Five priorities for tackling prejudice-based bullying in Scotland’s schools

15 November 2017

The Commissioner’s office has outlined our top 5 priorities for tackling prejudice-based bullying and harassment against children and young people in Scottish schools.

The briefing has been circulated ahead of today’s debate in the Scottish Parliament around It is not Cool to be Cruel , a report into prejudice-based bullying.

The report was written by the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee , who have co-organised today’s debate with the Education and Skills Committee .

Read our briefing.

Prejudice-based bullying in a rights framework

The Preamble to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) says that children and young people:

“…should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and brought up in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations , and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.”

Some articles of the Convention relate directly to bullying:

  • Article 19 says that that children and young people have a right to be protected from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse,
  • Article 37 says that no child should be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,
  • Article 39 says that when a child or young person is abused, they should be provided with help to recover.

Bullying and harassment can also prevent the realisation of other convention rights. For example:

  • Article 15 says that children and young people have a right to freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly,
  • Article 23 says that disabled children and young people should enjoy full and decent lives in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate their active participation in the community, and
  • Article 24 says that children and young people have a right to the highest attainable standard of physical mental health,
  • Articles 28 and 29 assert children and young people’s right to education, and for that education to allow them to realise their full potential,
  • Article 30 says that children and young people belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities shall not be denied the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language, and
  • Article 31 says that children and young people have a right to rest, leisure, play and recreation.

The Convention also recognises that:

“a child’s education should prepare them for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin.”

Bullying and discrimination

The Convention also recognises that some children and young people are more likely to be subjected to prejudice-based bullying and harassment than others. In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child highlighted that LGBTI children, disabled children and children belonging to minority ethnic groups, for example, Gypsy and Traveller children were more likely to experience abuse of this nature.

Five priorities for tackling prejudice-based bullying

1. Human rights education

In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the UK and all devolved nations – including Scotland – should intensify efforts to tackle bullying and violence in schools.

One of the ways it said we should do this was through teaching human rights, and as a result we believe:

  • that human rights education needs to be embedded into the curriculum in Scotland’s schools, and
  • that human rights education needs to begin from an early age.

2. Creating A Culture of Respect

We don’t think Human rights education alone will be enough to eradicate prejudice-based bullying and harassment. Such behaviour is often grounded in ignorance and a lack of respect for diversity and difference.

We’re supportive of the model outlined by Derek Allan of Kirkcaldy High School. In his evidence to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee , Derek highlighted the importance of taking a preventative approach towards bullying and harassment. He said such an approach could come about through the creation of a values-based culture— with respect for self, respect for others and respect for learning at its heart.

We also highlighted the need to make sure pupils were able to challenge people who were bullying others or not treating people fairly.

The It is not Cool to be Cruel report emphasises the need for teacher training to focus on equalities, protected characteristics and human rights, and we agree that training of this kind is important. We also agree with the report that training of this kind should extend to CPD for existing teachers.

3. Meaningful Sexual and Reproductive Health Education

We support the Equality and Human Rights Committee’s recommendation that primary school pupils should be taught about positive and gender equal relationships, as long as this can be done in a way that’s accessible and age appropriate.

Children and young people need meaningful sexual and reproductive health education in order to reduce the incidence of prejudice-based bullying and harassment.

In 2013, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child produced General Comment 15 , which explored the right of the child to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health. This General Comment was clear that sexual and reproductive health education should:

  • be grounded in gender equality, and
  • should seek to eliminate all forms of sexual and gender-based violence.

The Istanbul Convention suggests that for levels of prejudice-based bullying and harassment to be reduced, it’s vital for the curriculum to include materials that emphasise:

  • gender equality,
  • mutual respect,
  • non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, and
  • the right to personal integrity.

The Istanbul Convention suggests that such education should take place at all levels of education, including with younger children.

4. Involving Children and Young People

We were glad to see that children and young people had contributed to the inquiry informing It is not Cool to be Cruel.

It’s vital that the views and suggestions of children and young people are considered if prejudice-based bullying and harassment in schools is to be eradicated.

This is particularly true when it comes to the role that technology plays in the context of bullying and harassment. Here, the expertise and experience of children and young people will be essential in developing solutions.

As the recommendations of this inquiry are implemented, we would urge an inclusive process which brings together a broad range of children and young people – including those most likely to be targeted by bullying – to look at potential solutions.

5. UNCRC Incorporation

In their 2016 Concluding Observations, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that Scotland should take steps to make sure the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is applicable under Scots law.

With this in mind, we were glad to see It is not Cool to be Cruel recommend that the Scottish Government to bring forward legislation to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The report argued that this would make recommendations around bullying from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child more likely to be met in Scotland— making it more likely we would fulfil our obligations to children and young people under international law.