John Swinney: New anti-bullying strategy for schools put on hold

The Scottish Government has delayed publication of its new anti-bullying strategy following concerns over the information available on the extent of the problem in schools.

Education Secretary John Swinney. Picture: John Devlin

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said he had “agreed to put the publication on hold” at the request of Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee for further input.

The committee heard on Thursday there was not enough consistent data about bullying linked to factors such as race, religion, gender or sexuality.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Giving evidence to the committee, Carol Young, senior policy officer for the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, called for ministers to pause the publication of the refreshed strategy for more investigation.

She said: “We don’t really believe that the evidence base is good enough to enable meaningful policy development in this area at the moment and the fact that there’s been no involvement through the process of race equality-focused charities is a serious concern to us.

“We’re not aware of any disaggregated or targeted engagement with minority ethnic communities either.

“Considering that teachers have reported that bullying based on race is the number one type of prejudiced-based bullying they are aware of happening in their schools, we really think that there needs to be some more work done to look at that.”

Earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) raised concerns with Mr Swinney over the lack of any requirement for schools or education authorities to monitor these kinds of incidents.

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Tavish Scott recently revealed about 3,000 racist incidents have been reported in Scotland’s schools since 2011

In a letter to the committee, Mr Swinney said: “All bullying, including prejudice-based bullying, is unacceptable.

“Respect for All, the refreshed national anti-bullying strategy for children and young people, will take a holistic approach to tackling this issue.

“However, it is crucial that this guidance is carefully considered and I therefore welcome the committee’s input into this process and agree to put the publication on hold to allow for meaningful engagement.”

He said the Scottish Government is already taking action on anti-bullying initiatives in teacher training, by collecting data on the health and wellbeing of children and young people and improving the mental health of this group.