Father: School failed daughter over racist bullying

By Leon Symons, August 6, 2009

The father of a four-year-old girl subjected to antisemitic abuse from pupils at her infants’ school has accused the school and its education authority of trying to sweep the matter under the carpet.

The girl’s father, Nick Johnstone, claimed that Hallfield Infants and the local council, Westminster in central London, had failed to hold a proper investigation into the incidents that forced him to withdraw his daughter near the end of last term.

The incident prompted schools minister Vernon Coker to write a letter to City of Westminster Tory MP Mark Field. He wrote: “I am very sorry to learn of [the girl’s] distressing experiences. This government strongly believes that bullying is not acceptable in our schools and no child or young person should have to experience it, including bullying motivated by prejudice. Schools have a legal duty to have policies in place to prevent and tackle bullying.”

Mr Johnstone said Angela Drizi, Westminster’s director of schools, had said in an email that she would hold an investigation.

Mr Johnstone, who did not want his daughter named, said: “Ms Drizi suggested I get in touch with the chair of governors, which I did. She was horrified to learn what had happened but was about to go on holiday and so could do nothing.

“It is obvious to me that they just want to see the back of us without doing anything to find out why children so young were spouting such awful antisemitic insults.”

Mr Johnstone’s daughter suffered a number of verbal attacks at the predominently Muslim school, where she was the only Jewish pupil.

She was told that if she didn’t play with them or tell the truth, Allah “would burn her in the fire”, and was subjected to insults including “Jewishes are yuck” and “Jewishes don’t care about people.”

Angela Drizi, Westminster Council's director of schools and learning, said: "Our schools pride themselves on their strong community ethos and incidents of this nature are extremely rare.

"The headteacher of Hallfield Infant School met with the parents concerned and made clear that their children were responsible for inappropriate remarks to another pupil. He stressed that the school does not tolerate racism in any form and expects better behaviour from its pupils.

"The council has also looked into these allegations and is satisfied that the school has dealt with this incident in an appropriate manner.

"We are also aware that Mr Johnstone is not happy with the way the headteacher investigated his complaint but in line with national guidelines any complaint against a headteacher is dealt with by the school's governors.

"Hallfield Infant governors have yet to receive a formal complaint from Mr Johnstone but as soon as they do so will carry out a full and thorough independent investigation.

"Along with Mr Johnstone we only want the very best education for his daughter and the moment we were made aware of his concerns we made it clear that we were more than willing to meet at a time of his convenience to discuss them in more detail.

"We will continue to offer help, and advice to Mr Johnstone and should he need it, assistance in finding his daughter a place at another school in Westminster in time for when the new term starts in September."

Last updated: 12:42pm, August 21 2009