Only tough talk will do

11th June 2004 at 01:00
Bullies are a scourge in our society and zero tolerance policies are needed to stamp out anti-social behaviour, writes Steve Devrell

I recently attended a high-profile conference on bullying. Few would disagree that bullying is one of the most hideous and urgent problems facing schools today and the large turnout represented this concern.

But did it give any answers? No. Did it provide any strategies to adopt to confront this growing menace? No again. The only thing that became clear from my day was that there exists a thriving cottage industry of individuals making a lucrative income from the subject.

Guest speakers, including TV's Esther Rantzen, had arrived from all over the country to talk of their experiences. These were slick PowerPoint performances, multi-screen pictures of sharing children laughing in the playground, portly dinner ladies with protective arms around vulnerable shoulders, and slogans superimposed upon these images saying "Just talk", "Say no" or "Share your problem".

Who are these people trying to kid? Bullying is a major problem in our schools and no amount of glossy imagery can remove that fact. I have encountered so many websites, so much literature, so many slick, catchy titles for organisations that are failing to get their message across.

An overriding theme that keeps occurring in "bullying blurb" is the claim that all bullies are themselves bullied. This is scant comfort for the boy who is having his face stuffed down the lavatory pan in search of the "pink goldfish".

We are also told to encourage children to stand up to the aggressors and tell them to stop.

Where do these people think we teach - Trumpton? The real world isn't like that. Big Jake and his gang are not going to walk away simply because little Sebastian asks them to do it.

What is needed to stop bullying is for the Government to produce a zero-tolerance policy for the treatment of bullies, while at the same time changing the way our society views such behaviour.

We should not appease the bully, but punish their actions in such a way that they are less likely to repeat them. Society has created a bully-boy culture. We make heroes of the physically strong and ridicule the academically able. And therein lies the problem. The bully has been allowed a foothold in our society and it is proving very difficult to remove it.

Bullying is learned in the home and in the streets. It is often the result of inadequate parenting and a general lack of supervision.

Such action is not learned in school. The school is merely the theatre for such action. Teachers are often blamed for not stamping out these practices. But that is like telling the takeaway owners to be responsible for the behaviour of the drunks who enter their premises at weekends.

Trying to stop it in school without stringent and effective back-up is almost impossible.

That basically is where I am at odds with many of the agencies and organisations that claim to have solutions for bullying in our schools.

They have wonderful, revolutionary ideas that are meant to tame the deviant; in practice it wouldn't tame the cat.

The only way to rid society of this scourge is to develop a single strict but clear policy on the treatment of bullies. Whatever their age, it should become such an unacceptable form of behaviour that it is simply not tolerated.

The time is over for talking about the subject, or theorising on its effects. We can no longer allow people to make glossy presentations of Cloud-cuckoo-land. It is now time for action.

Steve Devrell is deputy head of a Solihull junior school

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