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Get inside the minds of bullies, staff urged

Misconceptions hamper teachers who want to stop bullying, British Psychological Society members heard. Karen Thornton reports.

TRAINEE-TEACHERS need to be taught more about the psychological make-up of child bullies and be given strategies to deal with parents, according to re-search presented at the British Psychological Society's conference.

The trainees surveyed were well-informed about the problems caused by bullying, and confident of their ability to support victims. But they were less confident when it came to handling the aggressors and their parents.

Some viewed bullies as lacking social skills, whereas recent research in fact suggests that they might actually have highly developed social skills.

Misconceptions of this kind could reduce the effectiveness of anti-bullying policies, Professor Peter Smith, of Goldsmiths College, London, told delegates at the conference in Winchester.

He said: "It's now a legal requirement that schools have an anti-bullying policy, and parents are very aware of the issues. We have seen legal cases against schools where issues have not been dealt with properly.

"We are arguing that this should be reflected in the training teachers get, which at the moment is haphazard. It seems to be dependent on one-off courses or tutors who have a particular nterest. We think it should be a core part of teacher training."

Professor Smith and his colleagues Sonia Nicolaides, also from Goldsmiths, and Yuichi Toda, from Tottori University, Japan, found that the majority of trainees thought all aspects of training on bullying were helpful, but particularly wanted to be taught how to talk to bullies and victims. Women thought this information more valuable than men did.

Only 6 per cent thought bullying in schools not very important. The trainees tended to overestimate the number of children who would be bullies or victims, and also thought there would be no change in the amount of bullying going on as children get older. In fact, other research suggests children report less bullying as they progress through school.

Trainees described the "typical" victim as lacking self-esteem, having learning difficulties and few friends, physically weak, unassertive or passive, and perhaps with over-protective parents.

But bullies were also seen as lacking self-esteem and social skills, as well as being hot-tempered, not doing well academically, coming from abusive families and lacking parental discipline. However, recent research suggests bullies may not be so socially inadequate, but actually quite adept - a skill which they use to manipulate others.

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