Bullying can start with six-year-olds but the success rate in tackling it is high for schools which take positive steps, according to one of Scotland's leading experts.
As the handling of bullying by the Nicolson Institute in the Western Isles once again raises the profile of the issue, Alan McLean, a principal psychologist in Glasgow, says bullying can start as early as primary 2 and is a bigger problem in primary schools because there is too little management time.
"I will guarantee the hard core of bullies in secondary started in primary and, undetected, the most extreme of them will become criminals," Mr McLean said in an interview with The TES Scotland.
Mr McLean carried out a survey of 16,000 pupils in 75 west ofScotland primaries and secondaries. This revealed that one in 20 pupils is severely bullied. Butone in four primary pupils said they were victims.
He challenged the assumption that schools could do little about bullying. Those which identify and tackle it report an 82 per cent success rate in stamping it out, he says.
Mr McLean said: "The key target for schools should be the bystanders. The victim usually feels shame. What we should do is transfer it to the bully by combating bystander apathy. The mistake schools make is to treat bullying incidents as isolated. Ad hoc punitive responses are inadequate."
He also warned schools to be on their guard against stereotypes which assume that bullies are incompetent and inept. Bullies usually have a strong personality and are manipulative, Mr McLean found. If the ringleader is a girl, she is likely to be sophisticated and intelligent.
East Renfrewshire is the latest council to firm up its anti-bullying strategy. It aims to encourage "the silent majority" of pupils to take more responsibility for prevention, especially in the playground. The intention is to move beyond crisis management to a preventative approach, according to a draft circular which has been issued for consultation.
Meanwhile 60 per cent of parents at the school in the centre of the current controversy say they are confident the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway would take any bullying incident seriously. A parent survey by the Western Isles showed that, of 405 responses, 40 per cent described bullying as a minor problem at the school but 27 per cent said it was serious.
Teacher leaders have challenged the survey's reliability, however, because it was based on anonymous returns contrary, they say, to the practice in HMI inspections.
EXPERT AND THE VICTIM, TES2, page 3