Celebrate Difference and we can beat the scourge of bullying – Katie Ferguson

Jordan Allison of Show Racism the Red Card, Katie Ferguson of respectme and Lucy Ritchie of Changing Faces have come together to Celebrate Difference
Jordan Allison of Show Racism the Red Card, Katie Ferguson of respectme and Lucy Ritchie of Changing Faces have come together to Celebrate Difference
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A UNESCO report on school-related bullying published in January has called for “safe and inclusive schools for all children” after research found that one in three children had been bullied in the previous month – with online and mobile bullying statistics appearing to rise.

The report went on to detail that children perceived as being different in any way are the most likely to be bullied, with physical appearance being the most common characteristic related to bullying, followed by race, nationality or skin colour.

Katie Ferguson is service director of respectme, Scotland's anti-bullying service.

Katie Ferguson is service director of respectme, Scotland's anti-bullying service.

The report echoes the findings of a report published in 2017 by the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee, which found prejudice-based bullying to be a real concern for many young people in Scotland. These findings informed the Scottish Government’s refreshed national approach to anti-bullying for Scotland’s children and young people, Respect For All – which contains an explicit commitment to addressing all types of bullying, including prejudice-based bullying.

But what is prejudice-based bullying? All bullying is about behaviour, which can take many forms, and the impact that behaviour has on a person’s feelings of agency and control. When that behaviour is motivated by prejudice against a child or young person’s actual or perceived identity, it becomes prejudice-based bullying. Young people may experience prejudice based bullying relating to a characteristic unique to their identity or circumstance such as their appearance, nationality, sexual orientation or additional support needs, among many others.

Prejudice-based bullying can go on to have a huge impact on young people throughout their lives, manifesting in mental health concerns and isolation. Like all bullying, prejudice-based bullying has a ripple effect and when left unaddressed it can have an environmental impact, and affect young people’s values and attitudes.

Prejudice is a social problem, and one of real political and social relevance today – it’s not limited to schools or to children and young people. However, through the vehicles of education, learning and youth work, educators are in a vital position to harness social change. By engaging young people in discussions about these issues, we can help equip them with the knowledge and awareness to understand the impact of prejudice and prejudice-based bullying. We are aiming to address this as part of our new campaign, Celebrating Difference.

Our campaign aims to support educators to spark meaningful conversations with children and young people of all ages on these important issues so that they can continue to create a positive, respectful culture that is inclusive for all.

Supporting Celebrating Difference are charities Show Racism the Red Card Scotland and Changing Faces, who over the coming months will help us drive the message that we should celebrate what makes individuals unique and challenge the prejudices that lead to young people being bullied or treated unfairly.

Working with the two charities, as well as consulting with wider campaign partners including Youthlink Scotland and LGBT Youth Scotland, we’ve developed a campaign to help educators discuss prejudice-based bullying with young people, and show the importance of celebrating difference.

Research shows that anti-bullying work that clearly addresses the particular needs of minority groups is more effective, and there is a need to address the root cause of prejudice as well as effectively responding to incidents as they arise.

With the help of our campaign partners, Show Racism the Red Card Scotland and Changing Faces, we’ve developed a set of learning materials for education practitioners to use in both the classroom and youth group settings, that focus on important issues for young people such as stereotypes, racism, appearance-related bullying and LGBT inclusion. While our Celebrating Difference campaign runs throughout January and February, it feeds into respectme’s wider Choose Respect anti-bullying campaign that spans the entire academic year – reinforcing the message that creating inclusive environments where bullying cannot thrive is something that can be nurtured all year round.

Covering four key phases made up of Self-Reflection (launched November 2018); Celebrating Difference (launched January 2019); Building Empathy (launching March 2019); and Positive Relationships (launching May 2019), each phase centres around the notion of choosing respect, and will ultimately help equip young people with the tools they need to build relationships built on respect.

The Celebrating Difference materials are suitable for young people of primary and secondary age and all are free to download from www.chooserespect.scot

For more information about Changing Faces or Show Racism the Red Card, visit www.changingfaces.org.uk and www.theredcard.org/scotland

For more information and advice on addressing bullying behaviour visit www.respectme.org.uk.

Katie Ferguson is service director of respectme, Scotland’s anti-bullying service.