Bullying in schools: how to tackle it
Have you heard headteachers say "we have a zero-tolerance policy here", but found that nothing is being done to stop the bullying of your child?
Just telling children that bullying will not be tolerated is not the answer. Simply punishing the bully - while it may make the victim feel temporarily better - is insufficient. Bullying may become more secretive or new targets could be selected.
There is no magic formula that can, at a stroke, change human behaviour, but by asking badly bullied pupils how effective they think their school is at dealing with bullying, the Bullying Intervention Group (BIG) has come up with a blueprint.
Signs a school is ineffective at dealing with bullying
- Pupils don't know if there is an Anti-Bullying Policy or not
- Pupils, parents and staff aren't engaged in the approach together
- There is too much reliance on assemblies and lessons to spread the anti-bullying message
- Pupils aren't trained to support each other
- There are low levels of e-safety teaching
- Little is done to teach pupils to respect people who are different
- Bullying on the way to or from school is not dealt with
- It is not easy to report bullying
- There are poor strategies in place for when bullying was reported, so that telling often makes it worse (in ineffective schools, 51% of those who did report bullying said it made it worse and for 38% it stayed the same)
Signs a school is effective at dealing with bullying
- Everyone is consulted on the anti-bullying policy, so they have a sense of ownership
- It's reviewed regularly to make sure it's still effective
- Pupils, staff and parents are engaged in the approach together
- Everyone knows how to report bullying
- Pupils are taught how to be safe online
- Pupils are taught to respect people who are different
- Pupils are trained to support each other, via schemes such as Playground Pals, Buddies or Peer Supporters
- Bullying on the journey to or from school are dealt with
- Incidents are far more likely to be resolved successfully
BIG has found that it is a combination of all these actions, and the way schools keep them going all year, that makes pupils feel safe - and confident that if bullying did occur, there was a good chance it would be dealt with.
BIG looks for these criteria when it assesses schools for the national BIG award, given to schools that embed and maintain good bullying management practice.
If a school achieves this award, parents can feel reassured that there is some skilled focus on caring for their child's wellbeing (a list of award-winning schools is online).
What parents can do to promote effective anti-bullying tactics in schools
Obviously, good practice on bullying starts with the school, but there are many things you can do to encourage it, and to get involved yourself. Here are some areas which you should consider.
- Get to grips with your school's anti-bullying policy
All parents should have access to the school's anti-bullying policy. Is it on the website? Is it explained to new parents and pupils? Ask about it on your school visits.
On visiting a prospective school, ask up-front how they respond when bullying occurs. Do you like the sound of their approach? Schools will take notice if lots of parents ask these questions.
How up to date is the school's policy? Check when it was last reviewed and see if it includes e-safety and refers to the 2010 Equality Act.
Is there a child-friendly version of the policy, and does your child know about it? If not, ask when children will receive this. Your question could trigger action.
- Find out who is in charge
There should be a designated school governor with responsibility for behaviour and bullying - someone who oversees the reviews of policy and monitors the school's strategy. Ask who this person is, and when the next review is due if the policy appears out of date.
- Call for action
Ask your parents' representative to suggest setting up an Anti-Bullying Focus Group in school, on which pupils, staff and parents are represented, and which sets the strategy for the next term. This is recommended practice.
- Talk to the children
Check if your child's school runs anonymous pupil surveys to find out what pupils think.
- Take a look at the reporting channels
Ask how the school wants parents to report any concerns. Are there safe methods for pupils to report incidents, so that they don't get called a grass?
- If you're dissatisfied with how the school handled your case
Parents who are very concerned about behaviour and bullying issues can give their views to the education inspectors via ParentView.
- And finally...
Ask if the school has achieved the BIG Award for excellence in bullying intervention. Encourage schools to join the BIG Award and improve their practice. Members receive free online surveys to use with pupils and can compare how they are doing. Find out more on the Bullying Intervention Group website.