CONSULTATION ON TACKLING BULLYING IN SCHOOLS

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1 1 CONSULTATION ON TACKLING BULLYING IN SCHOOLS Respondent s Details Name Dr. Philip Curry Prof. Robbie Gilligan Position (if applicable): Philip Curry, Lecturer/ Research Fellow Robbie Gilligan, Professor Organisation (if applicable) School of Social Work & Social Policy, Trinity College Dublin Address College Green, Dublin 2 Telephone address Date 29 th June 2012

2 2 This submission refers specifically to the issue of racial bullying in Irish schools Who we are The Children, Migration and Diversity Project is hosted jointly by the Children s Research Centre and the School of Social Work and Social Policy, both at Trinity College Dublin. Our work focuses on the perspectives, experiences and behaviours of children and young people in relation to migration and diversity. We are particularly interested in empirical evaluation of policy initiatives to enhance inter-ethnic relations among children and in understanding what children, schools and communities can do to ensure that all parties get the most out of multi-cultural environments. Our research to date has included: A large in-depth qualitative research study with 355 primary school children (both local and migrant) on their experiences of diversity and migration. A national qualitative study with 167 migrant teenagers on their experiences of migration and living in Ireland. An intensive, systematic review of the impact of team learning strategies on interethnic climate in multi-cultural schools. This project is supported by the Campbell Collaboration, an international organisation which specializes in high quality evaluation of policy interventions. Analysis of data from the Irish longitudinal study of children, Growing up in Ireland, on personal and social outcomes for migrant children. We are currently field testing a child-centred survey instrument to measure key dimensions of inter-ethnic contact and conflict among children. For further information see:http://www.tcd.ie/immigration/community/index.php

3 3 Racial bullying in Irish schools Migration has brought many unforeseen benefits to Irish schools. Research has consistently and overwhelmingly shown that migrant children in Ireland are very highly motivated and well behaved. Some schools have even experienced dramatic increases in numbers and improvement in standards as a result of migration. But migration and cultural diversity have also brought many challenges to Irish schools, including the issue of racism among children and how to respond to it. To date, the most direct and representative data we have on the experiences of child migrants in Ireland is from the Growing Up in Ireland survey. This data suggests that migrant children may be only marginally more likely to report bullying than local children, an observation supported by the Adapting to Diversity survey of school principals. However two things are worth nothing. Firstly, reports of bullying are very high for all children at just under 40%. Secondly, the available data from Growing Up in Ireland suggests that there may be different reasons why migrant children are bullied. Parents of migrant children in that study overwhelming report ethnicity as the most common reason their child is bullied (comparable information is not available directly from the children). These findings echo evidence from our large qualitative studies. Migrant teenagers we interviewed across Ireland spontaneously offered us many instances of racism experienced in and out of school. In our intensive work with primary school children we encountered many accounts of bullying as well as a specific strand of bullying that was overtly racist. A couple of examples will suffice: But I didn t have any fun [on my first day] because everyone was bullying me, that s because I was brown. -Nigerian Girl, First Class They will call me names after you tell on them. - Nigerian boy, Fourth class

4 4 Yeah, they would take my pen and put it somewhere I won t see and I will have to look for it everywhere. They would splash juice on my face and do like that on my face. When I tidy my bag, my purse jewellery is in my bag with my things, they just take my purse and smell it and do smelly faces. -Mauritian Girl, Fourth class Although adults may be surprised by the intensity and early age at which racial bullying can appear, international evidence would clearly lead us to expect it to occur. It is now well established that children as young as 3 and 4 can detect differences between ethnic groups and that biases for and against particular groups can emerge very soon after that. Children can generate forms of racism among themselves and can also learn racism from adults. To say that it occurs elsewhere is not to diminish its importance. Racial bullying is a painful and harmful experience for children. Research evidence on the long-term impact of racial bullying on its victims has been slow to accumulate but there now appears to be a clear consensus that childhood exposure to racism is associated with mental and physical health problems later in life. Among the children and young people exposed to racism in our Irish research studies we found anger, resentment, a desire to leave Ireland. By far the most distressing issue we encountered was among black children who wished to change their skin colour: I'd turn into white...[...]...so people can't laugh at me. - Nigerian boy, Second class

5 5 Responses to racial bullying Most racial bullying occurs in a classroom environment in which interaction between children of different cultural backgrounds is marked by distance and reserve. Some children will interact freely across cultural boundaries but when free to choose, separation and stick with your own is the most common option. Again this is something we might expect from international evidence especially in the absence of any policies to tackle it. In the US, spontaneous separation among children of different skin colour has been noted from the very the earliest days of the desegregation movement in the late 50 s right up until 2003 when social psychologist Beverly Tatum published her book Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?. Cultural distance such as this may or may not be benign but it provides an environment in which stereotyping can flourish and ethnic minority children can become isolated and vulnerable. As a result, our first policy recommendation is: That schools do their upmost to ensure that children from all cultural backgrounds integrate with one another. In terms of implementing this recommendation, the technique with by far the most research support is Cooperative Learning. To date the most significant responses to the social consequences of increased cultural diversity in our schools have been based on multi-culturalism, that is, children are encouraged to learn about and positively engage with other cultures. This is very important and we believe that schools should be supported to implement such approaches. However one obvious lacuna is in directly addressing the issue of racism. Fears are expressed about introducing the topic to children as it might create a problem that did not already exist. A number of points are worth making: Fears about introducing children to racism in many ways re-enact concerns about sex education and ultimately the debate will probably end the same way. Children must and will learn about these things somewhere, it is important that they do so correctly in the proper environment.

6 6 There is some degree of confusion about what racism is. Very often it is associated with very extreme forms of emotional hostility while basic concepts like race are left unquestioned. Understanding racism is also not simply about being blind to cultural and physical difference it is about understanding the terrible influence racism can have in human societies and why it is wrong. The topic of racism can raise very deep emotion in people. In any debate about the subject these should be acknowledged and dealt with as calmly as possible. Teachers can quite rightly feel uncomfortable discussing racism in multi-cultural classrooms as they have had little or no training in doing so and generally lack relevant teaching resources. Our second policy recommendation is: That schools be encouraged to implement policies and practices that promote positive acceptance of other cultures. However they should also be provided with the tools and resources needed to teach about and confront racism. Almost all schools in the country now have an anti-bullying policy in place. However racial bullying is not always addressed. Outside of official policies teachers generally lack practical guidance on how to address racial bullying or how to discuss it in class. Our third policy recommendation: That all school anti-bullying policies should include a detailed statement on racial bullying. Schools should be provided with practical guidance on how to deal with the racial dimension in bullying. Dealing with the broad range of issues that can occur as a result of a multi-cultural school environment is a profound challenge. Reviewing the international evidence on interventions to enhance inter-cultural relations among children and to reduce racial bullying would encourage sobriety. Progress is possible but racism has often defeated very

7 7 committed efforts and sanguine expectations. While we believe very strongly that commitment and strenuous effort are needed to address a very serious problem, we also believe that there is little reason to expect an easy victory. Very little evidence exists on how anti-racism and anti-racial bullying policies play out in Irish schools. We consider that such evidence is badly needed before effective policies can be implemented nationally. At this point, a handful of schools implementing best practice policy, researching the impact thoroughly and sharing their experience quickly and effectively with schools nationally would be far more valuable than any amount of general guidance issued with no follow up. Our final policy recommendation: That a small number of schools be supported to implement best practice antiracism and antiracial bullying policy with the impact being carefully assessed and shared with the wider educational community as quickly and effectively as possible.

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