Cut the tests and stop the bullies

Heads who say their schools don't havea bullying problem are almost certainly deluded. All schools and workplaces have bullies. The difference is between those who tackle them effectively and those who turn a blind eye.

Heads were indignant this week about a report from a committee of MPs that says some schools are failing to collect figures about bullying because they worry about their reputations. All schools have anti-bullying policies and most make strenuous and imaginative efforts to implement them. Yet, a month after a report from the United Nations children's fund (Unicef) found that UK children were the world's unhappiest, the MPs' fears cannot be easily dismissed. One of the most distressing features of the report was that fewer than 45 per cent of young people here feel that their peers are kind and helpful, compared with 70 per cent in the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries.

Schools are a part of this picture. A system which compels teachers to focus on tests and targets, which puts competition before collaboration and results before relationships, does not encourage kindness and co-operation.

A 2003 Ofsted report comparing schools in England, Finland and Denmark showed that teachers in England were most concerned about differentiating between their pupils' skills. Those in Scandinavia focused on promoting a positive view of the world and keeping pupils learning together.

So the MPs' belief that we have a bullying problem is probably well-founded. They are right to emphasise that bullying should never be tolerated. But the committee's remedy - a national inquiry - is tired and unconvincing. A shift in the Government's view of the purpose of education might make a difference. Schools could play a bigger role in beating bullies if they were freed from the tyranny of testing. Anthony Seldon, the head of Wellington College and TES columnist, has put happiness on the timetable because he believes his pupils' well-being is as important as exams. The Danes pride themselves on using schools to encourage co-operation. It's a harder subject to test than maths but it matters more.

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