Days of reckoning

7th October 2005 at 01:00
Stopping trouble before it starts is the aim of Anti-Bullying Week. Jerome Monahan looks at a campaign to empower children

On Friday, November 25, pupils and staff will go to school blue. This is no early warning of a cold snap, but news of the culminating non-uniform event being planned to mark the end of five days of anti-bullying campaigning and consciousness-raising across England. "We don't intend it as a fundraising venture," explains Tracey Sands of the National Children's Bureau, one of more than 50 organisations that make up the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), which is promoting this, the second Anti-Bullying Week. "It's a chance for schools to make a highly visible stand against a problem that continues to affect thousands of children's lives."

Blue Friday is set to feature alongside a host of other activities and suggestions that went out to schools in a comprehensive Anti-Bullying Week pack at the end of September. "The intention is to build on last year's success," says Rita Adair, region co-ordinator for the ABA.

"In 2004, the aim was to raise awareness among teachers and other adults.

This year, the emphasis has shifted to empowering children to take an active role in preventing bullying."

There will be a push to highlight the role of witnesses to bullying episodes, who often don't know how best to intervene. "Research suggests that 85 per cent of bullying in schools is observed by others," adds Rita.

"So a key means of reducing the problem can involve turning bystanders into stand-bys."

Schools nationwide will also conduct pupil surveys, mapping the extent of the bullying problems they face. It is an exercise Thornhill School in Sunderland has already carried out. "I was very pleasantly surprised by the results," said peer mentor co-ordinator, Ann Greenfield. "We are one of the area's largest schools and only a very few pupils claimed they had been bullied here - though the secret is never being complacent. Stopping bullying needs an ongoing and consistent whole-school approach."

Among the many measures in place at Thornhill is an effective transition programme in which Year 10 pupils deliver anti-bullying lessons as part of the Year 7 PSHE programme and provide literacy and other club activities in local primaries. "I've been a part of induction day sessions with local Year 6s," explains Demi Sannes (15). "We get them to play games and tell them about what us peer mentors do and how they can seek support if things go wrong with their friends."

What Thornhill appears to share with other schools that feature among the ABA's case studies, is that they get so many other things right, managing the flashpoints and providing structures that stop trouble before it starts. At Taverham Middle School, in Norwich, young people are used to having a powerful voice - contributing ideas through the school council and taking part in the interviewing of prospective members of staff. "We have a number of 'sanctuary' areas," says deputy head Tracy Richmond. "One for each year group - they are a place where individuals can find plenty to do and they are also where those who are upsetting others can cool off - a space in which they can have time out without being stigmatised."

Another concern being emphasised in this year's literature is the prevalence of homophobic abuse. "This is an area that has been rather neglected," says Professor Peter King of Goldsmiths department of psychology. "It rarely features in school anti-bullying policy documents."

According to Rita Adair, this can be a difficult form of bullying to tackle, though one that deserves every bit as much combating as racist name calling.

*If the pack has not appeared in your schoolyouth club, email:

ABA text and email bullying advice: www.anti-bullyingalliance.orgresourcestext_email.htm

* Childline CHIPS programme

* DfES anti-bullying site

* Useful resources resourcesinfo_professionals.htm

* Stonewall Books * Bullying - From Reaction to Prevention by Dave Brown (pound;9.99) www.young-voice.orgpublications.aspNoNoorder

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