Can we ever get rid of the bullying kind?

It is widely recognised and there are policies designed to tackle it - but bullying refuses to go away without a fight, say John and Ruth Jamieson

Injection, injection, cannae get infection." Primary school children were pretending to insert hypodermic needles into their arms as they danced around a boy in the playground whom they considered less well turned out than themselves.

"You're dead meat." Said by a P7 girl, under her breath, but clearly meant to be heard by a parent who had a few minutes earlier made a formal complaint to the headteacher about her child being bullied by this girl's younger sister.

Two-fingered salutes from a group of pupils at the school gates. A mother was driving away from school after viewing a security video that had caught this same group assaulting her child. For weeks the child had suffered verbal taunts, reported to teaching staff (including the school's psychologist), but apparently no effective solution resulted.

There is general acceptance that bullying is: systematic and ongoing rather than one-off; carried out by the more powerful against the less powerful rather than between equals; distressing and hurtful to victims rather than good-natured fun; a one-way rather than a two-way exchange of insults or assaults.

We know more about bullies and their victims than we ever did and we even have an anti-bullying network. But are we much further forward in making our schools better places for teachers to work in and pupils to learn? If not, then perhaps some of the reasons are that bullies don't know they are bullies or that they are doing anything wrong.

And it is not only the bullies themselves who think their behaviour is perfectly acceptable. Some others admire them, too. Take the case of a leading member of the education directorate in one of the largest councils in the UK. He was known to be a bully on a megascale. Yet when he died part of a lengthy obituary in one national newspaper mentioned "an individual of immense talent and compassion for others ... a considerate man who would go the second mile for colleagues ... a no- nonsense boss who did not tolerate fools gladly".

Long gone are the days when we could glibly describe victims as anxious, cautious, sensitive, quiet, reacting to bullying by withdrawing or weeping, having low self- esteem and a negative view of their life, seeing themselves as failures, forever feeling stupid, ashamed and unattractive, being lonely and having few (if any) friends, and being physically weaker than others. Some victims are indeed some of these things but by no means all.

We no longer view typical bullies as those who were aggressive to children and adults, as having a more positive view of violence than others, impulsive, needing to dominate others, physically stronger, lacking in empathy, prone to alcohol abuse, domestic violence and criminal activity in later life. Bullies are some of these, but many do not fit this stereotype either.

It is right and proper that we address the issues of bullying thoroughly, including the myths that it is the size of a school or class which is crucial, or that school failure is to blame and produces compensa-tory bullying reactions, or that peculiarities in the victim such as being small or fat or having a stutter cause victimisation.

There is now enough research on bullying to choke a horse. Statistics abound on the subject. We know that one in five pupils says that bullying is a problem for them, 5 per cent say they have been bullied every day for years, one in two never tells anyone at home about it, and two in every three bullied pupils never report it to teachers.

School anti-bullying policies exist throughout Scotland and in most UK schools. Senior staff are warned not to run regimes which are too punishmentsanction orientated for fear of being accused of bullying tactics themselves. Adults should act as role models and not bully one another. HMI should not bully the education directorate who should not bully heads who should not bully the teachers - and so on.

A culture of decency and respect for others, even when they differ substantially from yourself, is essential. The right ethos has to be set, the problem acknowledged, awareness raised, victims encouraged to report it, bullying discussed in the curriculum, victims supported, the silent majority involved in rooting out excessive unkindness, problem areas and problem times dealt with.

In the real world and in the research literature we believe we have met both the bullied and the bullies - and, surprising as it may seem, it is us.

John Jamieson is a senior educational psychologist with North Ayrshire Council and Ruth Jamieson is a psychology student at Glasgow University.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you