Small service has big impact in some areas

27th February 2009 at 00:00

Scotland's anti-bullying service is earning plaudits for its work, but is still virtually unheard of in some parts of the country.

The director of respectme, which held its second annual conference in Edinburgh this week, said it had "engaged" with only 16 of Scotland's 32 authorities, although this was more than initially anticipated. Brian Donnelly said such a relatively small organisation could not be expected to make faster progress.

The service works extensively in some of the councils but, for others, it has only been asked to provide intermittent advice on policy. He said the state of anti-bullying protocols across Scotland was "patchy".

In some authorities and schools, it was hard to get a "foot in the door" as respectme was met by protests that there were already policies in place. Yet these could be out-of-date, and he cited a typewritten policy devised for the old Strathclyde Regional Council - pre-dating 1996 - that was still being used by some.

But, if it is to establish itself as the national authority on bullying, respectme has some way to go if the reaction of some leading educational figures is representative.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, told The TESS he had not heard anything about it, good or bad.

Tom Burnett, former president of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, who was a member of the previous Scottish Executive's discipline group, knew little about the service.

Judith Gillespie, development manager of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, had not heard about any of its work in schools.

But those who had worked with the service were almost uniformly positive about it, said Mr Donnelly - a statement backed up when The TESS carried out a straw poll of conference delegates.

Vincent Collins, depute head at Glasgow's John Paul Academy, said the advice on cyberbullying had helped deal with a problem that had rapidly become "massive". The pupil council was central to combating bullying, and the jargon-free literature, bright colours and eye-catching logos made it "much more accessible for children". He said it encouraged "joined-up thinking" and established itself in people's minds as a national organisation.

He was also impressed that respectme played down the term "anti-bullying", focusing on attitudes and relationships rather than rigid checklists to identify bullies and victims.

Lillian Field, head at Strathdon and Crathie primaries in Aberdeenshire, said the information it provided was "more modern and accessible" than before. It gathered a wide range of disparate pieces in one place and had been useful in forming a school anti-bullying policy.

Fellow Aberdeenshire headteacher Mary Scott, of Logie Coldstone Primary, said the service had provided information on cyber-bullying not previously available.

"We use its website a lot," said Theresa Fowler, a project worker at a Children 1st healthy living centre for young people in Bathgate, West Lothian. Children used the site as their homepage and she also referred parents to it.

Ms Fowler was also impressed that the website made clear bullying was everyone's responsibility, and not a problem that schools could merely pass on to "experts".

Lauren Seager of England's Anti-Bullying Alliance backed respectme's decision to play down the focus on identifying instances of bullying and make a more fundamental effort to change children's behaviour.

Fergus McMillan, chief executive of LGBT Youth Scotland, agreed that recommending prescribed sanctions for certain types of behaviour could preclude more sophisticated anti-bullying measures.

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