Schemes to beat bullies are a waste of time, say pupils

7th May 2010 at 01:00
Research finds children view problem as a fact of life, conference hears

Year after year, the same views persist about anti-bullying schemes: schools insist they work, but pupils think they are a waste of time.

That was one of the striking messages at an anti-bullying conference held in Edinburgh last week, where it emerged that children often see the problem as a fact of life.

Gillean McCluskey, from Edinburgh University's school of education, said no matter the approach used to tackle bullying, the same messages came back. "Schools feel they deal fairly well with it; children do not," she said. "That finding is consistent across time and sectors: nursery, primary and secondary."

The solution, she said, was to put geater emphasis on "identity-based bullying", by grappling with the many terms of abuse that were aimed at girls, for example. Many were bullied because they belonged to a particular group, and research had repeatedly shown that Gypsy Travellers were the worst affected.

Dr McCluskey finished on an upbeat note: the growing research into the problem ensured teachers could now find "much better and more focused information", she said.

Barnardo's Scotland director Martin Crewe also identified a gap in perception between staff and pupils about the effectiveness of anti- bullying schemes, summed up by the charity's research in Wales.

One secondary pupil said: "Bullying just happens. The school's got all this stuff, but it doesn't work. I don't think there's anything that adults can do."

Schools that sought to punish the bully and get victims to speak out could drive the problem out of sight. One pupil dismissed this as "a system based on grassing", which was a common sentiment.

Young people were "very reluctant" to talk about bullying, especially boys, Mr Crewe said.

There was stigma attached: victims were perceived as "not cool", while perpetrators were often admired for the "aura" and "power" that bullying gave them. One girl said: "I'm too cool to be bullied."

Mr Crewe offered three main pieces of advice: "over-condemning" of bullies should be avoided, so that they felt able to seek support; there should be more focus on witnesses, who outnumbered victims and perpetrators and could also suffer; and schools should concentrate on raising pupils' awareness of diversity.

Schools which successfully tackled bullying usually devoted most of their efforts to pro-active work, according to Sacro, a body that aims to reduce conflict and offending.

National co-ordinator Richard Hendry said intervention in bullying as it arose was "not enough".

Conflict was normal in life and no bad thing in itself, he said: "Effective resolution is developmentally important." But in cases where conflict was harmful, teachers had to use approaches that addressed the damage caused to pupils - focusing purely on resolving the conflict was inadequate.

Speakers at the conference talked up restorative practice, which involves bullies and their victims coming together for discussion.

But Mr Hendry said there was little research showing the approach worked, and it should be used with other forms of intervention - not treated as a solution in itself.

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