Big rise in schools reporting racism, homophobia and disability prejudice - is Brexit to blame?

Dozens more schools in Norfolk reported incidents of discrimination to the county council in 2017-18

Dozens more schools in Norfolk reported incidents of discrimination to the county council in 2017-18 than the previous year Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The number of Norfolk schools reporting prejudice including racism and homophobia has increased, it can today be revealed - and Brexit is thought to be among the reasons.

Nick O'Brien, education lead for Norwich Pride Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Nick O'Brien, education lead for Norwich Pride Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Data obtained under the freedom of information act have revealed 149 of the county's schools, academies and education settings reported incidents of prejudice in the 2017-18 school year.

This figure is almost a 50pc increase on the previous year and the highest since County Hall started recording these figures by academic year, in 2015-16.

However, while the number of schools reporting incidents relating to race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and disability increased, the number of overall incidents slightly fell, from 378 reported in 2016-17, to 335 reported in 2017-18.

Nick O'Brien, assistant headteacher at Neatherd High School in Dereham, said divisions in the political world were largely to blame.

He said: 'I think generally young people are much more tolerant than their parents and grandparents were, however, they are a reflection of society as a whole. We need to look at ourselves as well as our children.

'There is a lot of division in society at the moment, issues such as Brexit and immigration are constantly in the news, so it is no surprise to see an increase.'

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Mr O'Brien, who is also education lead for Norwich Pride, said the most effective way of addressing this is through educating youngsters about its impact and better promoting empathy and ethics in schools.

He added: 'I'm really passionate about the idea of schools being better equipped to teach about these issues.

'No school would have just one lesson on algebra to get students ready for exams, but often the issue of discrimination will just be a single lesson or assembly then not touched again. There needs to be a far more repetitive approach.

'My experience has generally been positive, however you do get isolated incidents which need to be dealt with.'

Since 2015, the county council has expanded the type of prejudicial incidents it keeps record of.

Previously, it had kept record of incidents surrounding race, however for the past three years this has been expanded to include those around any of the characteristics protected by the Equality Act of 2010. These include religious belief, sexual orientation and disabilities.

Behind the figures

Norfolk County Council began collecting data for incidents of discrimination by academic year in 2015-16.

Previously, its reporting period was between March and April. In the run-up to tying the statistics with school years, figures for 2014-15 only analysed between April 2015 and the end of the summer term.

While County Hall strongly encourages schools to provide data, there is no legal requirement to do so, meaning the 149 that did respond may not have been the only to experience incidents.

Previously, schools were encouraged to report incidents on an ongoing basis, however, as of 2017-18, they were asked to complete an annual return.

The figures provided were as follows:

2013-14 (March to April): 261 incidents across 82 schools

2014-15 (April until end of term) 72 incidents across 47 schools

2015-16 (academic year): 226 incidents across 83 schools

2016-17 (academic year): 378 incidents across 101 schools

2017-18 (academic year): 336 incidents across 149 schools

National attention

The issue of discrimination in schools was thrust into the national spotlight in recent weeks, following an incident at Almondbury Community School, near Huddersfield.

A video was widely shared online of a playground altercation between two students in the Yorkshire town, one of which was a Syrian refugee.

The footage showed one boy pulling another to the ground before pouring water in his mouth.

Following the incident, a 16-year-old boy has been issued with a summons in connection with the incident, which happened on October 25, and is due to appear at Leeds Youth Court.

After the video circulated on social media, a fundraising page was set up to support the Syrian boy's family, which raised more than £100,000.

It also saw home secretary Sajid Javid reveal he had been targeted by bullies while he attended school, telling BBC Radio 4, the incident had brought memories flooding back for him.

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