Bullying in schools: part one
Knowing how best to deal with incidents of bullying in schools can prove one of the most challenging aspects of teaching, both for individual teachers and for schools as a whole.
It is essential that teachers do all they can to support their pupils, including preventing bullying in schools from occurring in the first place. Bullying is a very serious matter; a report published earlier this month reveals that the experience of having been bullied can have serious long term physical and mental health effects long into middle age. 1
What is bullying?
What differentiates bullying from banter is the intention of the bully to hurt or undermine the ‘victim’. Bullying can take place both within school premises and outside the gates and can include teasing, name calling, threats and violence – sometimes lasting years. The abuse can be verbal, physical or written and increasingly involves the use of instant messaging or ‘social networks’ via the internet (cyber-bullying).
Why does it happen?
Bullying can occur for many reasons, but it is often caused by an intolerance of difference (prejudice) including Special Needs, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, family circumstances (including poverty, living in care etc). The more that schools can be encouraged to embrace difference, as opposed to mock or fear it, the better.
What the law says about bullying at schools
Schools must adhere to anti-discrimination law which incorporates race, religion, sexuality and gender. British law also requires that all state schools include clear anti-bullying guidelines within their behaviour policy. The police should be informed if the bullying includes any of the following: violence or assault; theft; threats and abusive phone calls, emails, text messages or social media messaging.
Schools need to be clear on their own anti-bullying strategy and make it known to all teachers, pupils and parents. Staff training in anti-bullying strategy is particularly effective as is familiarizing all pupils with the risks, dangers and damage that bullying can cause. Encouraging pupils to report bullying when they witness or experience it is also key. Bullying between pupils outside of the school gates needs to be taken into consideration too. Teachers can also lead by example, avoiding the use of blaming, shaming, threatening or humiliating tactics during their own communication with their students.
Dealing with bullying
Incidents of bullying should always be followed by disciplinary action and all parties involved need to be separately interviewed by a member of staff, who is advised to make notes. Having established the ‘victims’ version of events the teacher can then work on empowering the student. The teacher will then ask the ‘bully’ separately why he or she felt motivated to treat another pupil in this way and whether other pupils were involved. Encouraging the bully to empathize with the feelings of their victim can help, but the bully may still need to be transferred to another set or class. In extreme cases suspension or expulsion may be necessary.
It is important that all parents understand the school’s anti-bullying policy and that the bullying is taken seriously and will lead to disciplinary action. Parents of both bullied and bullying children need to meet with the school and be kept informed of the school’s intentions. Teachers should be aware that parents of children involved in bullying may become distressed or in some cases abusive. Encouraging these parents to put their concerns in writing and involving the head teacher may help.
It is clear that tackling bullying requires joined-up thinking from all those involved in the school’s culture. The evidence shows that schools with the lowest rates of bullying are those who manage to foster a spirit of mutual respect, openness and a positive approach to learning. The happier the school, the happier the pupils and staff.
For more information go to the The Department for Education
Anti-bullying related organisations and helplines:
The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA)
The Diana Award
The BIG Award
Restorative Justice Council
Think U Know
Advice on Child Internet Safety 1.0
Useful articles on bullying:
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