The number of children seeking help for racist bullying increased sharply last year, as campaigners warn that the heated public debate about immigration is souring race relations in the classroom.
More than 1,400 children and young people contacted ChildLine for counselling about racist bullying in 2013, up 69 per cent on the previous 12 months. Islamophobia is a particular issue in schools, according to the charity, with young Muslims reporting that they are being called “terrorists” and “bombers” by classmates.
Children who have poor English or a strong accent are often called “freshies” – an abusive term that highlights their struggle to fit in.
The rise in children needing help for xenophobic bullying coincides with rising political hostility to immigration – especially in the lead-up to this month’s lifting of restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians entering the UK.
In 2011, just 802 children approached the charity seeking help for racist bullying.
Sue Minto, head of ChildLine, said: “There’s so much more of a focus in the news at the moment about immigrants… it’s a real discussion topic and children aren’t immune to the conversations that happen around them.