Editorial - An unsentimental education in bullying

As a lay person, watching Channel 4's brilliant Educating Yorkshire last week was a dramatic reminder of the hell of school bullying. It's one thing to read and write about it, as we do; it's another thing altogether to have it beamed into your living room as you stuff your face with leftover Sunday lunch.

The one-hour show rather brilliantly edited together the car-crash relationship between the bully and the bullied, allowing the viewer independently to conclude that both Jac-Henry and his tormentor Georgia were victims. It did not leave you in any doubt that Mr Mitchell and his staff at Thornhill Community Academy were doing everything in their power to eradicate the problem.

This column, however, is not a television review slot. If you want one of those, visit tesconnect.comtombennett for Tom's fantastic weekly take on Educating Yorkshire (or turn to page 10 for a review of a programme about an altogether different kind of school).

Of course, it goes without saying that ending bullying should be a top priority for Team Thornhill, as with all teachers. Only now are educationalists and psychologists getting to grips with how horrific the consequences can be.

Last month, the results were published of a study that had followed 1,400 children from North Carolina, US, into adulthood. The report concludes that students who are bullied will probably earn less than their contemporaries in adult life. They are more likely to become loners, to develop drug and alcohol problems, to suffer a premature death in adolescence or adulthood.

Another aspect of the problem, rarely touched upon, is the effect that bullying has on the rest of the student body.

Ian Rivers' article (see page 40) considers just that. The piece deals with the psychological and emotional damage done to bystanders, even suggesting that teachers should develop support mechanisms for witnesses to bullying as well as those directly involved as either victim or perpetrator.

Even more surprising are the findings of another study, recently published in the US to international coverage. This research project from the University of Texas Arlington (UTA) came up with an altogether more counter-intuitive conclusion: that schools with anti-bullying strategies in place are more likely to experience problems with it than those without.

Yes, all data can be distorted to prove anything you like, but this unlikely finding does make one think.

There are many, many anti-bullying strategies out there. No doubt some are better than others. Certainly, adopting one, pinning it on the noticeboard, distributing it in the email newsletter and delivering an assembly about it ain't going to win any battles, which is perhaps why UTA's conclusions may contain a grain of truth.

The problem requires more than an off-the-shelf strategy; it needs buy-in from the whole school community, from parents and from the wider community, plus years of hard work.

But then you already know that because you're teachers, and Educating Yorkshire probably tells you nothing you don't already know about bullying. So maybe it's best that I shut up.


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