Nicolson racism probe reaches conclusion

A long-running dispute over racist incidents at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, and the adequacy of the school’s response, has finally reached a conclusion.

By Brian Wilson
Thursday, 7th April 2022, 8:47 am
An FoI request was submitted on how the Nicolson recorded incidents of racism in the school.
An FoI request was submitted on how the Nicolson recorded incidents of racism in the school.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has accepted a ruling by the Scottish Information Commissioner, who handles Freedom of Information requests, which partially upheld a complaint about how issues were handled.

In June 2020, information was requested from the Comhairle about how many racist incidents were reported in sessions 2017/18 and 2018/19 and the procedure for recording them. There was also a question about the extent to which race-equality training was offered to, and completed by, teachers.

The applicants for this information rejected the response that three incidents were recorded in 2017-18, as they were aware of “documented correspondence that referred to more racist incidents”. They were also dissatisfied with a blank response to the question on "race equality training".

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The Comhairle then “concluded that its original response was inaccurate due to changes in recording the data and inadequate searches, and acknowledged that its response to the question concerning training was inadequate too. The Council apologised and said it would send an amended response”.

However, the same thing happened again and the applicants again stated they were “dissatisfied with the outcome of the Council's review as it had not accurately reflected their awareness of racist abuse."

The Commissioner’s report summarises: “Although the council's review of both aspects of this dissatisfaction apologised for its response being ‘inaccurate’ and ‘inadequate’, the subsequent response was, in the Applicants' view, ‘similarly inaccurate and inadequate and thus remains unsatisfactory’.”

The Commissioner details at some length the explanation given by the school’s head teacher for the discrepancies in information and notes: “At that point, early in 2017-18 session, although the school was recording racist incidents, it was not recording them in a special section or categorising them as such, until it was instructed to do so”.

The Commissioner explained that his remit extends only to “consideration of whether the Council has provided recorded information. The Commissioner cannot decide whether there are incidents that have occurred that should have been categorised and included within the number recorded and supplied to the Applicants”.

Accordingly, while dissatisfaction with the information provided reflected “a highly reasonable concern” it was not something the Commissioner could “address in terms of compliance”.

The Commissioner therefore found the Comhairle “partially complied” and that “no further recorded information is held with regard to the number of incidents recorded”. However, on the training issue, he found the Comhairle “took an overly narrow interpretation” of the request and failed to comply with the legislation.

A spokesman for the Comhairle said: “The only point on which the SIC upheld was that the Comhairle had taken an overly narrow interpretation of one part of the original request (the part relating to staff training, not recording of incidents).”