Racism in Suffolk schools soars

ANTI-RACISM campaigners say they are deeply concerned after the number of racist incidents reported in Suffolk schools increased 40% in a year.

Danielle Nuttall

ANTI-RACISM campaigners say they are deeply concerned after the number of racist incidents reported in Suffolk schools increased 40% in a year.

A Suffolk County Council report shows the complaints rose from 433 in 2005/06 to 606 in 2006/07 - and some believe that may only be the tip of the iceberg.

In addition, the number of schools recording racist incidents rose from 125 to 152 in the same period.

The council put the rise down to a more “rigorous” approach to reporting racism, saying more victims now felt prepared to come forward.

But the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE), say there is no evidence to suggest the rise was due to increased confidence in reporting - and said a huge number of incidents remain unreported.

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Jane Basham, director of ISCRE, said: “The significant increase in racist incidents in schools is of very real concern and it has such a negative impact on young children, their friends, families and communities.

“ISCRE recognises that good work is going on in some schools but much more needs to be done. The work in schools also needs to be done much more closely with the individuals and communities most affected and at risk.

“There are other challenges and responsibilities for schools, authorities, all parents and communities too. “Only this week we have seen the children's character Basil Brush reinforcing negative stereotypes about gypsies and travellers. Children learn prejudices from a range of places - they are not born with them.”

She added: “ISCRE does not believe that there is evidence to support the claim by agencies that any increase in racist incidents is as a result of increased confidence in reporting.

“We believe a huge number of incidents still go unreported and we know too that over half the schools in Suffolk report having no racist incidents - which we find difficult to believe.”

The figures, contained in a report due to be discussed at a meeting on Thursday, show the number of black and minority ethnic pupils on roll increased from 7.4% of the school population in January 2006 to 8.4% in January 2007, which the council says may have had an impact on the rise.

Patricia O'Brien, Portfolio Holder for Children, Schools and Young People's Services, will tell next week's meeting a more rigorous approached to racism is proving effective.

“Schools have reported staff being more sensitive to racism, while pupils who are victims of racial abuse are more willing to report incidents.

“Suffolk insists that every school returns its racist incident records on an annual basis, although this process can take a long time, as there are more than 350 schools.”

She added: “Suffolk and other local authorities in the region have suspected for some time that racist incidents in schools have been under-reported.

“Greater awareness and sensitivity is beginning to reverse the trend of under-reporting.”

Martin Goold, county secretary for the National Union of Teachers, said: “It is disappointing to see an increase, although hopefully this is due to better reporting and that means hopefully it is being dealt with.

“There are new pressures with an influx of people from Eastern Europe coming to live and work here, and that may well introduce outsiders, immigration into new areas that has not seen it in quite the same way before.

“This is a very serious issue and schools are amongst the first places to counter any racism that we find, either among adults or children.”

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