Are we celebrating difference in schools?

Martha Evans, National Coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, discusses celebrating difference and the theme for Anti-Bullying Week 2017.

For over 20 years schools seemed to be making some headway to reducing hate speech in the classroom. However recent figures obtained by the Times Education Supplement through a freedom of information request to England’s police forces in April has shown a sharp rise – particularly during the Brexit campaign period – in hate crimes and incidents in schools. This worrying research backs up what we at the Anti-Bullying Alliance have been hearing from schools in recent years.

Worrying survey results from teachers that we conducted in 2014 showed high levels of disablist language going unchallenged and misunderstood in schools. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) recently released research after surveying their teachers about the high levels of discriminatory bullying happening in schools.  The poll found that over a fifth of teachers had thought that pupils had been subjected to hate crime and speech in the last year alone. In response to the survey I said:

“Bullying has a tremendous impact on a young person’s mental health and the effects can last for a long time even when the bullying itself stops. These stark figures show how pervasive this problem is. The Anti-Bullying Alliance wants to see more awareness and support for schools about challenging discriminatory language and hate crimes and incidents in school.”

These statistics come in the shadow of significant world events and changes to the political landscape. There is a sense that we are a divided society, it is difficult not to worry about the effect of all this on the next generation – are they growing up detached from others in increasingly entrenched social divisions? 

It was all the more heartening then to hear from almost 600 children and young people who took part in a survey for the Anti-Bullying Alliance, and learn that, although they DO recognise this negative discourse, they want it to change, and they want to be a part of that change. 

Young people recognise that certain groups are more vulnerable to bullying, and they asked the Anti-Bullying Alliance to focus their work on it.  We asked what the theme of Anti-Bullying Week 2017 should focus on and the top results were:

  • Race and faith targeted bullying
  • Bullying related to disability or special educational needs
  • Homophobic, biphobic and/or transphobic bullying
  • Appearance related bullying

At a time of division, young people are telling us that they would like us to focus on the positive aspects of difference, and on finding out what links people from different walks of life.

That is how we arrived at this year’s Anti-Bullying Week theme which launches in May 2017.  The theme slogan this year is ‘All Different, All Equal’, we want to:

  • empower children and young people to celebrate what makes them, and others, unique
  • help children and young people understand how important it is that every child feels valued and included in school, able to be themselves, without fear of bullying
  • encourage parents and carers to work with their school and talk to their children about bullying, difference and equality
  • enable teachers, school support staff and youth workers to celebrate what makes us ‘all different, all equal’ – by celebrating difference and equality and taking individual and collective action to prevent bullying, creating safe environments where children can be themselves

The other point of note from the survey we carried out was the sense that Anti-Bullying Week should be owned and led by young people themselves. They told us that they want to help set the activities that occur during the week and take real ownership of anti-bullying activities throughout the school.

We are seeing a recognition of division, of difference, and of the negative effects this is having on society, but we are hearing about a drive to change things. We want to harness this drive and create a school where everyone is welcome, safe and free from harm. Join us on this journey.

Anti-Bullying Week 2017 is taking place from 13th – 17th November 2017.

Find out more about Anti-Bullying Week.