Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi recalls being bullied at school

The Education Secretary referred to his experiences after describing the case of 11-year-old Raheem Bailey as ‘sickening’.

Richard Wheeler
Sunday 22 May 2022 09:59
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (PA)
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (PA)

Nadhim Zahawi has recalled being racially abused and dunked head down in a pond by bullies during his school days.

The Education Secretary referred to his experiences after describing the case of 11-year-old Raheem Bailey as “sickening”.

Shantal Bailey said her son Raheem lost his finger while “fleeing school bullies”, explaining he got it caught while climbing a fence – and it later had to be amputated.

Raheem has been facing “racial and physical abuse” as well as being bullied about his height since he started secondary school at Abertillery Learning Community in South Wales in September, according to his mother.

There’s no place for racism anywhere in our society, let alone in education

Nadhim Zahawi, Education Secretary

Mr Zahawi, whose family fled Iraq for the UK when he was a child, told Sophy Ridge On Sunday on Sky News: “It’s sickening, we always need to do more.

“I suffered bullying when I first arrived on these shores.

“I couldn’t speak English and it was hard, I remember my first experience… being chased around the park as a sort of entertainment for bigger boys and then throwing me in the pond or dunking my head down in the pond, pretty horrific for a child who has just arrived on these shores.”

Asked if there was a racist element to the bullying, Mr Zahawi replied: “I don’t know, it was a long time ago but I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of other racist slurs, words, whatever – I was called a ‘Paki’ at school, I had to explain they mean I’m from Pakistan, I’m not from Pakistan, I’m actually from a place called Iraq and I’m Kurdish of origin, it’s called Kurdistan.

“It’s a horrible thing and I’m determined to stamp it out, as I’m determined to stamp out antisemitism in our schools or in our universities. There’s no place for racism anywhere in our society, let alone in education.”

We are currently working closely with Gwent Police and the local authority to establish the full details of the incident

Abertillery Learning Community

Raheem’s case prompted the Welsh Government to release a statement, saying: “We condemn bullying and racial harassment in any form and expect allegations and incidents of bullying and racism to be fully investigated by schools with appropriate action taken to address the matter and prevent further instances from happening.

“We understand that this incident is being investigated by the school and the local authority, and that Gwent Police are involved and carrying out an investigation.”

A spokeswoman for Abertillery Learning Community told Wales Online: “We are currently working closely with Gwent Police and the local authority to establish the full details of the incident.

“The wellbeing and safety of our pupils and staff remains of paramount importance.”

More than £79,000 has been donated to Raheem via a GoFundMe page which his mother set up to raise money for a prosthetic finger and money to aid his recovery.

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