Behaviour - Banding together to stop the bullies

4th October 2013 at 01:00
New Swedish centre aims to be an international research hub

In August, one of Sweden's most prestigious boarding schools, Lundsbergs (pictured, below), was temporarily closed amid claims that students had been burned with an iron during an initiation rite. Previous allegations suggested that children had in the past been forced to eat manure and had their nipples electrocuted with a fly swatter, prompting a public outcry over bullying.

But a Swedish charity is determined to help the country put this, and other worrying incidents, behind it, with the launch of an international anti-bullying centre.

The Friends International Centre Against Bullying in Stockholm will host training events for teachers from around the world, hold conferences on bullying prevention and offer advice to schools and sports clubs on tackling the problem.

Friends, the Swedish anti-bullying charity behind the project, also intends the centre to become a hub where researchers can share their work on bullying.

"Bullying is a global problem - we can learn a lot from each other," Lars Arrhenius, general secretary of the charity, told TES. "In Sweden, we are not the best, but we are better than other countries (at tackling bullying). People from abroad have contacted our organisation and they are interested in what we do.

"We have also started listening to and cooperating with Norway, the US, Namibia and Botswana - a variety of countries."

Mr Arrhenius said that the centre would act as a place for people to share their experiences and research, and would allow them to investigate solutions further.

"We want to create a global platform where we can exchange knowledge of bullying and (we) really think it's possible to stamp it out," he said. "By making this an international centre, we can get a much clearer picture of the situation in schools and try to change it."

He added that the centre - launched in collaboration with Stockholm University - would also specialise in the growing problem of cyberbullying. "It's important to get parents involved as well as the students in dealing with this problem (cyberbullying)," he said.

The establishment of the centre has been supported by the Swedish government. Maria Larsson, the country's minister for children and the elderly, attended its launch. It has received 8 million Swedish krona (pound;774,000) from the Wallenberg Foundation, which funds university research projects. The project has also received SKr7 million from a lottery scheme.

The move has also been welcomed by anti-bullying campaigners across Europe.

Claude Knights, chief executive of UK charity Kidscape, said that while European grants for anti-bullying work already obliged organisations to collaborate on projects, having a central hub would be extremely positive.

She added that her own charity was often contacted by countries that did not have an established anti-bullying infrastructure. "It would be great if they had a central place they could go to," she said.

Sharing research was also vital, Ms Knights said, because it would enable academics to find out which anti-bullying issues were generic across different countries and which were culturally specific.

"We have done work in Poland, where they don't have a precise word for bullying, for example. In other languages, you have to say a whole phrase," she explained. "There's a situation where children don't have an immediate word for it.

"In the UK, there is a vocabulary, a pastoral tradition, whereas in other countries teachers might just teach (their) subjects."

The Lundsbergs scandal

In August, Swedish school inspectors ordered the closure of the elite Lundsbergs boarding school in the Varmland region, after two students needed hospital treatment for injuries sustained while being "branded" with an iron in an initiation ritual. Earlier allegations claimed that students were forced to have oral sex and eat horse manure.

The school made a court appeal after the shutdown and was allowed to reopen the following week.

Lundsbergs, which is the alma mater of Sweden's Prince Carl Philip, has been educating members of the country's high society for more than a century. Its founders in 1896 were inspired by British boarding schools such as Eton College.

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