Squabbles are just normal, says head

23rd November 2007 at 00:00
Cardiff school leader says trivial playground disagreements are not bullying and switches focus to persistent undermining behaviour.Levels of playground bullying can be exaggerated, according to the head of a Cardiff comprehensive school, who believes some children need to toughen up.

As anti-bullying week draws to a close David Marshall, head of Rumney High, has re-examined his school's approach following problems last summer.

Now he concentrates on the systematic undermining of a pupil rather than occasional name-calling. "Almost any difficulty between pupils was classified as bullying," he said. "We look to develop resilience within the victim rather than necessarily punish the perpetrator."

The school is one of six short-listed for an anti-bullying award by a panel of 15 to 20-year-olds drawn from youth groups across Cardiff. Mr Marshall says Rumney High's new definition of bullying means it can respond more effectively.

But Steph Smith, one of the youth panel judges, still rejects the idea that some pupils may be over-sensitive. "Every complaint should be taken seriously - everyone's mental state is different," she said.

Miss Smith, 18, who works for the Young People's Partnership, said most members of the youth panel had been bullied.

Backed by Cardiff council, they went out to see exactly what schools were doing in personal and social education lessons, publicity around the school, how bullies were dealt with and whether there was a support group.

Only eight of the 22 schools approached responded.

The youth panel also included Heather Baker, 19, now a council youth worker, who was bullied because she had the hair-loss condition alopecia.

"I lost my confidence. I'd get as far as the school gates but wouldn't go in," she said. "I did GCSEs but failed them."

She found it shocking how widely school systems varied in dealing with bullying, and that in one PSE class pupils simply sat down and read literature without any discussion.

Cardiff's Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr was revealed as the overall winning school in the city's Stop Bullying Award as TES Cymru went to press.

In some cases, pupils helped write school policy and led assembly. They also developed ideas to protect victims such as shadowing, safe routes home and anger management counselling.

Throughout anti-bullying week, NSPCC Cymru has also offered schools free materials combining PSE lessons with fundraising activities. Welsh rugby international and Ospreys star Gavin Henson became the face of NSPCC Cymru's Defeat Bullying campaign and will appear on posters in schools, though he declined to answer questions on whether he had ever been bullied.

Meanwhile, two anti-bullying conferences hosted by the government took as their theme Schools in the Community.

"Many young people are bullied travelling to and from school," said education minister Jane Hutt. "I'm well aware of cyber-bullying, where people are intimidated via mobiles or through the internet."

Leader, page 28.

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