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'I felt it was my fault'

At the age of 10, Amy Hewitt was convinced she was deeply unlikeable and that she would never be able to make friends.

Now, five years later, she regularly wins the respect and admiration of thousands of adults, as she stands before them and tells them her story.

"I constantly felt it was my fault, and I was to blame," she said. "Because people didn't like me, I thought I must be doing something wrong, that I wasn't a likeable person."

Amy is one of many people speaking out about her experiences at the hands of bullies, as part of the Government's anti-bullying week. The campaign aims to draw attention to the problem and suggest solutions for schools.

A poll published by the Anti-Bullying Alliance to coincide with the week's events revealed that more than two-thirds of parents are worried about bullying in their child's school. Eighty-six per cent added that schools and teachers need more support to tackle the problem.

Vanessa Cooper, national coordinator of ABA, said: "Bullying isn't an issue that is going away. It can have a devastating impact on children's lives."

A Diana, Princess of Wales memorial award is to be presented annually to teenagers who have made a particular effort to deal with bullying.

Amy Hewitt and nine fellow pupils at Redmoor high, in Hinckley, Leicestershire, were presented with the first of these awards this week, in recognition of their work advising local heads and education officials on tackling bullies.

"My primary put me in a room with the three girls who were bullying me, left us for an hour and told us to talk about it," Amy said. "Some schools have a bullying bench, where people who are being bullied sit if they want someone to play with them. How isolated can you make a child feel? There are some ridiculous schemes out there."

Instead, she advocates peer-mentoring programmes, which encourage bullied pupils to speak to others who have had similar experiences. Such schemes are advocated by Maggie Turner, director of the Diana memorial awards. She said: "Young people often have an unfair press. But there is a huge desire among them to tackle bullying in schools. A growing number of young people are contributing positively to their communities."

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