Bullying in schools - what you can do
If you've heard your child's headteacher say “we have a zero-tolerance policy here”, but your child is still being bullied, what can you do to ensure things improve? We asked the Bullying Intervention Group (BIG) to tell us how parents can best work with schools to tackle the problem.
It's not enough to simply tell children that bullying will not be tolerated. Punishing the bully might make the victim feel better but the bullying could still come back, taking more secretive forms and involving new victims.
There is no magic formula that can change human behaviour but, by asking victims how effective they think their school is at dealing with bullying, BIG has come up with ideas about how schools can tackle the issue effectively. There are more ideas on their website but we've pulled together a few key points to get you started.
Schools are obliged to consult parents when developing or updating their bullying policy, so you should get an opportunity to make similar suggestions for your child's school.
Is my child's school dealing with bullying effectively?
It can be difficult to know what really goes on behind the school gate. Very young children may not be forthcoming about what happens between 9am and 3pm and, once they're at secondary school, you rarely get the opportunity to speak directly to teachers and other staff.
Here are a few indicators of how hot (or not) a school is on bullying:
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 is 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
- The anti-bullying policy is 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 incidents 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 it does occur, bullying will be dealt with. These are also the criteria that are assessed 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 can parents do to reduce bullying in schools?
Obviously, good practice on bullying starts with the school, but there are things you can do to encourage it, and to get involved yourself. Here are some ideas to 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?
On visiting a prospective school, ask 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 the 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. This should be someone who oversees the reviews of policy and monitors the school's strategy. Ask who this person is and, if the policy seems dated, find out when the next review is due.
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.
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?
Act if you're dissatisfied with the way in which 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.
Ask if the school has achieved the BIG Award for excellence in bullying intervention. Encourage your school 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.