“Schools [often risk creating] a climate where bullying becomes more acceptable," states Cambridge University researcher Luke Roberts.
Roberts has been researching bullying for many years, first for his masters and now for his Phd. He concedes it is a very complicated area for school staff.
“I think part of the challenge is clarity about what is banter, when is someone being over-sensitive and when is it bullying – understanding those three relationships dynamics is really hard sometimes,” he explains to the Tes Podagogy podcast. “That makes it very hard for teachers to feel confident in dealing with it.”
Usually, a school will have a whole-school anti-bullying policy, but Roberts believes these are often ineffective. Moreover, the fact that this is usually coupled with a punitive approach means that schools can make the issue worse, not better, he argues.
“I looked at how sustainable a whole-school model. I found them to be extremely fragile,” he says. “If you only focus on the negatives – bullying is bad, etc – you run the risk of promoting it, as what you are suggesting is that this is not a safe place.”
“[And] the default position seems to be the punitive approach…[this leads to students] being labelled a 'snitch' or a 'snake' and a real sense of feeling disloyal by telling. So the punitive model can seem like it is working because students are simply not telling you it is happening. It is a false positive.”
He adds that schools with very aggressive punitive measures also risk modelling bullying behaviours.
“Where you have a strong hierarchy and shouty and aggressive staff – you are role modelling there, so don’t be surprised if it is replicated in your student population,” he says.
In the podcast, he also talks about effective ways of tackling bullying, why we need to change our language and approaches, and how students' conduct on social media – even outside school time – is still the responsibility of schools.
You can listen for free by downloading the podcast from iTunes or listening below: