Gang up and beat bullies
In a month that saw bullying once again hit the national headlines, teachers were told last week that new community schools can play a key role in addressing the problem.
Lindsay Graham, a health promoting schools development officer based in Alness Academy in Easter Ross, told a workshop at a conference organised by the Anti-Bullying Network that the philosophy of the new community school had helped in making a major anti-bullying project effective.
The whole-community approach sprang from a school survey and one-to-one work with pupils. Among the other agencies involved were the police, the bus company, youth workers and community education. Parents were informed by letter, support groups set up for victims, bullies made to address their behaviour and senior pupils acted as monitors on buses.
Ms Graham said that finding time to get the agencies together was one of the biggest challenges. "Getting the young people to talk about bullying was also a problem to start with but, once they were made aware of their rights through a poster campaign, this soon changed.
"Anecdotal and written evidence of the effects of the scheme is collected and shared by all the agencies taking part. We are not precious about what we have learnt and would like others to know that success only comes from sharing."
Philip Chesworth, a community safety officer with Northern Constabulary, advised that a whole-community approach was the only way to tackle bullying. "The school can't deal with it on its own and neither can the police," he said. "It needs a multi-agency approach involving police, school, parents and other groups."
The Alness model will be extended to all schools in the Highlands and has attracted attention across the Atlantic from schools in New Jersey.
Mona O'Moore, founder and co-director of the anti-bullying centre at the department of education in Trinity College Dublin, called on adults not to trivialise children's attempts to report bullying and to "lose no opportunity to enhance a child's sense of self-worth".
Research showed that children are more likely to tell if they know that bullies are not harshly treated. "Children need to see that the dignity of the individual is safeguarded. Otherwise the victim will suffer guilt at having caused the punishment."
Dr O'Moore urged schools to use preventative and interventionist strategies and to work with other organisations. Effective collective action taken nationally and internationally, she said, "will result in more confident, caring, tolerant and non-violent young people and we could see bullying subside or even erased altogether".
The conference saw the launch of a new web-based resource by the Anti-Bullying Network. Professor Pamela Munn, the network's director, said that "Bullying - questions and answers" offers new ways of delivering the latest research to practitioners and parents. It is available on www.antibullying.net
"Research into anti-bullying strategies is too important to be kept in the academic world," Andrew Mellor, manager of the Anti-Bullying Network, said.