It needn't happen

3rd February 1995 at 00:00
School Bullying: Insights and Perspectives Edited by Peter K Smith and Sonia Sharp, Routledge, #163;12.99, 0 415 10373 8. Tackling Bullying in your School: a practical handbook for teachers Edited by Sonia Sharp and Peter K Smith, Routledge, #163;14.99, 0 415 10374 6.

These two excellent companion volumes, based on research work in Sheffield, provide an invaluable source of information on international research findings about bullying and on intervention strategies which have been tried and tested in both primary and secondary schools. Together they make essential reading for all those concerned with this pervasive problem which exists in most, if not all, schools in Britain.

School Bullying: Insights and Perspectives examines the nature of bullying in terms of the abuse of power in a systematic, repeated and deliberate manner. It explores the origins of bullying behaviour and the extent of the phenomenon in our schools. It investigates the characteristics of both bullies and their victims and the effects that bullying is likely to have not only in terms of the suffering of individual pupils but also the damaging effect on school ethos.

Despite the fact that the school inevitably provides the ideal milieu for bullying activity, the encouraging message emerging from the research is that schools can do a great deal to stop bullying, bringing new hope to the many children who experience it and a general improvement in the climate of the school. If in the past schools have not done very much, this was because little was known about the nature of bullying and its consequences; few resources were available to teachers.

Under the circumstances it is hardly surprising that the problem was at best dealt with on a piecemeal basis. But the situation is changing rapidly and this book in particular makes a major contribution not only in that it illuminates our understanding of the problem but also makes practical suggestions on how to set about reducing it in our own schools.

The authors provide an evaluation of the various approaches and their success, including the role of whole-school policies in tackling bullying. Particular attention is given to policy development process. The approach is chillingly frank: "Looking at the problem in terms of the school as an organisational unity, we know that bullying behaviour is resistant to change, because it can last for years and is difficult to detect and suppress".

Each step in the process - establishing the need for a policy through awareness raising, policy development through consultation, implementation through training, communication and monitoring, evaluation through surveys and review - is carefully considered and useful suggestions are made. The role of leadership in successful policy implementation is considered. In addition, the book evaluates the use of classroom and curriculum materials, the role of lunchtime supervisors and their training, the effects of the physical school environment (the playground) and appropriate means of working with pupils involved in bullying.

Whereas School Bullying examines what has been done to tackle school bullying, the companion volume, Tackling Bullying in Your School, outlines what can be done, providing teachers with the practical advice to make the experiences addressed in the first volume a thing of the past. In terms of format and style this book is accessible as a work of reference yet surprisingly detailed and comprehensive as a practical guide for teachers in their efforts to tackle bullying.

It provides essential facts and figures together with step-by-step approaches to a whole range of possible strategies and activities from establishing a whole-school policy to techniques for tackling bullying during breaks and lunchtimes. The teacher-tried and tested intervention strategies described - each section has been written by an acknowledged expert - enable staff in schools to take immediate action against bullying.The book is unique in this respect.

Tackling Bullying makes compulsive reading and prompts some uncomfortable questions. Carry out the kind of survey examined in Chapter 2 and you might be in for a shock. But you will be able to identify how often pupils have been bullied; the different types of bullying in your school; how pupils feel about it; whether they have told anyone about it; how often they have bullied others; where the bullying is taking place; whether any action is taking place to prevent it. Measuring levels of bullying can lead to more precise mechanisms for intervention and repeating the measuring process will show how successful the school has been in tackling the problem. The chapter on how to establish a whole-school anti-bullying policy is particularly useful and provides a paradigm for the establishment of any school policy which is to exist in the hearts and minds of those involved rather than sitting in a filing cabinet.

The business of schools is transmitting a curriculum to pupils and if schools are to be civilised, caring communities then the curriculum must act as a civilising influence and somehow communicate that the community does care. Teachers will find the chapter on tackling bullying through the curriculum a useful stimulus to exploring the problem of bullying with pupils and enabling them to develop and implement their own solutions within their school community. Similarly, teachers will welcome the suggested strategies for supporting bullied pupils and preventative mechanisms for managing the playground and the wider physical school environment.

There is much in these two books that teachers will immediately recognise as of real value. Read them and you may have to admit that you have had a blind spot where bullying is concerned. Act upon the very practical advice and suggestions offered and you will improve the school for all pupils. Both publications are in every sense worthwhile.

Brian Sherratt is Head of Great Barr Grant Maintained School, Birmingham.

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