Girls' bullying

7th July 2006 at 01:00

Research in a primary school, where Valerie Besag, an educational psychologist, set up an activity club for Year 5 girls, forms the basis of this book. Besag worked with 12 or so students, while nearby a camera recorded the activities of a weekly rotating smaller group. She suggests that these sessions provide us with authentic evidence of how girls interact beyond the adult gaze, since this age group is not so sophisticated as to be constantly camera conscious.

She discusses girls' group behaviour, drawing on her professional experiences and focusing on older students. She reminds us that girls'

typical styles of bullying - exclusion from friendship groups, gossip, rumour-spreading, manipulation and psychological torment - although often hidden from teachers, are nevertheless damaging. Unfortunately, her message is overly deterministic. Boys and girls are shown as two separate categories. There is no recognition of stereotype defying "masculine girls"

or "feminine boys".

A book which draws attention to girls' bullying is to be welcomed, but it's a pity such potentially engaging material has a patronising tone. We learn that young people's "groups, cliques and gangs fulfil a primary social need which adults meet by going to pubs, social, political and sport settings".

It feels as if we are studying another species. Some assertions have no explicit evidence-base or direction: we are informed that Goths' clothing and make-up may mask vulnerability and that their music and literature reflect feelings of depression, but that we should not assume they are all emotionally depressed.

Besag's strengths lie in her long-standing experience and training approaches. The case studies are valuable discussion openers. The final section is given only 24 of the volume's 237 pages. It's this section which is likely to prove most useful and make the book worth considering for the staffroom library.

Audrey Osler

Professor of education, Leeds university

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