Information on Racist Bullying Anti-Bullying Network

Back What is racist bullying?

Racist violence, harassment and abuse are closely related to, and sometimes difficult to distinguish from, bullying. Racist bullying in schools can range from ill-considered remarks, which are not intended to be hurtful, to deliberate physical attacks causing serious injury. Racist bullying can be identified by the motivation of the bully, the language used, and/or by the fact that victims are singled out because of the colour of their skin, the way they talk, their ethnic grouping or by their religious or cultural practices.

In a Scottish context, it is mainly people from black and minority ethnic communities who are subjected to racism, but concern has also been expressed about prejudice against other groups including English people and travellers. In Scotland, the words "bigotry" and "sectarianism" are often used to describe the attitude of some sections of the population towards members of certain religious faiths e.g. those with Roman Catholic or Protestant beliefs. This may also be the trigger for some incidents of bullying in schools.

Is racist bullying a problem in schools?

Racist bullying in schools can be a problem in two ways:

  • Children who experience it have their education disrupted. They may be unable to concentrate on lessons because of feelings of fear or anger. Their self-confidence may be damaged and, as a result, they may not fulfil their potential.
  • Schools that ignore it, or deny its existence, give the wrong message to young people. The success of our multi-cultural society depends upon the children of today growing up to be adults who respect difference and are prepared to speak out against racism

What can schools do?

Many schools, particularly those in areas where there are large ethnic minority populations, have well-developed policies on multi-cultural and anti-racist education. They have clear procedures for dealing with racist incidents, and the curriculum covers the knowledge, skills and values which children need to tackle racism when they meet it and to help them to become adults who respect different cultures. However, there are also schools where there are few or no children from ethnic minorities and/or where little has been done to address racism. In such situations racist attitudes can flourish if left unchecked. As a first step schools may need to embark on an awareness raising exercise. SCRE Spotlight 54 is a useful reference for teachers and parents in such schools.

Should racist bullying be treated differently from other types of bullying?

Racism is a very serious problem that has the potential to destroy communities. It deserves its own response in schools. We cannot assume that every school which has an anti-bullying policy will deal effectively with all the issues relating to racism. Racist bullying must be explicitly discussed in the classroom and there must be clear guidelines for dealing with incidents.

In the classroom

The work which schools do to tackle bullying can also be effective in reducing racism, child abuse and other related issues. Children can learn skills, such as assertiveness and empathy; they can acquire knowledge about relationships, rights and responsibilities; and they can develop values such as openness and respecting difference. However, this learning will only be effective if the context in which it can be used is specifically discussed. If young people learn that a skill like assertiveness can be useful in tackling, say, child abuse they will not necessarily assume that it can be used in other situations in which they find themselves, such as racist bullying. With regard to knowledge, they may not realise that some words which are in common use may be perceived as being racist, unless this is openly discussed in the classroom.

Dealing with incidents

Racist bullying cannot be tolerated in schools. Guidelines are needed to help schools deal with racism. These should describe appropriate responses and they should cover bullying by, and of, all members of the school community - adults and children. Local authorities in Scotland have issued schools with such guidelines. A common piece of advice is to monitor and record all racist incidents. Beyond this they often list possible responses, which might range from a simple reprimand to exclusion or a referral to the police. Some local authorities have combined their anti-racist and anti-bullying guidelines. This has pointed to the need to ensure that policies on racism do not conflict with policies on other issues such as child abuse or bullying. Such a unifying exercise is not easy but it might help schools to cope with the many demands made upon them and to provide a rational and consistent response to bullying of all kinds.


Recent legislation

Following the Race Relations Amendment Act, 2000, a general duty was placed on a wide range of public authorities to promote race equality, through paying due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination, promote equality of opportunity, and promote good relations between people of different racial groups.

In Scotland education authorities are required to fulfil a number of duties including to:

  • prepare a written statement of policy for promoting race equality
  • maintain a copy of the statement and ensure that each school maintains such a copy
  • assess the impact of the race equality policy, on pupils, staff and parents of different racial groups including, in particular, the impact on attainment levels of such pupils
  • monitor, by reference to their impact on such pupils, staff and parents, the operation of such policies including, in particular, their impact on the attainment levels of such pupils.

Read this

  • Spotlight 54 - Children's Attitudes to Race in a Mainly White Area, Available from: the SCRE Centre (Research in Education).
  • Valuing Diversity - Having Regard to the Racial, Religious, Cultural and Linguistic Needs of Scotland's Children, The Scottish Office Social Work Services Inspectorate, 1998. View here.
  • Promoting Race Equality: Making It Happen - schools working to secure success for all and positive attitudes towards diversity, HMIE, 2005. HMIE website.
  • HMIe Guide - Inclusion and Equality: Part 3: Promoting Race Equality - a self evaluation resource produced in April 2004 to complement the HMIe document "How Good is Our School?" HMIE website.
  • Statutory Code of Practice on the Duty to Promote Race Equality in Scotland, a 68 page file downloadable document.
  • Educating for Race Equality - a Toolkit for Scottish Teachers. View here.
  • Review of Guidance on Dealing with Racist Incidents - The Scottish Executive 2006. View here.

Surf this

The following web sites provide useful information. Please note that we are not responsible for their content or availability:

Back Get in Touch

In many parts of Scotland there are local Racial Equality Councils. Anybody can contact them:

The Ethnic Minorities Law Centre offers legal services to ethnic minority communities who need help in accessing their rights and in redressing racial discrimination, tel: 0141 204 2888 e-mail:

Revised July 2006

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This information sheet may be photocopied or reproduced for use within schools and other educational establishments providing The Anti-Bullying Network is credited.