A GROUP of school children have told how they experience harrowing racist abuse in Scotland's schools as a new report calls for urgent action to tackle the problem.

Secondary school pupils told the Herald on Sunday they were called the "N" word, told to hang themselves from headscarves and ordered to "get back to the jungle" by fellow students.

One young black woman said her siblings wished they had white skin, saying "our skin colour only brings us trouble."

They spoke out ahead of the publication of a new report, due to be launched at the Scottish Parliament next week, which highlights the views of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) children in Scotland.

Commissioned by Intercultural Youth Scotland, researchers asked more than 100 secondary school children from across the country their views on racism, the school curriculum and whether they felt included among their white peers.

The Herald on Sunday has obtained exclusive access to the study conducted by EDI Scotland, which show more than half of pupils didn't think their teachers knew how to handle racist incidents, didn't feel comfortable reporting racism to their teachers, and didn't recognise themselves in the types of issues they were learning about in the classroom.

The majority of pupils also said they didn't think their school would "respond effectively to any concerns raised about racism or discrimination".

The charity's founder, Khaleda Noon, said the findings illustrated that racism was still a problem in Scotland, and the issue was still having an impact on the development of BAME young people.

She said "I’ve worked in schools for a good number of years, and I can see an inequality in the way racism is treated.

"People who are under these attacks hold a number of protected characteristics but are often treated like perpetrators rather than victims. This leaves them with mental health issues, feelings of not being believed or being inadequate.

"Young people have told us they feel that there is very little done, their rights aren’t protected and sometimes actions can actually reinforce racism.

"We wanted to research this, to try and find out the scale of the problem and how other young people feel across the country."

Among the recommendations made by the organisation include revising the curriculum to "include contemporary BAME heritage and history", bring youth workers who are BAME into schools, and support parents to participate more in school activities such as parent councils.

It also suggests that there should be "culturally-proficient" spaces which would "allow for open discussion on racism, including new forms of racism based on Islamophobia, anti-immigration attitudes and religious intolerance".

Noon added: " In terms of the curriculum, a large number of people said they couldn’t recognise themselves in what books they were reading, in what historical events they learned about. It adds to a feeling of exclusion.

"We have heard young people tell us they have heard the ‘N’ word when learning about slavery, for example. People need to become culturally proficient and do it in a way that is sensitive, so it won’t put young BAME kids in an uncomfortable position in front of their whole class. This is just one example."

As a child, Noon herself was subject to racism, sometimes even within her own family, as she was the only person of colour in her community.

She explained: "I went to school in Laurencekirk in the 70s. I am half Arab and half Scottish but I didn’t know my dad, I was just brought up with my white Scottish mum, brother and sister.

"I was the only brown person in our family, there was even a bit of racism in my family. Nobody took racism seriously, even though it was illegal.

"I had racism every day, I used to get into trouble because of it. It stunted my development and stopped me being who I could have been. I didn’t reach my potential until I was a lot older.

"You see a lot of hugely talented young people and I don’t want the same to happen to them, when they don’t realise their full potential until they're 40-years-old. There are a lot of obstacles still in place and there is an institutionalised racism which is a big part of it."

Lana Abbas, 16, is the charity’s co-chair, and has backed Noon’s calls for action. She said: “We need action now. We need sustainability or the same pain will continue to affect our young people, and we will be in the exact same position next year, the year after and the year after that.”

Rowena Arshad OBE, professor of multicultural and anti-racist education at the University of Edinburgh, said that there needed to be a more "sophisticated" approach to tackling racism and promoting equality in the Scottish curriculum.

Last year, Arshad chaired a working group on Diversity in the Teacher Profession for the Scottish Government, making several recommendations including the need to increase the number of teachers from ethnically diverse backgrounds by 2030.

She said: "Teachers who are interested are actually putting this on the agenda, but unfortunately I think they are still probably in the minority. We need everyone to do this as part of their professional repertoire.

"BAME teachers giving evidence to us were saying that the essence of BAME people were not reflected in what they were teaching. They didn't see themselves in it.

"Where it is being done a bit more now is around celebration, things like festivals and cultural events. In terms of the curriculum areas, it is like the effort that was put in to celebrate women scientists who were so absent from the curriculum. We are in the same position now in terms of BAME. It's not about including different cultures, but its about including the black physicist, the black musician who has made a contribution. We have done the fundamental, rudimentary side of it, now we need to have a bit more sophistication without naming diversity, without naming race, but just including and showcasing the broad contributions made historically and in current times."

The EIS has previously campaigned on the issue of racism within schools, while the General Teaching Council earlier this year urged head teachers to improve reporting of racist incidents due to the low number of reports recorded.

Nicola Fisher, Convener of the EIS Equality Committee: “These survey findings are stark, and highlight the importance of embedding anti-racist education across all parts of the curriculum.

"Supporting teachers in addressing racism and discrimination through the classroom is essential to tackling the issues highlighted by BAME young people in this survey.

"Finding ways to encourage a greater number of people from within BAME communities to enter the teaching profession would also be an important step, although it is clear that all teachers have a responsibility to address racism and discrimination.

"We owe it to all pupils in our schools to provide a nurturing environment for learning where all young people feel equally comfortable, cared for and valued.”


Raheel Zaki, 15, is Muslim and wears a headscarf to school, which has caused her and her fellow Muslim pupils to be subjected to abuse.

She said: "Hate crimes have affected many young people, including me. In school I had a racist incident, I was told to take off my headscarf by a couple of guys and I was really scared and I didn't know what to do. Teachers didn't know how to handle it. It made me feel left out and really sad, I was alone.

"One time a young Muslim girl was told to hang herself from her hijab. Afterwards, it was reported to the school, but the teacher responded saying 'I don't think the boy would do that. The scarf has tassles on it'. The teacher didn't take this seriously at all, its almost like they made an excuse for this person saying that, instead of respecting the person who was being victimised."

Lola Gowon, 18, said she and her younger twin sisters have faced racism at school. She said: "My two sisters were told their skin was like sh*t. I told them it isn't, but when my little sister goes to the bathroom they say 'You should go to the male bathroom, you're a boy'. Because her hair is very short, it's like Afro short, they say she is a boy. We get that kind of discrimination and we have to explain it to people.

"They will say 'Get back to the jungle where you belong, go back to your s****y Africa'. I've received text messages from people saying this kind of thing.

"When I tell the school, they do nothing. They say they will separate me from the people, but what happens after school?

"My little sister said to me 'Why is our skin different? Why do we get treated a different way? I wish I was white, I want to be like everyone else. Our skin colour only brings us trouble.'

"It so sad. I told her she has her sister and that's all she needs, she doesn't have to make friends. People say there is no racism here, but there is. Young people don't feel comfortable reporting it, and if they do nothing is done."

Britney Ashinze, 17, is Nigerian and had been the victim of racist abuse one day during school lunch break. She was later attacked after school by a group of pupils.

She explained: "There was an incident during lunch when I was with a friend of mine, they started saying the 'N' word and stuff. We ignored it. After school we went out, this girl lunged at me from the side and I had to defend myself. It was all filmed.

"The next day at school I was blamed and I was told it was my fault. After my mum contacted the school, they apologised but the person who attacked me had no punishment.

"It is painful, I had to sit out of classes and I was punished for something that I didn't deserve and that wasn't my fault."