Schools across England are struggling with the emotional turmoil set off by the terrorist attacks on Israel last month and the impact on students, parents and teachers.
Specialist organisations such as the Community Security Trust and Tell Mama say they are seeing a big increase in reports of antisemitism and Islamophobia involving schools and pupils since the 7 October attacks and Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
In one case, police were called to Woodford County high school for girls, a grammar school in the London borough of Redbridge, after Islamophobic graffiti was found in a toilet on Friday. According to images posted on social media, the graffiti said: “Death to Gaza, death to Arabs, death to Muslims.”
Zara Mohammed, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “The ongoing war on Gaza, Palestine, is gravely impacting communities here in Britain. Divisive political rhetoric is fuelling Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism and resulting in the targeting of British Muslims and the undermining of the Palestinian cause.
“It’s worrying to think a young person is filled with such hate. Schools and colleges should be inclusive, safe places for all our young people.”
Jo Pomeroy, Woodford County high’s headteacher, told parents that a formal investigation had been launched and that police would be present outside the school this week.
She said assemblies had been held “condemning the anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and Islamophobic acts of hate speech, acknowledging the shock, hurt and anger for everyone but most particularly for Muslim members of our school community, both students, families and staff”.
A spokesperson for Redbridge council said: “We have spoken to the school where the graffiti was discovered and share their shock and distress at its Islamophobic and racist content.””
Pupils at Channing school, a private girls’ school in north London, reported antisemitic graffiti in their toilets, including a swastika and the words “Kill Jews”.
Lindsey Hughes, Channing’s headteacher, told parents: “I have no doubt that you share my outrage and unhappiness at this situation, and rest assured that every adult in the school community will be working to ensure that this cannot happen again.”
Channing said it had reported the incident to the police and turned for support to the Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that aims to protect Jewish people in Britain from antisemitism. CST said it had received 74 reports of antisemitism involving schools in the month since 7 October, compared with 67 in the first six months of this year.
Jonny Newton, CST’s director of external relations, said: “What we tended to see is Jewish kids on their way to and from school who were being identified as being Jewish and targeted outside of the school gates.
“But what we’ve been seeing in the last month is that the proportion has shifted, and now the majority of incidents being reported to us have occurred to Jewish children who attend mainstream schools, within the school grounds.”
Examples collected by CST include the case of a Jewish boy in year 3 being asked by a classmate: “Who do you support, Israel or Palestine?” When he answered Israel, the classmate replied: “I support Palestine, I want to kill all the Jews.”
Tell Mama, which performs a similar role for the Muslim community in Britain, said it had seen an increase in anti-Muslim cases reported by students and parents, and that in some instances school staff were being targeted by students.
Since 7 October it has recorded 27 cases, including of anti-Muslim discrimination, vandalism, graffiti and abusive behaviour towards students, such as calling them bombers or Hamas terrorists.
A spokesperson for Tell Mama said: “Students and staff are feeling particularly anxious and unsafe at the moment and questioning whether they should wear Islamic clothing on campus, show solidarity for Palestine, or even discuss publicly what is happening in Israel and Palestine, for fear of being targeted.”
The CST supports an interfaith project called Stand Up! run by a Jewish wellbeing charity Maccabi GB, which organises Muslim and Jewish educators for schools to provide anti-discrimination lessons.
Nathan Servi, the head of operations at Maccabi GB, said Stand Up! had been inundated with calls since 7 October, including from schools that had had antisemitic incidents.
“The most difficult component of our work in some schools at the moment is young people asking us why they can’t demonstrate for Palestine in their school, if the school has deemed it inappropriate or banned it,” Servi said.
“They ask: we put up flags of Ukraine last year, why can’t we put up flags of Palestine? And the answer to that is extremely complex. We try and explain that there is a complexity to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – which we don’t go into, as our focus is on antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate – but that complexity has a direct impact on the Jewish and Muslim community in Britain.
“And that impact is not a positive impact – it’s one of fear, terror and many incidents, violent incidents. So what schools are trying to do is protect their school communities from highly divisive and highly charged conversations.”