Confronted head on

3rd June 2011 at 01:00

The Essential Guide to Tackling Bullying

By Michele Elliott

Longman (pound;16.99)

5 out of 5

There is an encouraging robustness about the title of this book that is echoed on every page. The key is the word "tackling" - meeting something head on, grasping it firmly round the legs and grappling it to the ground where it can do no further damage. And that is what Michele Elliott and her co-authors are about: head-on confrontation of a problem that exists at some level in nearly every school and needs to be addressed. Urgently.

Some heads almost dismiss bullying as "part and parcel of the rough and tumble of school life". But bullying is unpleasant; it can be difficult to identify and even trickier to prove. Parents on both sides react emotionally and the fallout for the school can be very negative.

Very sensibly, Elliott tackles this very early on and within two pages has got to grips with defining bullying in the clearest of terms. "Bullying," she offers, "is deliberately harming someone who is less powerful than you with the intention of causing pain." And that will do nicely, covering as it does physical, verbal, emotional, racist, homophobic and cyber acts of aggression. The ground is clearly and succinctly mapped, then swiftly followed by a thoroughly convincing explanation of why bullying matters and why it can literally be a matter of life and death, as Elliott, the founder of the anti-bullying charity Kidscape, clearly knows.

So what can be done about it? Elliott's first suggestion is to admit openly that it exists. Everywhere. Ask the students what their experiences are. Use questionnaires to gauge how much bullying is going on and, if you ask the right questions, where it is happening. Get some idea of the extent of the problem.

It is a brave route for senior managers to take, because at the first public mention of bullying many parents are likely to assume the worst and fear for the safety of their children. The team behind this book would argue that they have far more to fear if their child attends a school that does not acknowledge that bullying is an ever-present possibility and takes no measures to deal with it.

There are some books you warm to from the first page and this is one. Its tone is down-to-earth, practical, no-nonsense. It doesn't shirk the problems and it offers sound, even wise advice. It tackles the important issues of dealing with bystanders, supporting victims and helping the bullies. There are countless suggestions of how teachers can diagnose, reduce, sort out and prevent the bullying in our schools. All of this is firmly rooted in the experience of authors who are actually involved in solving these problems in classrooms and playgrounds.

The resources in the book - questionnaires, letters home, classroom activities - have an air of authenticity about them. These people know what they are doing, why they are doing it and how to help others do it.

If you want to know exactly what Elliott, Linda Frost (primary), Eric Jones (secondary) and Andrew Mellor, founder of the Scottish Anti-Bullying Network, have to say, read this thorough and thoughtful book. I would make that an imperative.

About the Author

Dr Michele Elliott OBE is a teacher, child psychologist and founder of the children's charity Kidscape. She has chaired World Health Organisation and Home Office working groups and is a Winston Churchill fellow.

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