The number of hate crimes that occur in and around schools and colleges has soared by 62 per cent in the space of a year, new figures show.
Five offences occurred on each school day in the last academic year, amounting to a total of 919 between September 2016 and July 2017, according to newly revealed figures. A total of 568 crimes were recorded in the same period the previous year.
School leaders said it was a “disturbing” increase, but argued that it is still “relatively rare” for these offences to take place in schools and colleges.
Police chiefs meanwhile said “significant efforts” have been made to improve recording systems and work with other agencies. This may largely account for the rise, they said.
When recording crimes, police can flag an offence as being motivated by different categories – race and ethnicity, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity.
The data, obtained through freedom of information requests, revealed the most common reason attached to an offence was race and ethnicity – accounting for 71 per cent of all of these crimes recorded in the last two academic years.
Religion or belief flags accounted for 9 per cent – the same proportion as sexual orientation. Disability accounted for 10 per cent and transgender identity, 1 per cent.
In some cases, crimes may have taken place near schools and colleges, rather than on school property.
They could have occurred as pupils walked home from school, or a crime may have been logged with an educational establishment as the nearest reference point.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was “disturbing” to see an increase in reported hate crimes in schools and colleges.
“We fear this reflects a wider problem in society beyond the school gates," he said. “Over the past 18 months, school leaders have told us of a number of incidents in which pupils have been subjected to racial abuse by members of the public, away from school premises, as they go about their daily lives.
“It is relatively rare for hate crimes to actually take place in schools and colleges. Indeed, schools and colleges are havens of good values, promoting tolerance and respect, and often serving diverse communities."
He added: “They put strong systems in place to ensure that staff are confident in addressing any type of discriminatory behaviour and that students are confident that they will be listened to in reporting any incidents. They educate young people about the importance of tolerance and respect, and consult with police over any serious incidents which occur.
“At a time when it often seems that our society is worryingly divided, schools and colleges are doing a brilliant job in holding it together.”
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for hate crime, meanwhile said: “Hate crime, particularly among young people, undermines the diversity and tolerance that we should be celebrating.
“All police forces take a robust approach to reporting crime and reassuring victims. Significant efforts have been made to improve our recording systems and to enhance our partnerships with educators and charities that support victims.
“The Crime Survey of England and Wales has indicated that the significant increases that we have seen in recent years have largely been due to these efforts and more victims having the confidence to come forward and report this kind of abuse to police.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies