Counteracting scapegoating

⌚︎ 3 min.


Case study

Counteracting scapegoating

Kind of education

High school

Definition of the learner

A sixteen-year-old Roma student: impulsive, isolated

Description of the group

A common class of computer science high school students with a Roma newcomer.

Definition of starting situation

A Roma student was transferred to a very good computer science high school with admission restriction policies based on students’ high achievements. He had a scholarship but his classmates haven't been told about it. The Roma newcomer did not know anybody and the other students did not make any attempt to help him integrate into the new class. At first he seemed quite slow, not justifying the grant he had been awarded. He was rather impulsive with a tendency to speak up his mind promptly, which caused his colleagues to dislike him. He often had intellectual ‘debates’ with his maths teacher discussing solutions to problems and exercises.

One winter evening while going home from school the maths teacher was attacked by an unidentified young man wearing a hood. The next day everybody thought it was the new Roma student who did it although there was no evidence against him and he vigorously denied it. From that moment on whenever something wrong happened everybody looked at him. The student became more and more isolated and withdrawn. Most of the teachers were even thinking about moving him to another school.

It was the form teacher who strongly objected to the student’s transfer. He spoke about the possible risks with his colleagues: the principals, other teachers and the school counsellor and managed to persuade them to develop an action plan which engaged the entire school.

In this long process the help of the school counsellor was also useful. L.M., the school counsellor with a lot of training and experience, knew how to put the student at ease to open up and discuss his feelings about the experience; they found ways to help him connect with his classmates.

Description of the course

School curriculum focusing on computer science and maths.

Description of teaching team

Well-meaning and open-minded principal, teachers and school counsellor.

Possible actions and impacts

Engage students in school/local/national contests, projects and programmes evaluating and recognising students’ work; make their achievements public: organize special events where students present their achievements to the entire school  and community. Contact and invite officials.

The Roma student’s achievements in maths have been publicly recognised (he came second in a regional maths contest). Increase self-esteem, respect, self-confidence. The students’ attitude towards him changed. Develop a sense of belonging to a group. Discover each others’ strengths.

Getting-to-know activities (small groups) intended to help teachers/students know each other. Common actions with the school counsellor: activities helping students to discover themselves, to identify strong points, interests, hobbies and preferences and help them evaluate them in common class or school projects.

Getting to know each other. Stimulate comprehension, communication. A sense of belonging to a group. Increase self-esteem, respect and self-confidence.

Organize activities aimed at increasing tolerance

  • Students examine the similarities and differences that exist between people, they develop a working definition of diversity, people having beliefs and values which are different from one another.
  • They examine how people develop stereotypes and consider how stereotypes can lead to prejudice. They explore the concept of prejudice, its consequences and consider the unfairness of judging people on the basis of characteristics over which they have no control. Difference between what we don't choose (colour of the skin, place of birth, disability...) and what we can choose (beliefs, religion, political orientation).
  • Students examine the escalating nature of hate and consider the difficulty of stopping it once it begins.

Promote friendship

  • Students become more resilient and tolerant individuals. If they are not exposed to such cultural experiences that school can offer, they will have a limited horizon.
  • Develop young people into critical thinkers who are able to appreciate a range of different perspectives until they form their own opinions.
  • Help young people become skilled at working collaboratively with others.
  • Develop and improve conflict-management techniques.
  • Build skills for positive interaction and collaboration.

Organize activities aiming at increasing empathy.

  • Help young people become skilled at working collaboratively with others.
  • Build skills for positive interaction and collaboration.
  • Support young people to be resilient to life’s pressures and able to foster a positive sense of self.
  • Develop positive thinking.
  • Enable students to identify and appreciate the positive aspects of their multi-faceted identities.
  • Develop self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • Engage students in extracurricular activities supporting them to undertake new activities as individuals and as a group. Encourage constructive engagement.
  • Promote school and local initiatives as incentive for new ones (especially those where students’ contribution can make a difference).
  • Promote success programme (e.g. The Duke of Edinburgh's Award).
  • Organise international school exchanges, which usually develop along several strands: cultural, language, voluntary work, etc.
  • Develop a sense of self-worth and future aspirations by succeeding in new tasks, situations which brings about the others’ appreciation.
  • Support individuals to be able to cope with a range of different life pressures and challenges.
  • Use a range of flexible learning methods to help create an environment which encourages personal discovery, boosts self-esteem and confidence, risk taking and active listening.
  • Encourage open and inclusive class discussions in a learning environment that respects opinions, challenges conventions.
  • Support students to explore, understand, and celebrate their personal identity.
  • Develop communication skills.
  • Develop active listening skills.

Use the school counsellor’s help.

  • Put the student at ease and help him to open up and feel understood.
  • Explore and process his feelings in a constructive positive way.
  • Explore ways that he might connect with others in his community.
Advice, remarks, conclusions


Students can change if they are listened to, shown trust and given alternatives. Ignorance, indifference, lack of communication and lack of empathy among students can pose everybody at risk. It takes time and effort to change conduct and mentalities but it may be a good solution in the long run.


Engage everybody in finding a solution.

Rely your work with students on the collaboration between school, students, parents, community. Collaboration with the school counsellor is important.

Demands on the school: flexibility, open mindedness; good knowledge of students’ potentials of and openness to evaluate them (permanent search for new ideas). Create a solid school community based on democratic principles.