Inverurie Academy has been accused of having a “culture of bullying”, as the parents of another victim said they feared for their child’s safety at the school.
The Chuter family, from Oyne, have now involved the police after losing confidence in the school’s ability to keep their 17-year-old daughter Keira safe.
The S6 pupil started at Inverurie Academy in June this year. Keira, who is transgender, was almost immediately subjected to a cruel campaign of transphobic abuse which continues to this day.
Mum Caroline and dad Lee have had four meetings with Inverurie Academy this year, including head teacher Neil Hendry and head of S5/6 David Anderson.
Keira, who transitioned in 2014, said she had started receiving verbal, transphobic abuse from several pupils on her third day at Inverurie Academy.
Slurs such as “tranny” and “femboy” are hurled at her several times a week, both in the classroom and the school corridors.
She also says she has been subjected to sexual harassment at the school.
Inverurie Academy bullying leaving Keira’s mental health – and university hopes – in the balance
Although she has suffered abuse from a number of boys, one in particular has tormented her since she started at the school.
Mum Caroline says there have been four serious incidents since June, including one where Keira nearly fell down the stairs.
Keira has been taking several days off school after each incident because of the strain on her mental health.
Her hopes of studying architecture at university lie in the balance, given the number of days she has to stay at home to escape the anxiety and intimidation.
“After it happens I just feel really anxious,” said Keira.
“When I’m walking around the rest of the day I’m constantly thinking, oh someone’s going to say something.
“And even though it’s not physical, you still feel like it could be.”
She says she is constantly on edge at school, expecting comments or abuse – whether verbal or physical – at any moment.
Keira’s dad: ‘We’re tired of going round in circles with school management’
Dad Lee, tired of “going round in circles” with the school’s senior management, pulled no punches.
“Inverurie Academy seems to hide behind the fact that it’s a big school,” said Lee.
“All you ever hear is ‘we’ve got 1,300 pupils, it’s difficult.’
“We’ve had so many meetings but just get the same lame excuses thrown back at us every time. ‘There’s nothing we can do about it’. You might as well talk to a wall.
“They constantly hide behind ‘if we can’t prove it then there’s nothing we can do about it.’
“As long as they’ve dotted their ‘i’s and crossed their ‘t’s, they don’t seem to care about student welfare.
“They’re more bothered about covering themselves than actually sorting the situation out.
“The head teacher is more concerned whether people are wearing the correct uniform and have a tie on than whether they’re displaying the correct behaviour.
“We’ve provided them with so much information and educational material from support groups that we’re part of. It’s not our job to provide the school with ways of looking after their children. It’s the school’s job to keep their children safe and educate them.
“Every single child who goes to that school should go there knowing they’ve got protection. Not worrying for their own safety.”
Mum argues Inverurie Academy is ‘segregating’ Keira from rest of the school, rather than tackling the problem
When mum Caroline demanded to know what the school was going to do to protect Keira, she said she was told the school is “going above and beyond” to help her.
Caroline said: “All this meant was they made sure Keira can leave class five minutes early to get to the bus stop without getting shouted at on the stairs.”
Aberdeenshire Council said they had offered Keira and her friends a space in school to use if desired.
However, Caroline argues this means her daughter was effectively being isolated.
“They offered Keira a ‘safe room’. That’s like something you’d get in a prison.
“She’s being segregated from the rest of the school, rather than them actually tackling the problem.”
Keira said that teachers at Inverurie know that the bullying is going on.
She added: “I told my head of year that the school had a culture of bullying. He just said: ‘that’s a bit of an exaggeration.’”
Not knowing where to turn, Caroline and Lee contacted the police, with an officer visiting the family at home last week.
Lee said the policeman was “really nice, really good, really put our minds at rest and assured us that the police don’t like this kind of thing.”
The family has also been in contact with Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett, who has agreed to a meeting with them to discuss the matter.
Mr Burnett’s office confirmed to The P&J that he would be meeting with the Chuters.
‘We want the school to admit they’ve got a bullying problem’
Lee said: “I’ve often said to Caroline that if we could afford to educate our children at home and put them through their exams privately, I’d happily do it. At least then we’d know they’re safe. But it shouldn’t have to be like that.
“When I was at school we were told it was the best days of our life. I feel sorry for any kid that goes to school now, because it’s certainly not the best days of their lives anymore.”
I asked Keira whether she had ever felt safe at school. “No, not properly. Not since primary school.”
Lee said the family has been left frustrated at what they perceive as a lack of action by Inverurie Academy. Particularly given reports of other pupils being routinely targeted at the school.
“Scotland has such stringent hate crime laws,” he said, “but they don’t seem to operate within a school building.
“What we really want from the school is for them to admit there’s a problem.
“It would be refreshing if they just held their hands up. Even if they just admitted that they aren’t doing enough, they’d get a little bit of respect from us.
“We’re told the school can’t exclude the boy who’s tormenting Keira, because ‘he has a right to an education.’
“What about Keira?
“I just sit there and I think, she doesn’t deserve this. It’s hard, it is hard.”
Aberdeenshire Council responds
An Aberdeenshire Council spokesman said: “The school worked very closely with the family and partner agencies following an incident with a fellow pupil, who ultimately offered to make an apology.
“The school has not been made aware of any further issues with that pupil but would want to hear of any ongoing concerns.
“While it has been challenging to identify individuals who may have used offensive language, we would welcome further discussion with the family in the hope of finding a resolution.”
Inverurie Academy pointed out that it has a range of support available to pupils, including:
- A pupil wellbeing worker
- A pupil support worker
- A school counsellor
- A SAMH ‘Time for Me’ practitioner
- Lets Introduce Anxiety Management (LIAM) staff
The spokesman added that all staff have been asked to complete LGBT awareness training. This mirrors similar efforts at Aberdeen City schools.