Singing pupils live in harmony

17th September 2004 at 01:00
NORWAY

"You are you, and I am me," the children sing at Haga primary school, Stavanger, during their morning assembly. Every single child seems to be having fun as they sing, arm in arm, urging each other never to bully anyone.

"Since we introduced the Olweus programme we've really seen a reduction in bullying," says Kare B?, the principal. "The kids are happier, the parents are happier and we're happier too."

Thanks to recent reforms, Norwegian schools are now legally obliged to ensure the psychological and physical safety of children.

Under the Olweus programme key members of staff are trained to help everyone in the school community, including teachers, cafeteria staff, students, administrators and parents, work together to combat bullying.

Creating a sense of togetherness is important. At Haga, for example, there is an open invitation to parents and grandparents to every Friday morning assembly.

"There's also a picture of every child that's ever attended Haga on the wall," says Lin Sannung from Sola education authority. "To remind them they're part of a growing community."

From the pristine grounds, the breathtaking fjord only a stone's throw away, to the immaculate classrooms, Haga school feels like a well-furnished, oversized mountain cabin. The cosy atmosphere is reinforced by the way the children wander about in their socks.

Lin Sannung assures the visiting delegates that this is a typical Norwegian school, but it is hard to imagine a more socially and ethnically diverse inner-city school in Oslo being so harmonious.

"I love coming to school," said Andreas Barmen, a cheeky seven-year-old boy. "I feel good here."

Even the teachers appear happy and relaxed. "It's brilliant working at Haga," said Frode Rossavik, 28, one of 48 teachers at a school with just over 400 students. "Teamwork is important. But through my involvement in the bullying prevention programme, I've also had the opportunity to develop leadership skills quite early in my career. I co-lead a weekly discussion with the teaching staff, looking at ways we can keep bullying to a minimum."

At Haga extra staff have been assigned to oversee what is going on by the bike racks on Mondays.

"That's the day everyone leaves school at the same time and some of the bullying was taking place there," said Rossavik.

All the children know the rules by heart: do not bully others, include someone in a game if they are on their own, and always tell a teacher if bullying goes on.

Judging by the pupils' response, the Norwegians certainly seem to be doing something right.

"I don't think I've ever heard of anyone being bullied," confesses Benedikte Pettersen.

"Tell the kids in England I've got brilliant teachers," urges Thea Runesta Stolen, 10, a pupil at Godeset school, which is similar to Haga. "They're preparing for me for every aspect of my life."

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