Creating an anti-bullying culture

Written by: Rebecca Oram | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

As Anti-Bullying Week approaches, what can schools do to prevent bullying among their pupils? Rebecca Oram looks at some practices to take on board

In 2016/17, there were more than 24,000 Childline counselling sessions with children about bullying.

Children are affected by many different types of bullying. As well as the forms of bullying that happen in person, there are now various channels offering the potential for cyber-bullying too. This combination of methods can make bullying more hidden, pervasive and difficult to deal, because it can occur at anytime, both inside and outside the school gates.

While bullying is not a new phenomenon in schools, it is still a persistent challenge – so how can you be sure you are doing all you can to prevent and tackle it? Here are four points to think about.

Raise pupil awareness

In addition to briefing your staff on the school’s anti-bullying policy, pupils should also have a clear understanding of what constitutes bullying and what to do if it is happening to them or someone they know.

Some schools have created a pupil-friendly anti-bullying policy to address this, while Stonewall, an independent charity supporting LGBT rights, has produced an example policy template (see further information).

Stonewall suggests including a section on your school’s ethos and values, alongside explanations of what bullying looks like, what kinds of bullying happen and what pupils can do if they are being bullied or know someone else is being bullied. You could publish the policy in pupils’ planners, on noticeboards around the school and talk it through in a whole-school assembly.

Encouraging positive behaviour and setting expectations from the start means that everyone is on the same page and knows exactly what is acceptable.

Some schools have created a language charter for all pupils to sign, which ensures pupils are aware of the school’s expectations regarding their use of language.

For example, one school has written a language code for pupils. The code sets out that the use of the term “gay” as a put-down is hurtful and never acceptable. This ensures that there is no uncertainty from pupils about what may be offensive and upsetting language.

Celebrate difference and diversity

Trying to promote inclusion and build in values of acceptance among pupils through the culture of the school can help to prevent bullying. The Sex Education Forum, an organisation which promotes high-quality relationships and sex education recommends using PSHE and tutor time to discuss topics such as diversity and difference, prejudice and discrimination, and equality and rights. Talking about these topics openly can help to develop understanding of one another and why these differences should be celebrated.

Taking part in awareness weeks such as Anti-Bullying Week may help engage pupils in discussing the subject more openly too. This year the Anti-Bullying Alliance is focusing on the theme “All Different, All Equal” and has created a secondary school pack which includes an assembly and lesson plan. The assembly plan involves teachers sharing something different about themselves with pupils, to emphasise that everyone’s unique and these differences should be celebrated.

Easy methods of reporting

Pupils should be supported to speak out about all forms of bullying in school and it should be made as easy as possible for them to report their concerns.

Providing different avenues of communication, with options offering anonymity too, could encourage pupils to step forward and talk about their worries. For example, as well as speaking to a teacher, some schools have adult counsellors and drop-in facilities to talk with home-school workers and mentors.

Another school has trained pupils in each year group to be peer mentors or “buddies” so that pupils can turn to individuals who are their own age for advice with problems. Others have shared a confidential phone line and number to text so pupils can contact staff at school that way. Having easily accessible methods of reporting will instil confidence in pupils that their concerns will be treated seriously and that they will be listened to.

Pupil voice and engagement

Pupil engagement is key to creating an open and honest anti-bullying culture in your school. You could start by giving pupils a chance to contribute to the development of the anti-bullying policy, so they feel involved and therefore more responsible for upholding it. Some schools ensure that the school council contributes ideas for the prevention of bullying too.

In one school, pupils are taught about e-safety and some are trained as dedicated “digital leads”. These e-safety leads share knowledge with fellow pupils about how to stay safe online, for example how to block someone on social media. They also hold workshops for parents too.

Pupil voice is so important in finding out the scale of bullying in your school. The Anti-Bullying Alliance recommends surveying pupils to gauge the levels of bullying and find out what areas may still need to be focused on. They suggest not using the term “bullying” at all and instead referring to different behaviours.

You could ask about specific types of bullying behaviour and if there are any particular groups who are more likely to be bullied, for example. The results could help to identify any potential issues and gain insights from pupils as to how to address them.

  • Rebecca Oram works at The Key, which provides impartial leadership and management support to schools in England.

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