You are right to be concerned. Bullying is detrimental to pupils' well- being and development. It can cause loneliness, depression and anxiety and lead to low self-esteem and increased susceptibility to illness. Victims can suffer from long-term emotional and behavioural problems.
A survey of 1,000 adults by Kidscape, a UK-based charity that works to prevent bullying and child sexual abuse, found that bullying significantly reduced social skills and the ability to succeed in education and employment. Nearly half of the victims had contemplated or attempted suicide, after having found that confiding in a parent or teacher had either made matters worse or had no effect.
Teachers can and should take steps to eliminate bullying at their school, and particularly within their own classroom.
The first step is to record the details of the most recent incident, says Liz Carnell, director of Bullying UK, the country's leading anti-bullying charity. "This is the best way forward, because it means that you can provide the head of year with proof that the problem has not been resolved," she says. Include the date, time and place, the names of the children involved and what exactly happened during the incident. Make sure you are aware of official procedures by reminding yourself of your school's anti-bullying policy.
Once you have completed this document, seek a face-to-face meeting with the head of year. This will give you an opportunity to ask them what measures have been taken to combat the situation. This need not be a confrontational encounter - you could say that you simply wish to let the victim know which preventive actions have been taken.
You should make the head of year aware of the fact that the bullying is ongoing, and present them with your documentation of the most recent incidents. Discuss with the head of year whether getting the parents involved could be beneficial.
If you feel that the head of year is not dealing effectively with the problem then you need to alert someone in the management team, suggests David Allaway, educational content director at Behaviour UK. "Someone higher up needs to be informed, as clearly incidents like these cannot be allowed to continue," he says.
Following on from this, the key pupils involved and their parents could be brought together to discuss the situation - this may involve more than one session. It will need to be handled sensitively by a skillful member of staff. "Pupils should be asked for their own solutions to the situation and parents should also be asked," says educational psychologist Lindsay Downs. "Parents are often surprised about what has been happening and can have a powerful influence."
Once everyone has agreed on the way forward, the pupils involved need to be carefully monitored. Many pupils who are suffering from bullying are reluctant to confide in members of staff because they fear it might make their situation worse. They need to be reassured that this is not the case, and that there will be constant monitoring to ensure the bullying does not reoccur. This will involve regular meetings and feedback for all involved.
At the same time it would be helpful for school staff to talk in general terms about bullying to all the pupils, for example at assembly. "Remind them what to do if they are involved in a bullying incident either as a victim, bystander or as a perpetrator," suggest Lindsay Downs. "It would be helpful to remind pupils that peers are present in 85 per cent of bullying episodes and when they intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds in 57 per cent of situations."
Peer involvement can be a crucial factor in eliminating incidences of bullying. The strict enforcement of anti-bullying policies, as well as the constant support of those children who are being victimised, is the best way to combat bullying at your school.
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What to do
- Document the details of the latest incident.
- Contact the head of year and ask them which measures have been taken.
- Get the parents involved.
- Talk to your pupils about bullying in general.