Rehema talks about how her daughter Inaya was bullied when she moved to an English school Rehema and her daughter, Inaya moved to London from France in 2005 when she was 13 years old. To help her settle in, the school employed a French-speaking volunteer learning assistant. Reassured by the school’s willingness to help her daughter, Rehema thought things were going well until she realised that her daughter was being bullied at school by a group of girls. She said:
“For some reason, a group of girls decided she was not cool to hang around with... To this day, I don’t know why. There might be a lot of reasons for this. Also, I don’t think I paid enough attention to her as I was busy trying to adjust to a new life.
She was trying to get used to her new environment and would be really quiet anyway These girls would say she was pretentious and full of herself. Her shyness was misinterpreted…”
Rehema said it was perhaps a lot of changes for her daughter to deal with: a new language to learn, a new school and having to make new friends. “London may have been very daunting for her as we used to live in a small town where everyone knew everyone”.
“The school thought that she was just not making an effort to settle in. Even the teacher would joke about how she was keeping herself to herself. It got out of hand very quickly. At one point, she was being called a “bounty” (white in the inside, black on the outside).This group of girls initiated a competition about how many jokes they could do with the word bounty in it. No one in her classroom was talking to her really”.
Rehema said that not knowing how school systems work and not being confident enough to talk to the school in English did not help either. When she realised things had gone too far, she contacted the tutor and the head teacher.
“It was a shock to me because even the school would not see what was happening. Or rather, they probably saw what was happening but didn’t take it seriously. Or maybe they had seen it before: a new girl not fitting in. The onus was on my daughter to change and do something. It fits all the stereotypes of the tormented teenager… “
The school attempted to deal with it by making sure girls were punished, by using mediation where someone from outside the school came in to try and help sort things through with the girls and trying to restore Inaya’s self confidence. But the damage was already done and, after this, things got more subtle and hidden.
“Inaya did not even feel she could complain to her tutor because from day one he had been part of this. I think that him joking about my daughter in class had in some ways opened the door to the bullying.”
In the end, Rehema got her daughter home-schooled and then registered into another school. Through this process, Rehema learnt a lot about the education system:
“It took about two years to get her to socially enjoy school again. Now she is fine and has a group of friends in a new school…she is not that new girl anymore. If I’d known what I know now about the school’s ways of working, and that it takes perseverance and stubbornness to get things done, things would have perhaps been different”.