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It is not Cool to be Cruel: Prejudice-based bullying and harassment of children and young people in schools

Scotland is on an ambitious journey to build a more equal, fair and accepting society for all of its people. The cornerstone of this ambition must be to ensure equality for the children and young people of Scotland. How we help to shape their experience of Scotland today, will dictate how fair and equal the Scotland of tomorrow is. To do this, we must place the voices of our children and young people at the centre of our efforts to deliver their human rights.

Over the last eight months the Equalities and Human Rights Committee of the Scottish Parliament has been listening to the voices of our children and young people, and their advocates, as part of our inquiry into prejudice-based bullying and harassment in schools. The story they have told us is a troubling one.

In this report we have sought to shine a light on the reality of children’s experiences of prejudice-based bullying and harassment and the enormous risks posed to their health and wellbeing. We have listened to their ambitions for a school life that helps them learn and grow, supports them to find out who they are, and sets them on the path to achieve their full potential.

But for too many children and young people this is not the reality of their education. For them school is becoming a battle against prejudice, bullying and sexual harassment, one fought daily in classrooms, corridors, playing fields and online. Their primary goal is simply to survive their education, emotionally, psychologically, and now more than ever, literally, with 27% of LGBTI children attempting suicide.

Our education system plays a vital role in addressing prejudice and harassment. Protecting the human rights of children is central to their developmental experience. We welcome the refresh of Respect for All, Scotland’s national approach to anti-bullying by the Scottish Government. We thank the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney MSP, for pausing the refresh process so as to allow us to set out the actions we believe are necessary to properly address prejudice-based bullying and harassment in schools.

We believe Respect for All has a vital role to play in proactively placing a human rightsbased ethos at the centre of our education system. However, it is only part of a wider approach which must be adopted to ensure key strategies and tools work effectively together to achieve the success we all want to see. This includes—

  • recognising the prevalence of prejudice-based bullying and sexual harassment in schools, and the need for urgent action;
  • moving away from a reactionary approach which deals with the consequences of bullying and harassment, to a proactive education system which seeks to prevent them;
  • ensuring national policies in areas such as mental health, hate crimes, school leadership, and the curriculum, properly promote children’s rights, early intervention and a whole school approach to inclusive environments;
  • ensuring we educate children on issues such as consent and healthy relationships from the earliest age;
  • delivering mandatory teacher training and CPD on equalities, children’s rights and the impacts of prejudice-based bullying, and
  • establishing a duty to report all prejudice-based bullying and sexual harassment in schools.

Our report elaborates on these, and other key issues relating to prejudice-based bullying and harassment. The time is now for all those who help to shape, deliver and support education in Scotland to act effectively together to ensure children and young people can develop and learn in a school environment free from the fear and cruelty of prejudice.