A problem shared

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
Every member of staff has a part to play in the fight to beat the bullies, writes Roy McGloin.

There are bullies in all walks of life - at home, at work and at school. In primary schools they often get away with it because the victim is too afraid to tell an adult - or adults don't recognise what's going on.

At my school we have had a policy of shared responsibility towards bullying for the past five years. Bullies are confronted with what they have done and urged to recognise the effects their action have had on their victims - and stop.

For this to happen, there must be a means of recognising, identifying and reporting all incidents. This requires a clear understanding of what bullying is.

At St John's we define it from the victim's, rather than the observer's, point of view. For example, a child may be constantly prevented from joining in a group game at breaktime because one child in the group initiates a collective barrier. This may not seem too serious to an onlooker, but it can be devastating to the child if it continues daily.

Bullying is when a victim is psychologically andor physically weaker than another child or group and is being:

* asked to do things against their will;

* picked on in terms of name calling, or whispered about;

* prevented from joining in with their peers;

* physically hurt.

Bullying is not when children fall out or don't get on with one another.

Children, parents, teachers, classroom assistants, welfare staff and anybody else on the staff must be aware of what it is and why it is unacceptable. Any physical harm is dealt with under the school's behaviour policy and may lead to suspension.

Dinnertime welfare staff should be included in any in-service training. If they see or suspect bullying, they should bring it to the attention of the child's class teacher.

Incidents should be recorded in a centrally-held, confidential, "cause-for-concern" book. This must be read by the designated anti-bullying teacher - at St John's it is the head - and the matter taken up. The governor responsible for bullying also reads the cause-for-concern book and a report is given at the governors' meeting.

Other pupils should always be encouraged to report bullying, knowing that it will be dealt ith properly. Victims should always feel confident that the bullying, will stop with no repercussions.

Once an incident has been identified and reported at our school, the designated teacher talks with the child who has been bullied. The child is encouraged to talk freely about what has been happening and how he or she feels. The teacher asks the child if he or she would like it to stop and explains that for it to stop, the bully - and anybody supporting the bully's actions - must be talked to about the effect his or her action has had.

At this stage it is important that the victim feels fully supported and gives permission to talk to the bully, knowing that he or she will not be punished but rather will stop what he or she is doing. Punishing the bully may initially stop the behaviour, but in the long-term the behaviour will be pushed underground. The bullies will see themselves as victims and will want to get their own back.

The bully and any of his or her supporters are brought together. The teacher will sit next to the bullied child and explain to the other children why they have been summoned and exactly what effect their behaviour has had. They must share the responsibility to put things right, and warned that if the bullying does not stop immediately, their parents will be called in. This means asking each child how he or she intends to behave in future.

The teacher then congratulates the children on how they are prepared to change and reassures the victim that things will be better. Before ending the meeting, the teacher explains how he will meet them all daily for the next two weeks.

All these children should also be monitored by the teachers and welfare staff who will report any incidents of bullying to the designated teacher - this is particularly important.

This shared responsibility approach works best if a school has a concrete vision to teach children that they are responsible for their own actions, and that if they do anything wrong they must accept responsibility to put things right.

Schools must have a philosophy of concentrating on solutions rather than looking for reasons. It may be time-consuming, but it is neccessary if a bully is to change.

Roy McGloin is head of St John's RC primary school,Bolton

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