities in school. Female Muslim children concerned by obvious marks of their religion and some children wanted to change their names to distance themselves from Islam.
There is a lack of recognition from teachers and civil society needs to react to this problem as well. There is a lack of a support system for those children.
D: Jewish children feel singled out whenever Jewish issues such as the Holocaust are discussed. One school uses religious observance as different religious assemblies for different faith groups and a monthly interfaith assembly.
E asking D: Where do the views of the non-religious fit into this mode? How would this system deal with a lack of resources?
D: Yes, there is a difficulty all over dealing with resources.

Question 11:

We need every school to teach about all faiths and none and it must be part of the curriculum with a focus on morality.
B: This cannot only come from schools. The parish provides support for other faith groups to develop interfaith friendships. There needs to be support for such groups.
Question 12: Should the Scottish Government be more active in the promotion of interfaith groups?
B: Yes



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