Schools across the country have experienced a surge in racial hate crimes in the aftermath of Brexit, new figures suggest.
The number of schoolchildren arrested for racism has also risen dramatically.
Schools Week submitted freedom of information requests to all 43 of the UK’s police forces, asking how many racial hate crimes and subsequent arrests were reported in schools over the past three financial years.
Of the 21 forces that provided comparable data, 18 revealed they had experienced a sharp increase in reports of hate crime. The overall figure rose by 57 per cent from 271 in 2014-15, to 425 in 2016-17.
In all, 19 police forces provided figures for arrests of schoolchildren relating to hate crime reports – reporting a 53 per cent rise: from 45 in 2014-15, to 69 in 2016-17.
Weyman Bennett, the joint secretary of the Unite against Fascism campaign group, suggested the rise of racist attacks in schools is due to the EU referendum vote on June 23 last year, which led to Brexit.
“The unpleasant tenor of much of the debate on migration in the run up to the referendum undoubtedly plays a part in fuelling such prejudice,” he said.
The 2016-17 police figures capture hate crime reports from the 12 months starting April 1, 2016 – two weeks before the Brexit referendum campaign kicked off, and around 12 weeks before the vote.
Police reports provided under FOI show in June last year a youngster in Northamptonshire was physically attacked by another pupil on his way home from school.
“The suspect was then pulled back by friends and whilst leaving the suspect said ‘go back to your own country you rat’,” the police report stated.
Similar issues arose in Devon and Cornwall, where police reported a 15-year-old told an ethnic minority pupil to “leave the EU” the month after the Brexit vote. Other reports reveal how ethnic minority schoolchildren were “kicked and punched and told to ‘go back to their own country’” in the same month.
Our integration towards multiculturalism has a strong undercurrent of fear and poor understanding
Police sources claimed that this increase in hate crimes reflects the “willingness and growing confidence” of victims to come forward.
But Bennett said it was “painful to hear such things happening” in schools.
Allana Gay, the deputy headteacher at Lea Valley primary school in north London, said the figures indicate “the confusion young people feel about who is a threat to their future”, and that they showed “our integration towards multiculturalism has a strong undercurrent of fear and poor understanding”.
To prevent such incidents in the future, Gay said schools need to have “open discussions” on race and give students “racial encounters beyond the stereotypes they read or hear about”.
She continued: “This would include initiating discussion about extremist activity around the world, how it is reported, how we feel and how we want to respond.”
In Warwickshire, there was a 750 per cent increase in reported racial hate crimes at schools – with two reports made in 2014-15 and an incredible 17 in 2016-17.
Faz Chishty, chief inspector of Warwickshire Police, said his force employs safer schools officers to help raise awareness in classrooms of hate crime and how it can be reported.
North Yorkshire Police experienced just one reported racial hate crime from a school in 2014-15, rising to six in 2016-17, a 500 per cent jump.
A spokesperson for the force said that while being a victim to hate crime is “incredibly upsetting”, it is “reassuring” to see more reports being filed.
“This means that victims are becoming aware that there is something they can do about it and becoming more confident to come forward and report it to the police,” she said.