Zero Tolerance does not = zero bullying

I’ve received a very heartfelt comment from an East Lothian parent to my recent reply to a “Parent with standards”

An extract reads: “Firstly, your office may well pass down a zero tolerance policy to the schools but it is not what happens on the ground. Bullying is tolerated in the sense of ineffective warnings issued to the culprits and the problem grinds on for months and years.”

The parent is right that a zero tolerance policy does not mean that bullying does not take place in our schools. In fact bullying will be happening in every one of our schools. However, I’d have to dispute your next assertion:

“Bullies exist for various psychological and sociological reasons related to their home environment.”

In my experience there is little correlation between home environment and being a bully – bullying can happen in our most exclusive private schools just as easily as it can in school situated within an area of deprivation.

 I’m ashamed to admit it but I can look back with sorrow at the way I treated a boy when I was in primary school. He was ‘different’ and we must have made his life hell through physical and verbal abuse. What I remember about it – and this does chime with one of your points – the school didn’t seem to do anything about it – even though it must have been obvious. Another aspect of this experience was that I had no empathy for the boy in question – but if an adult had helped me to understand how the other person felt I think I would have stopped – for us it was fun!

This experience has been a driver for me throughout my career. Bullying must be challenged immediately, forcefully and in a sustained manner – not in an “anti-bullying week” fashion.

Throughout my career in senior management positions I’ve set out to tackle bullying ‘head-on’ and I have to admit that it is one of the most challenging and difficult areas of the job. Nevertheless, there can be no tolerance – that’s why I’m keen that we tackle bullying outside the school gates and outwith the school day if it involves our pupils (I’ve excluded pupils who were proven to physically bully a fellow pupil outside school and outwith the school day).

I suppose that’s where I take different tack from you on the notion of policing. Playground supervision is important and most of our senior managers in schools spend a great deal of time patrolling their schools at break times to ensure good order. But if we only rely upon a policing approach then what happens as soon as I turn my back?  – the answer is obvious – the bullying continues.

I believe there are seven key strands to tackling bullying:

  1. Make it high profile and kep it high profile;
  2. Constantly reinforce the importance of a zero tolerance approach to all – that includes staff, parents and pupils;
  3. This zero tolerance approach means that they must report any bullying incidents immediately;
  4. Educate children about the impact of bullying on others and promote empathy;
  5. Build the anti-bullying culture into the fabric of the school;
  6. The school should challenge bullies immediately and without exception;
  7. Make our approach towards zero tolerance the responsibility of everyone in the school community – noty just teachers.

To return to the problem facing school managers – you sometimes need the wisdom of Solomon to judge who is to blame and whether it was bullying or mutual dislike and blame. Nevertheless, it is possible to make a judgement in most cases and to involve the parents of both parties as soon as possible.  Of course one of the problems facing schools is that few parents can believe that their child might be bullying another child – and there’s the rub – I believe that almost every child has the capacity to be a bully. I think we need to reinforce this point but the the counter to making bullying such a high profile and almost criminal issue that parents of otherwise very well behaved children recoil in protest when their own child might be accused of such an act.

Bullying is a fact of life – just look at the current furore in Celebrity Big Brother – we need to recognise that given the right conditions (or should that read wrong conditions) then bullying can flourish.  The role of schools is to create conditions and cultures where such bullying is not tolerated in any way and that everyone knows the consequences if it does happen.

We are taking our new anti-bullying policy to the Education Committee on Tuesday for approval and I’ll post a link here next week.

It is our goal to translate that policy into consistent practice in all our schools.

Please complain to your school if you feel that bullying has not been properly tackled.

3 thoughts on “Zero Tolerance does not = zero bullying

  1. Thank you for your reply. It is terrific how the internet is breaking down barriers and allows ideas and information to flow much further.

    My comments about bullying being caused by psychological and sociological reasons was really a reference to the health of the family structure. Wealthy families are sadly not immune to these problems which is presumably why there is bullying in private schools too (plus of course it is in our nature, in an environment without order, to pick on those who are weaker and different– an evolutionary survival mechanism). Three generations of loosening standards has indeed led to the type of behaviour demonstrated in Celebrity Big Brother becoming more widespread – a cancer on our society.

    Your question about what happens when you turn your back is precisely my point. Your metaphorical turning of your back is my observation of lack of supervision. I didn’t mean that all the methods and techniques you mention should be abandoned. Until we are all perfect, the safety net of supervision is a must. My experience of my child’s school is that it has significant and frequent periods when there is no safety net. I have put this point to the head teacher and the head teacher has agreed with me.

    I would propound that all examples of school bullying are also examples of when the safety net has been absent – the back was turned. Please don’t turn your back!

  2. Hello Don

    Your seven key strands are excellent. You and all the teachers throughout East Lothian know the theory, are well versed in the realities and know the solutions to behavioural problems. You are all the Mavens, the information brokers, sharing and trading what you know. Somehow all this talent is not team orientated to consistently and practically apply a set of working disciplinary measures across the whole of East Lothian.

    We have all experienced good service and bad service. Basically what it all boils down to is the attention to detail. As customers we respond to the detail, the little things, buying from one service provider and not the other. A motivated team practically applying detailed measures across the whole of East Lothian will find the bigger issues falling into place. It’s all in the detail!

    I look forward to reading about your link on the new anti-bullying policy next week.

    Parent with Standards

  3. Pingback: Don’s Learning Log » Thank you

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