Every autumn, schools mark anti-bullying week with a discussion, play, or poster competition, and many of us think: "Thank goodness there's no bullying in our school."
Kidscape, the charity that has helped children, parents and schools with bullying for 26 years, has a different view. In our experience, there's bullying in every school.
A good anti-bullying policy is crucial. Preparing and working with a good policy will allow your whole school - children, governors, support staff and teachers - to be part of the effort to control bullying. It will encourage witnesses to act, give vulnerable children a way to remove the threat, and parents an idea of rules and procedures. A good policy also helps prevent bullying by raising awareness, creating a considerate and supportive culture and establishing the sense that such behaviour will never be tolerated.
In addition, an outline of policies gives everyone something to work with: actions and consequences, procedures, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
The preparation of the document is a community exercise, but a member of staff must be made responsible for co-ordinating work on the anti-bullying initiative, with the support of the rest of the team.
Discussion should start by defining what bullying actually is. Is teasing bullying? A physical attack? Exclusion? This needs to be addressed by staff, children and parents, with results delivered to a central committee that can merge those definitions.
At Kidscape, we define bullying as deliberate hostility and aggression towards a targeted child, whether verbal, physical or emotional, or exclusion or ridicule. Bullying can take many forms, including cyber bullying, racial taunts, graffiti and gestures.
Once these definitions have been set out, the co-ordinator can gather a team from the whole school community to put together the policy. Pupils should play a leading role: they will have more respect for something they help make, and the resulting policy will be directly relevant to them and their school, and go a long way towards making this an enforceable policy.
Canvassing parents, teachers, pupils and governors with questionnaires, which may be anonymous, gives an idea of experience and opinions. Young children may respond best to the question: "Where do you not feel safe?" This can be extended with maps that they mark. The anti-bullying policy should include:
- A clear definition of bullying, with examples, and discussion of what is not bullying, such as good-hearted teasing between close friends when neither child's feelings are hurt.
- Aims and objectives of the policy, immediate and long-term, should be established. For example, a short-term goal may be establishing a structure that will deal more effectively with bullying when it happens. A long-term school goal may be to increase consideration in the community.
- A discussion of consequences, with a sliding scale of deterrents for backsliders. This reassures parents, children and teachers. It is also useful in working with school governors, who can contravene a stated consequence, such as exclusion after repeated incidents.
Staff training should be thorough, with individual concerns addressed. Top-up sessions are needed, partly because the methods of bullying are increasing with new technology.
New staff members also need training when joining the school. Bullying incidents can be difficult to deal with emotionally, especially if staff members were bullied as children, or if they still subscribe to the "toughen up" school of thought.
Support for them should be in place. They need access to information about bullying of teachers by pupils or other staff members, and reassurance that this will not be ignored by the school.
Anti-bullying week in November is a prime opportunity to make sure everyone knows the goals and the ground rules. Or make the establishment and publication of the statement an occasion for celebration; to have worked together to create something that should have an impact on everyone is something to be proud of.
One of the long-term goals is the establishment of an atmosphere of respect and consideration, which can be reinforced with posters, assemblies and other activities.
Catherine Calvert is an editor and writer for Kidscape.