Pupil pressure brings 'bullyproof' school closer

29th November 1996 at 00:00
Increasing awareness of the consequences of bullying is by far the most important way to stop it. The best approach is to capitalise on young people's increasing empathy with those affected, according to Alan McLean, principal psychologist in north-east Glasgow, whose report on a survey of 16,000 pupils in the former Strathclyde Region will be published in the spring.

The TES Scotland highlighted key findings last year in which 11 per cent of pupils said they were put off school by bullying, 4 per cent reported being bullied every day and 6 per cent said they had suffered for years. More primary than secondary pupils reported that bullying put them off their work. Only one in two had carefree playtimes.

Mr McLean found that most bullying is sorted out by pupils themselves, although there remains a significant casualty rate. "The fact that 95 per cent of pupils reported that they felt sorry for pupils who were bullied gives hope for the resolution of this major social problem," he says.

The findings also challenge traditional ideas about bullying as predominantly a physical, secret activity perpetrated by older boys. Although abuse thrives on secrecy from adults, it is public and highly visible among pupils.

Mental abuse and name calling are by far the most common manifestations. While boys are responsible for two-thirds of bullying, girls suffer more distress. Primary girls are the least successful group in dealing with it.

The survey revealed a high level of bullying in class and a link with class disruption. "Many teachers respond to all disruption as a challenge to their authority while it may be rooted in peer group dynamics and require an alternative approach to discipline," Mr McLean advises.

Pupils suggest that teachers take bullying more seriously, encourage victims to speak up, discuss the issues, improve supervision, for example at breaks, and work on relationships. They were asked if teachers unknowingly encouraged bullying to happen. Shortcomings fall into several categories: * Teachers are unaware: they don't know what is going on or don't know what to do about it; don't pick up obvious signs such as graffiti on jotters; don't find out why a person is sad.

* They underreact: they are too busy; more interested in other things; see it as just play fighting, name calling or growing up; tell you just to ignore it, hit back or sort it out yourself; ignore nasty comments in class; believe the bullies; blame the victim; let the bullies know they don't care and they will get away with it.

* They bully themselves: join in teasing as if it were a joke; try to be too friendly and go with the group.

* They encourage competition between pupils: compare pupils' work; promote the idea that some have more power than others; allow arguments between pupils; spend too much time with one pupil; have favourites.

* They single out pupils: highlight weaknesses or differences; pick on weaker pupils; call a pupil a name which others then use; make the class think some members are stupid; select one good or bad example in the class; make fun of some pupils or openly dislike an individual.

* They set pupils up: put them together with the bullies; leave individuals out; group people in a way which makes them stick out; allow them to sit in large friendship groups.

Bullyproofing our school: what do the pupils think? will be published by the National Foundation for Educational Research in Topic Issue 17.

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