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EXCLUSIVE: Crieff High pupil’s ‘extremely powerful’ testimony draws pledge from government minister

Shirley-Anne Somerville has urged schools to listen to pupil concerns in light of Crieff High School pupil Anna De Garis' open letter. Graphic by Clarke Cooper/DCT Media.
Shirley-Anne Somerville has urged schools to listen to pupil concerns in light of Crieff High School pupil Anna De Garis' open letter. Graphic by Clarke Cooper/DCT Media.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has urged schools to listen to pupils after an open letter to Crieff High School raised concerns about racism, homophobia and sexist bullying.

The letter, written by S5 pupil Anna De Garis, found that more than half of the pupils surveyed had experienced sexism, while a third had been sexually harassed.

Some of the claims made in Anna’s letter include groups of male students sexually assaulting and harassing female students, teachers making sexist jokes, while LGBTQ+ pupils were allegedly threatened and abused.

Ms Somerville spoke exclusively with The Courier to address bullying in schools.

And she commended the bravery of pupils who have come forward with incidences of bullying in local schools.

Crieff High pupil Anna De Garis, 16.

That includes Anna’s letter to the Perthshire school, where she alleges racism, homophobia, transphobia and sexism were “rife”.

Ms Somerville said the letter penned by the 16-year-old, and the testimonies within her research, were “extremely powerful”.

And she has urged schools and local authorities to consider what more they can be doing to ensure this type of behaviour is not tolerated.

It comes after Anna said she left the school in tears after a failed attempt at resolution with her head teacher.

Pupils, Ms Somerville said, will tell us whether they think more can be done to help them address bullying – and leaders must be ready to listen.

She said: “I’ve been reading the personal stories from young people, particularly some of the young women that have come forward.

“I think as we go forward as a government – and it’s the same for local authorities – we need to listen to our young people.

“We need to ensure that if they are saying there is more that we could be doing then we need to all be open enough to listen to that and respond to that.

“Certainly that is the way I am intending to move forward, particularly after the really brave testimonies that some of the young people have brought forward.”

Crieff High School.

A quarter of Crieff High School pupils who responded to Anna’s survey said they had experienced racism while at school and 44.2% had suffered homophobic abuse.

Her research, however, found that just 8.3% of pupils felt their school had followed through with a complaint that had been made.

Perth and Kinross Council have since launched an investigation into the claims made in the letter.

Ms Somerville added the government would work with schools to tackle issues such as misogyny, racism and homophobic bullying.

She said: “I’m really struck by the stories and I’m very keen to challenge ourselves in government to see what more we can do, particularly around some of the aspects of misogyny and the acceptance of how some of these behaviours has been normalised amongst our young people.

“It simply cannot be. If it becomes normalised within our schools then unfortunately it becomes normalised in society and that is an exceptionally dangerous place to be.”

Crieff High: Council U-turn over probe at under-fire school

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