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Campaigners press John Swinney to tackle Islamophobia in schools

Press release from SACC, Wednesday 25 October 2017

Campaigners met with the Cabinet Secretary for Education, John Swinney, yesterday (Tuesday 24 October) to urge the Scottish Government to take action to tackle Islamophobia in schools. The meeting was attended by Samena Dean, author of the booklet Islamophobia in Edinburgh Schools and Richard Haley, Chair of SACC. It was facilitated by Ben Macpherson, MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, who had attended the launch of Islamophobia in Edinburgh Schools at Annandale Mosque in June.

Samena Dean explained to John Swinney that in her interviews with Muslim school children in Edinburgh last year she found that 55% of high school respondents and 53% of primary school respondents had encountered verbal Islamophobia, and that 15% of high school respondents and 26% of primary school respondents had encountered physical Islamophobia. Most worryingly of all, she found that 57% of children who reported an incident to a teacher experienced a negative outcome.

Richard Haley presented John Swinney with a briefing from SACC that included thirteen recommendations to the Scottish Government.

The briefing states:

"Islamophobia has assisted and driven the growth of other forms of xenophobia that are now being felt across the UK by EU citizens threatened by Brexit. It has paved Donald Trump’s path to the White House. Across Europe it is fuelling the growth of far-right parties that, once empowered, threaten Jews, LGBT people and disabled people.

"It is difficult to imagine any other area of policy where failure to act, and act wisely, will have more serious political consequences."

Speaking after the meeting, Richard Haley said:

"We had a very useful discussion and John Swinney listened attentively to our concerns. I think he now has a clearer picture of the impact that Islamophobia has on Muslim school children and their families.

"The poor experiences reported by Muslim children when they seek help from teachers are symptomatic of institutional racism, defined by Sir William Macpherson in his inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence case as 'the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin.'

"The gap between the broad commitment to equality acknowledged by everyone in Scotland's education system and the actual experience of Muslim children speaks of a failure of Scottish Government policy to get the detail right, a failure to adequately recognise and respond to the prevalence of Islamophobia in wider society, and a failure to adequately communicate to school staff the importance of tackling Islamophobia.

"The spread of Islamophobia in our society isn't the fault of schools or teachers. But it is crucial for Scotland's future that they recognise the problem and tackle it. The Scottish Government needs to play its part in making this happen.

"I understand that work on the Scottish Government's anti-bullying policy is continuing following the publication in June of a report by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee of the Scottish Parliament. I hope that the policy will, in the end, reflect our concerns and that they will also be reflected in education policy more widely."

The SACC briefing can be downloaded here.