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Nadhim Zahawi said he was ‘racially abused and dunked in a pond’ during his school days – and condemned the ‘sickening’ case of a schoolboy who lost his finger trying to flee cruel bullies.
The Education Secretary recalled his own experience with school bullies when he first came to the UK and attended Holland Park School in west London.
Mr Zahawi, 54, fled Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s regime with his family when he was a child and arrived in Britain as a nine-year-old boy unable to speak English.
Opening up about the incident, he said: ‘I suffered bullying when I first arrived on these shores. I couldn’t speak English and it was hard.
‘I remember my first experience, my first school was Holland Park School, being chased around the park as a sort of entertainment for bigger boys and then throwing me in the pond, dunking my head down in the pond. Pretty horrific for a child who has just arrived on these shores.’
Mr Zahawi was also left ‘sickened’ by the case of Raheem Bailey, 11, who needed urgent surgery after he got his finger caught in a fence while running away from bullies at his school in Gwent, South Wales on May 17.
His mother Shantal Bailey claimed her son experienced ‘racial and physical abuse’ at his secondary school, Abertillery Learning Community, after starting in September last year.
Ms Bailey is now fundraising to buy the schoolboy a prosthetic finger to help him ‘on the road to recovery’ and the donations have topped over £81,000 in donations.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Mr Zahawi said: ‘It’s sickening, we always need to do more.’
Nadhim Zahawi found the incident of an 11-year-old schoolboy who lost his finger after trying to escape racist bullies ‘sickening’ and recalled his own ordeal when he attended Holland Park School
Raheem Bailey needed urgent surgery after he got his finger caught in a fence while running away from bullies at his school in Gwent, South Wales on May 17
11-year-old youngster had to have his finger amputated while he ran away from alleged bullies at his school
Opening up about his own ordeal, Mr Zahawi said he did not know if there was a racist element to the bullying he suffered.
‘It was a long time ago, but I’ve certainly been at the receiving end of other racist slurs, words,’ he added.
‘I was called a p**i at school and I had to explain if they mean I’m from Pakistan, I’m not from Pakistan. I’m actually from a place called Iraq, and I’m of Kurdish origin. It’s called Kurdistan.
‘It’s a horrible thing and I am determined to stamp it out, as I am determined to stamp anti-Semitism in our schools or in our universities. There’s no place for racism anywhere in our society, let alone in education.’
On Tuesday morning, Ms Bailey got a call from her son ‘screaming in pain’
The mother-of-four said she complained to the school the day before the incident – but her son was threatened with detention despite being the ‘one getting picked on.’
She claimed the school told her the bullying would be managed by the morning.
The boy’s mother Shantal Bailey says her son experienced ‘racial and physical abuse’ at his secondary school, Abertillery Learning Community, since starting in September last year
After waiting hours for medical help it became apparent that Raheem would lose his finger
The schoolboy was pushed to the ground and then repeatedly kicked by a group of children
‘I did not realise the extent of what he was going through until an incident this week.
‘On Tuesday morning break time, Raheem was attacked and beaten by a group of children whilst in school.
‘He was pushed to the ground and then repeatedly kicked. He made a desperate attempt to leave the school grounds in order to escape the situation but caught his finger.
‘I received a phone call from Raheem and then the school informing me of the incident.
‘The school told me that the ambulance wouldn’t arrive for two hours, but advised me not to drive Raheem to A&E myself.
‘Raheem, his baby brother and I were taken to a minor injuries unit by the school bus, despite them knowing that his injury was severe.
‘We spent the next five hours waiting for an ambulance to transfer us to the location where he would undergo surgery, in Swansea, 50 miles away from his home and school.
His mother is now raising money to get Raheem a prosthetic finger to help him ‘on the road to recovery’
The 11-year-old had complained about the ‘racial and physical abuse’ at his new school which houses 1,600 pupils
‘As time rolled on, it became more apparent that the possibility my son was going to lose his finger was a real one. The doctors then confirmed this was likely. I had to explain this to him while he sat there in agony.’
Ms Bailey is now assisting her son’s recovery after he spent six hours in surgery where doctor’s battled to save his finger.
She added: ‘From the day of the incident until now Abertillery learning community have not reached out to me to check on his wellbeing. My son has got to live with this for the rest of his life.’
A spokesperson for Abertillery Learning Community said: ‘We are currently working closely with Gwent Police and the local authority to establish the full details of the incident.
‘The well-being and safety of our pupils and staff remains of paramount importance. We will not be commenting further at this time.’
A Gwent Police spokesman added: ‘We received a report of an incident at a school in Abertillery around 1pm on Wednesday, where an 11-year-old boy was injured. A multi-agency meeting has taken place and we’re working with the school as part of our ongoing enquires.’
Raheem’s case prompted the Welsh Government to release a statement, saying: ‘We condemn bullying and racial harassment in any form and expect allegations and incidents of bullying and racism to be fully investigated by schools with appropriate action taken to address the matter and prevent further instances from happening.
‘We understand that this incident is being investigated by the school and the local authority, and that Gwent Police are involved and carrying out an investigation.’