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BBC2 doc highlights reality of racist bullying in UK schools

SCHOOL: Teachers and students featured in BBC2's new six-part documentary series

A NEW BBC2 documentary has highlighted the impact cuts are having on children who are subjected to racist bullying at school.

Three secondary schools are documented in the series, School, which aired on BBC2 for the first time last night.

During the first episode of the series, which was filmed over the course of an academic year, viewers were introduced to a Year 7 student called Chelsea.

Chelsea gets into trouble when she is found to have changed out of her uniform during the school day. What at first appears to be the actions of just another pre-teen pushing boundaries turns out those of a young girl who has experienced bullying and is desperate to fit in.

When asked why she worries about the way she looks, Chelsea, says: “Because of things people have said before. There was a time in primary school where when another boy told me I should go and buy some proper skin off eBay.

“I don’t think fitting in is possible really. You’re always going to be different from everyone else around you.”

Andy Grant, geography teacher and head of Year 7 at The Castle School, is sympathetic to Chelsea’s plight but limited to how much time he can spend helping her due to budget cuts.

Grant says: “Chelsea, she’s a complex character. There are identity issues. She’s a black girl in a largely or predominantly white school. That’s something I think she’s acutely aware of.”

He adds that “not nearly enough” time has been spent supporting her and that he doubted the school had managed 10 minutes a week.

The need to make cost savings means Grant is left to manage the Year 7 students’ welfare alone. Before cuts, it was the responsibility of another staff member, a non teaching assistant whose sole focus was student welfare.

The senior teacher admitted that he had dealt with her and her circumstances very badly.

Efforts are made to atone for this and a one-to-one with the school’s interim headteacher Angie Brown, who is black, is arranged. During their meeting, Chelsea reveals that students told her “my nose squished into my face”.

“If a lot of people are saying the same thing, it just ends up feeling like it’s true,” she tells Brown.

With the education system facing huge financial pressures and record numbers of teachers leaving the profession, the first episode of School acts as a reminder – if one were needed – that it’s the children who are suffering as a result.

Without the adequate provisions for pastoral care, pupils with bundles of potential like Chelsea can slip through the net.

The next episode of School airs Tuesday at 9pm on BBC2.

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