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:
- Make it high profile and kep it high profile;
- Constantly reinforce the importance of a zero tolerance approach to all – that includes staff, parents and pupils;
- This zero tolerance approach means that they must report any bullying incidents immediately;
- Educate children about the impact of bullying on others and promote empathy;
- Build the anti-bullying culture into the fabric of the school;
- The school should challenge bullies immediately and without exception;
- 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.