This year’s theme for Anti-Bullying Week is “We’re better without bullying”.
To some, this may seem obvious. You may be thinking: “We’ve had this message for years now. We’ve put up the posters, we’ve held the assemblies. In fact, we’ve done all we can.”
Unfortunately, bullying has not gone away. Each new year brings new characters and new challenges. The dominance of online social networking in the lives of young people means that each new day brings the turbulence of last night’s Blackberry Messenger or Facebook chatter. And strains of family life in this time of recession take their toll on the behaviour of our children and young people as they struggle to make sense of who they are, where they belong, and what the future holds. We can only become “better without bullying” if we take action every day in our schools and communities.
This year we want everyone to be aware that bullying leads to children missing school, failing exams, dropping out of sport and other activities and limiting their life choices. Research suggests that around 16,000 young people aged 11 to 15 are absent from school at any one time because of bullying.
Bullying also takes its toll on the mental health of children and young people, leading to high instances of depression for victims of bullying. We also know that children who bully others are at a high risk of offending behaviour as adults. For a better society in the future, we need to take action today.
Haven’t schools got enough to do?
We know that schools are under increasing pressure to perform and that it can be difficult to find time to deal with the day-to-day conflicts between children and young people. But let’s be clear, tackling bullying makes sense on every level. It leads to better attendance, improved concentration and ultimately a more positive working environment for students and teachers.
Although the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) would like to see the current government taking stronger action against bullying, it has produced advice for schools on tackling bullying.
Schools also have a legal duty to tackle all forms of bullying and keep their pupils safe. This extends beyond the classroom, with headteachers holding the power to respond to bullying outside of school and to search for, and confiscate, items that may have been used to bully or intimidate.
The revised Ofsted framework also includes a strong focus on bullying, with inspectors looking at schools’ actions to tackle all forms of bullying and harassment, including cyber-bullying and prejudice-based bullying relating to SEN, sexual orientation, sex, race, religion and belief, gender reassignment or disability.
Schools should not see tackling bullying as “another thing to do”, but integrate anti-bullying policies and practice into everyday life in the classroom.
What does effective action look like?
A recent report by Ofsted describes how, in dealing with bullying, the “best schools” are those which have a positive culture and ethos – with expectations and rules of engagement spelt out for pupils.
These schools respect individual differences, give time to developing empathy and take responsibility for preventing bullying. They use the curriculum to embed messages about bullying and behaviour and they record bullying incidents; not just as a “tick-box” exercise, but to analyse trends and take appropriate action.
The report shows that pupils in these schools are confident if action is taken, bullying will stop. At ABA, we believe that children and young people who experience bullying need to know that they can speak out, that they will be heard, and that they will be taken seriously.
It is also vital that anti-bullying work is led by the recommendations of children and young people. Research by the Council for Disabled Children into the perspectives of young people with disabilities and/or SEN, found that they want to be “partners in change” when it comes to bullying, rather than being recipients of policies imposed by others.
This requires schools to listen to children and young people and to act on their recommendations. ABA describes these methods as a whole-school approach to tackling bullying. For more details on this and for supporting tools for implementing anti-bullying work in your school, visit the ABA website.
Anti-Bullying Week is an opportunity to re-engage with anti-bullying work and approach the subject with revived energy and commitment.
You have a new intake of students who will be keen to know that you take bullying seriously – and it is your chance to remind all students of where you stand. Here are some suggestions, to help get you started:
Run activities to raise awareness of bullying and ways we can stop it.
Find out whether children and young people in your school are affected by bullying. A good way to do this is to use anonymous surveys or to talk to students one-to-one or in small groups.
Work with children and young people in your school to create clear charters for the prevention of, and effective response to, bullying in all areas of school life, including sports and extra-curricular activities.
Identify students who may be vulnerable to bullying, or who may have been bullied in the past. Involve them in activities that raise their confidence and esteem. Research organisations which offer particular support to children who have been bullied – for example Kidscape and CyberMentors.
Encourage children and young people to use their unique skills and talents to raise awareness of bullying.
According to the Tellus 4 survey, 25 per cent of all children worry about bullying.
A study into users of a child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) in London, found that 61.5 per cent of participants reported being bullied, with 62.5 per cent of bullied participants reporting that being bullied was an important reason for their attendance at the CAMHS.
Research by BeatBullying has found that 22 per cent of children who are persistently bullied said bullying made them give up on their interests.
Recent research into bullying in sport, by Chance to Shine, has found that 42 per cent of parents say their children lost confidence after being bullied on the school playing field, with one in 10 parents reporting their child had given up sport as a result of bullying.
Government research from 2010 showed that young people who had been bullied had significantly lower key stage 4 results than those who hadn’t been bullied – the equivalent of two GCSE grades.
Research commissioned by the Red Balloon Learner Centre Group suggests that around 16,000 young people aged 11 to 15 are absent from school at any one time due to bullying.
What do we mean by bullying?
The Anti-Bullying Alliance defines bullying as the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. Bullying can be physical, verbal or psychological. It can happen face-to-face or through cyberspace.
Further informationFor more information, ideas and resources visit www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk. You can also find ABA on Facebook at www.facebook.com/antibullyingalliance and Twitter @ABAonline. The ABA also hosts a School and College Network. Member schools receive regular updates, a guide to preparing for inspection, Anti-Bullying Week materials and discounts.
Lauren Seager-Smith is from the Anti-Bullying Alliance, which is hosted by the National Children’s Bureau.