Bullying

One of the greatest concerns for parents is likely to be bullying. It is an unfortunate fact, that no school is totally free from bullying. However, there are key things to look out for which show that a school is effectively tackling the problem.

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  • If you are told by a school that no bullying goes on in their institution, they are quite simply not telling you the truth.
  • Your best gauge as to how much bullying goes on is to ask the students themselves on a school visit.
  • A solid pastoral system often mitigates against bullying. Bullying is more likely to occur in a school where the students do not have faith in the ability of teachers to sort things out for them. A good pastoral system means that students will tell teachers if they are being bullied, without fear of the teacher making things worse.
  • Find out whether your child will have a tutor who is approachable and interested in their welfare. A good tutor develops a sense of belonging and responsibility in her form group, so that students look out for each other. You also want a school where the year or house system actually works – where there is a Head of Year or House who can take effective action against bullying and whom the students trust.
  • A school should always have an anti-bullying policy with which teachers and students must be familiar. If there is no policy at all, then that is a cause for concern. However, I have been in schools where the policy is papered everywhere, but it is not a living document that anyone takes notice of. It is effective action that counts, not words.
  • There are various initiatives run by schools which can reduce the chances of bullying occurring. Older students who have been trained as counsellors or mentors often provide effective support. A buddy system between older and younger students is sometimes adopted by schools, and prefect systems can be very effective, if the prefects protect younger students from bullying rather than instigating it themselves. Indeed, any process which encourages older students to look after the younger children is advantageous. Some schools have a vertical tutor group system, where groups contain students from all year groups. This system is often effective in reducing bullying.
  • A school that is serious about creating a safe environment for its students should have a student council where student representatives are consulted by staff on key issues. In many schools the student council is weak. Students don’t take it seriously, and the discussions never get beyond paper in the girls’ toilets. However, a successful student council can really make students feel that they have a voice that is counted, and they can trust the process to address issues as serious as bullying.
  • Schools that take the time to listen to students are more likely to combat bullying effectively. For example, if schools have an annual self evaluation process, which involves questioning students, they are likely to pick up bullying issues, such as when and where bullying happens,which might otherwise go unnoticed.
  • Schools are required to deliver the subject of Citizenship. Usually, it is taught as a discrete subject, or it maybe integrated into other  subject areas. Bullying is something that should be covered by the Citizenship curriculum in some form. In some schools, Citizenship is not taken sufficiently seriously. In this context, the inclusion of bullying as a curriculum issue will have little effect on the wider school.To ensure Citizenship is taken more seriously schools sometimes employ a specialist Citizenship teacher, make the subject a GCSE option, or stage whole school extra-curricular events related to Citizenship, for example, anti-bullying Drama productions. In this atmosphere, the inclusion of an anti-bullying message as an aspect of the curriculum may have more impact.
  • Bullying often takes place if the school has ‘no go’ areas, where students are in control and teachers rarely patrol. A school serious about the threat of bullying should be constantly working to make all areas safe, open and accessible. Teachers should be visible, and the environment should be well maintained.

Further Information

Open Evening

At the open evening, ask to speak to a teacher who is also a tutor. Ask them about what strategies they use to combat bullying. You want to get a sense of whether tutors take on board the issue of bullying at a grass roots level, or leave it to someone else to sort out. You also want to get an idea of whether this is a school where tutors take an active interest in their tutor group, or whether the pastoral curriculum is just tokenistic. Find the teacher responsible for Citizenship and ask about how it is taught – is the topic of bullying included in the curriculum? Look out for a code of conduct or set of school rules on display. This should include an antibullying statement. It should be prominent in all classrooms. If it is not, ask why.

Questions to ask the Head teacher:

Do you have an anti-bullying policy, and how do you implement it?

How do you actively tackle bullying at this school?

Questions to ask the Head of Year or House:

What do you do if one of your year group comes to you and says that they are bullied?

Does the school have a student council, and what does it do?

Visit

Ask the student who is showing you round about bullying. Ask if they have ever suffered from it. Ask how the older students get on with the younger students. Ask the student what they would do if they got bullied and what the school does if someone gets bullied.You want to find out whether students have faith in the system and actually report bullying, because they have an expectation that the school can sort it out for them. Ask the student whether there are any ‘no go’ areas, which they avoid because of the threat of bullying. When you are walking around the school, ask your student guide to take you to the backs of buildings,where staff are least likely to go. It is obviously a cause for concern if you experience an atmosphere of threat when you visit these areas. Look out for graffiti and cigarette butts – signs that areas are not regularly supervised.

Case Study

Summary




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