Improvements set out for dealing with racist incidents in schools

A robust set of actions setting out how Edinburgh schools should deal with racist incidents has been drawn up by the City of Edinburgh Council.

This follows an independently-overseen inquiry into the handling of racism complaints by city high schools.

The four main areas highlighted for improvement are:

  • Improving processes to report racist incidents
  • Improving the culture in schools to clearly show zero tolerance of racist conduct
  • Managing racist incidents sensitively and ensuring ongoing support for anyone reporting racist conduct
  • Reviewing the curriculum to ensure it does not perpetuate racist or colonialist attitudes

The move comes after the completion of an investigation into claims made following last year’s Black Lives Matter campaign. The claims were made by former and current pupils who complained that a number of high schools were failing to deal with racist incidents properly and that a culture of racism existed. The main focus of the investigation was on St Augustine’s and Holy Rood RC High Schools but also included Craigmount, Drummond and Firrhill.  

In total 73 complaints were received via social media and emails, and 30 complainants agreed to be interviewed.

As part of the detailed and wide-ranging inquiry, evidence was gathered through interviews with the complainants, school staff and by examining school records. The three-month long investigation was overseen by an independent equalities adviser. Although schools demonstrated many effective examples of responding appropriately to alleged racist incidents, the overall conclusion of the investigation was that more could be done within schools to develop a firm anti-racist perspective.  There was no evidence, however, to support complaints that schools enabled racism.    

Interviews were carried out by senior Council officers skilled at working with young people and trained in equalities and anti-racism. Parents or supporters were invited to be present during interviews and support was available from the independent third sector agency, Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council. As well as detailing their concerns, complainants were also asked what outcomes they were looking for. 

Complainants have now been issued with a personal letter summarising their complaint and detailing the conclusions and next steps relating to their investigation. They have all been offered face to face meetings to fully discuss the findings and the actions the Council proposes to take.

The authority has committed to auditing its current plans to improve equalities in schools, to ensure that all actions identified from the report are included.  These include supporting all schools to: appoint pupil and staff equalities co-ordinators, embed additional guidance for dealing with racist incidents and provide staff training to review the curriculum so it does not perpetuate racist or colonialist attitudes.

In addition, an annual equalities award (Saroj Lal award) will shortly be announced.  This has been created in honour of Saroj Lal (1937-2020), Edinburgh’s first Asian primary school teacher and a leading figure in the campaign for race equality and social justice in Scotland. It will be launched by summer 2021 and is designed to raise awareness of diversity and equality. The award aims to shine a light on the impact of prejudice and the potential to use art for positive change.  

Councillor Ian Perry, Convener for Education, Children and Families at the City of Edinburgh Council, said:

Firstly I want to apologise unreservedly to any of our young people who felt their concerns or reports about racism were not taken seriously or that their school has not dealt with any incidents properly. I want to thank everyone who has come forward and brought these allegations to light for sharing their personal accounts and recollections and to the staff who took part in the inquiry.

This will have been very difficult for our young people but hearing their voices has allowed this investigation to take place and has shown clearly what is needed to drive forward positive change in our schools.

This was a very thorough investigation and as a result we now have a clear and very robust action plan which can only strengthen our commitment to dealing with racism. Ultimately, we all want every young person who attends our schools to feel safe and supported as they go through their education.  I hope that the lessons learned from this investigation will mean that many more young people feel that this will improve as a result.

Councillor Alison Dickie, Vice Convener for Education, Children and Families at the City of Edinburgh Council, said:

I’m so sorry that young people have felt their voices weren’t being heard and have had to resort to being part of this investigation to help bring about change. I want to praise them all for showing such strength in coming forward to raise these issues with us. They have all shown great patience and co-operation while their complaints were being investigated. While this will have been a difficult process, it is only by hearing their voices that we can fully understand the experiences that young people have and make improvements.

Racism is an issue that needs both city and Council-wide action. This is about a change of culture and systems. Although there is positive work taking place across our schools, we fully realise that much more needs to be done. This involves listening to young people who have experienced racism and placing them in the driving seat of our work towards race equality.

Already, as a direct result of that direct voice, we are working to increase staff training, develop an anti-racist and culturally inclusive curriculum and empower young people with lived experiences across our schools to lead on improving our procedures for the reporting of racist incidents.  Delivery is key, and we will do that together.


Published: February 23rd 2021