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.

Peter Hill

Friday 11th November

8.30-9.45am Education Officers’ Meeting – school based issues were shared and discussed. This meeting is proving very useful in helping us all to keep abreast of what’s happening in our schools. We discussed the issue of long term exclusions from schools and how we can all work together to support the child but enable the school to function. The real challenge is change the mind set as a mentioned yesterday from one of handing on the “problem” to one of continuing to “own” the child. I’m looking forwards to the 25th January when we will try to tackle this issue.

10.00am Department Briefing Meeting – birth notices; relevant school information –i.e. Headteacher absence; Christmas night out to an “establishment” – I’ve just had a thought! Could we organise an Education Christmas social event which would be open to everyone involved in education in East Lothian? – not in time for this year but would such an event bring people together?

11.00-12.30 Out to RossHigh School to meet Willie Carroll, who is acting Headteacher in Helen Alexander’s absence. Helen is likely to be absent for the next couple of months. I did a quick tour of the school with Willie during his interval duty. The pupils were very well behaved. We talked about a number of matters not least of which was the need for the authority to complete a follow up report on the very successful
school inspection undertaken in February 2004. I’ve arranged to visit the school again and interview three groups of staff – Curriculum leaders; principal teachers; and teachers. I’m also due out to the school to undertake the first evaluation visits which will consider the school’s examination results and the school’s standards and quality report. Hopefully these visits will enable me to complete the report which is due for submission by the 13th January. Such was the success of the inspection that the HMIe may sign off the process with our report and not make a return visit.

While I was touring the school I bumped into a former colleague – Peter Hill – a living legend from Dunfermline College of Physical Education, then Scottish Centre for Physical Education and Leisure Studies and now of Edinburgh University, Moray House Institute of Education,
Department of Physical Education. Peter has a had an incredible impact upon countless physical education teachers and was one of the first people to introduce me to the notion of teachers as reflective professionals when I worked with him during my three year secondment to Moray House from 1987-1990. Peter was also one of the first people in Scotland to promote the concept of teaching styles – see
Muska Mosston. When you consider the current emphasis on teaching approaches and preferred learning styles it is interesting to reflect just how far ahead of the game Peter actually was in the late 70s and 80's. Anyway, Peter was in the school supervising a student, Laura Wood,, who just happened to be one of my former pupils at DunbarGrammar School. Rarely, for me, I had some time to spare before my next meeting at 2.00pm. Again, even more rarely for me I took Peter out to lunch (and paid!). We had a grand chat about physical education, the old days and our respective families. Douglas, our eldest, is thinking about becoming a PE teacher – must run in the genes – although he is much brighter than his Dad – as his Highers prove. Nevertheless, Pete had invited us both up to Edinburgh for a tour round the University. Hopefully e can do this before the Christmas break.

Back to the office for a meeting with Caroline Harris of ABEL – Anti Bullying East Lothian. ABEL do tremendous work in East Lothian supporting schools and families who are encountering bullying problems.

3.00-5.00pm Tried to complete all my backlog of work and e mails as I’m out of the office on Monday and Tuesday at Stirling University Management Centre for a seminar on ICT in Education for Directors of Education – Alan Blackie couldn’t make it.

Just read Angus McCrury’s weblog – powerful stuff! Teachers have such power to ruin lives or transform them. I was bottom of the class three years in a row at primary school 36th out of 36. I remember the teacher calling me thick and worse still me believing it. Then in P6 we got Mrs. Simpson – I was transformed by someone believing that I could do things – thanks Mrs. Simpson- wherever you are.

Prestonpans Primary

Met with David Scott and Donald McGillivary fro the Association of Headteachers Scotland (AHTS) from 8.30 – 10.00am. Very enjoyable meeting and characterised what I hope will be my relationship with unions. We solved a lot of problems and they made some very useful suggestions. One of the key suggestions was that we develop a set of guidelines which would help teachers and headteachers to manage students who have behaviour problems.

Then met Helen McMillan about Early Years budget. We had had a finance meeting when helen had been on holiday and shifted some money from childcare strategy to nursery schools to cover the nursery nurse payrise. I apologised to Helen for not having discussed this with her on her return to work but it had slipped my mind. It reinfroced for me the importance of really getting on top of the budget, as the suggestion had been made during the meeting and had not been properly thought through prior to the meeting.

Out to Prestonpans Primary School for another drop in visit. Florence Brydon took it in her stride and after a cup of coffee and chat showed me round the school. Met some really great kids who had some real spark about themselves. The teachers seemed very committed to their jobs and I got the feel of a place which was determined to give every child the best start in life they could. The school canteen has won awards for healthy eating and I'm sure Jamie Oliver would have been impressed.

Back to office to meet with Pauline Sales about developing a database for recording complaints and incidents of bullying. Pauline will contact Angus, Aberdeenshire, East Renfrewshire and North Lanarkshire Councils to find out about their attainment evaluation procedures. Colin Sutherland, HT North Berwick, Pauline and myself are looking to imrpove our evaluation procedures and these councils are reckoned to be amongst the best in Scotland.

The met Norma Mcpherson – our Maths support officer and Ronnie Summers – HT Musselburgh Grammar – about 5-14 maths results. Norma has done some really interesting analyses of maths results and was able to share that with Ronnie. We agreed that perhaps the most important thing we can do to improve maths attainment is to cincentrate on formative assessment and the creation of an interactove learning environment.

Then 45 mins with Alan Ross about the philosophy behind integrated children's services – once again very stimulating and challenging.

Straight from there to third depute's seminar. Another great session – of course that's my opinion. We reflected again upon the luck involved in gaining promotion. Agreement that we need a proactive means of identifying talent. It was also a common feature that almost everyone had acted up at some stage in their career. Chris Peyton – North Berwick – talked about a system in Beeslack where one of the assistant heads was always an acting appointment – I really liked this idea. The proposed coaching system was also well received.

Back home for a parents' night for my youngest son. Why was I so upset by a teacher who was chewing a sweet as he spoke to us? Must be getting old!

PS I've updated Wednesday's entry by adding my Tuesday weblog


9.00 – 1030am Chief Officers Group for Children's Services – this is a multi-agency group of lead officers in education, health and social work. A lot of the meeting was taken up with information giving sessions but I raised a couple of points in the course of the morning. Firstly, a paper was tabled about developing a parental support strategy. There seem to be lots of audits, reviews and strategy meetings but I wasn't able to see a clear rationale underpinning the purpose of parental support. I suppose it's because this is an issue I'm really struggling with myself at the moment – but what do we seek to acheive when we support parents. I know this seems an obvious question – and it should have an obvious answer – but all too often we do things because they seem like a good idea and forget – or at least fail to clarify – the underlying purpose. I recognise that some children have additional support needs which place demands upon parents to the extent that they require support from networks and professionals throughout their childs development and beyond. I also recognise that some parents will require support due to exceptional circumstances, or short-term support in reponse to an unforseen event. However, there are also some parents do not have the skills, family support systems or wherewithall to give their children enough support to make the progress one might normally expect in terms of social, emotional, academic or behavioural development. Now I know this seems pretty stark when you commit this to paper – or virtual paper as it is in this case. However, there are some parents who need guidance, support, engagement and regular monitoring if we are to ensure that their children break free from a cycle of deprivation, academic failure and social exclusion. I'm minded here to refer to Alan Ross's concept of “social police” and obviously in cases of child protection I suppose that this would be the case. But there are many more cases where parents would benefit from early proactive intervention and support to enable their child to have equivalent life chances to other children of the same age in different circumstances. Reading over this piece I'm uncomfortable – why? Well – I don't hear many people talk like this -yet it seems to me that this is the unspoken assumptions which govern our actions yet due to some implicit form of “political correctness” we all nod but never express the point. I might take this off the site in the next few days when I read in the cold light of day.

Lunch meeting with Ian Metcalf – deputy editor, East Lothian Courier. I'd met Ian at last week's Education Committee and had invited him for lunch to explore ways in which we could work together. Ian has an interesting background and has worked on most of Scotland's main newspapers as a crime reporter. I enjoyed listening to him and learned something about the idea of “off the record briefings”. Then we got to talking about this weeks copy of the paper, which I hadn't yet read. Ian showed me the leader which suggested that headteachers often “sweep bullying under the carpet”. I took exception to that phrase as it runs completely counter to my experience of schools. I stressed to Ian that our starting point in schools, even more importantly than teaching and learning, is that children must feel safe and secure. Nothing takes precedence over this I know how important this is for all our headteachers and staff in schools.

I showed Ian our draft anti-bullying policy and went over a few parts. To be fair Ian pushed hard on what schools actually do to stop bullying not what a policy might be. I made it clear that the starting point is an ethos in the school which reinforces that bullying will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Children have to be encouraged to speak up immediately they feel bullied and that the school has to take action immediately. One the problem facing schools is when children – for whatever reason – don't inform anyone. The challenge for us is to create an environment where children are confident that positive action will be taken to stop the bullying. I used a number of examples from my own experience to highlight what schools can do to stop bullying and that this can be exceptionally effective. I also made it clear that schools don't draw a line at the school gates when dealing with bullying and that I had excluded pupils for acts of bullying which had taken place outside schools and outwith the school day. All schools – everywhere – have bullying problems – if one child is being bullied then that is a problem – the important point to make here is that schools never lose sight of the dangers of bullying and are constantly vigilant and aware.

The new policy will be going out to schools, student councils and parents group with a view to consolidating and confriming the good practice that already happens in our schools.

LNCT meeting at 2.00pm. Very positive meeting – I'm looking forwards to working with our union colleagues. I'm a great believer in the importance of employee representation and I hope to build up a similar relationship as the one I enjoyed at Dunbar – which relied upon openess, trust and honesty.

Meeting finished early so I popped over to Kings Meadow Primary for 45 minutes. Quick tour of the school with Donald McGillivary – very impressive place!

4.30pm Gordon Brown's leaving do. Followed by a meeting with a headteacher until 6.20pm A very varied but satisfying day – I'm having a day off tomorrow and am looking forward to the weekend.


Presented the Attainment Action Plan to the Education Committee this morning. I was delighted with the response from councillors. They were particularly taken by the strong upward trend in examination results over the past ten years the fact that we are not resting on our laurels but demonstrating a commitment to improve and accelerate that rate of progress. The key themes of Leadership; Teaching and Learning; Performance Monitoring and Improvement; and Curriculum Flexibility were also well received. The paper was accepted by the committee and it's now up to us all to translate into reality.

Met Marina Taylor after this meeting about a competency model for leadership development which is being implemented across the council. This involves 360 degree feedback and will articulate perfectly with our commitment to develop our leaders. I reviewed the various competencies and they correspond very well to the important elements of what goes to make an outstanding school leader. It was interesting that these points were reflected in the exc-el interviews which took place last session with key staff. I will be discussing this topic in more detail with Headteachers, Deputes and Principal Teachers over the next few weeks.

Then met Eilish Garland to pick up on the Complaints Policy and Anti-bullying policy. Eilish has done an excellent job in pulling together these two important documents and they will provide very coherent and clear guidelines for schools and the authority. I was keen that we include a summary sheet on obligations for schools and the authority. Eilish wanted to soften this by using the word reponsibilities but I think people appreciate clarity about things which they must do as opposed to things which they should prioritise.

From there to a meeting with Principal Teachers at Musselburgh Grammar School. I really enjoyed this meeting which takes place every three or four weeks. I thought the discussion was solution focussed, as opposed to simply raising problems – it wasn't a “greetin' meetin”!

The meeting concentrated on two issues. Firstly, should the school timetable start five weeks before the end of the summer term. There was a feeling that the adminstrative demands on getting classes sorted out in time for the new timetable was very difficult. On the other hand some departments appreciated the early start of the new timetable as it enabled them to complete a full topic of study in the new courses. I repeated one of the concerns which had been raised at Dunbar which was that S2 pupils who had chosen their new subjects in February were difficult to motivate in courses which they new they were not going to continue to study – the early timetable start addresses this issue.

The second issue was the perennial problem of indiscipline in S2. There was an interesting debate about the impact of setting in almost all subjects which had the default effect of creating classes which had a high proportion of pupils with behaviour problems. The group then reflected upon the issue of consistency of expectations by teachers and PTs and SMT in managing pupil behaviour. In my experience this is they key to improving pupil behavour on a whole school basis. Pupils must have consistency in terms of teacher expectations and treament from one classroom to anther and from one department to another. Pupils will inevitably exploit any inconsistencies in approach. This discussion was concluded with a reflection on the role of management and headteachers. I told the story of how the PTs at Dunbar had told me how they wanted me to behave – it had been my job to tackle – unapologetically – any teacher or department who/which was not implementing the agreed procedeures . Too often we – headteachers – issue edicts to all staff but which everyone knows only refers to one or two individuals – we do this because we are sometimes reluctant to tackle an individual head-on – for a variety of often complex reasons. I was used to the notion of headteachers maintaining a high profile and challenging inappropriate pupil behaviour but it came as a revelation to me when PTs demanded that I use my “role” as headteacher to ensure consistency of expectation and teacher behaviour in relation to standards of pupil behaviour. The group intend to discuss this matter further with the SMT. I left them with the question – what is the role of the Head of Education in relation to this area?