Take the bully by the horns

30th July 2004 at 01:00
Geoff Barton finds a comprehensive guide to dealing with intimidation

Preventing Bullying in Schools By Chris Lee Paul Chapman Publishing pound;16.99

While the language of schools frequently changes - currently it's all about leadership, collaboration, federation and specialisation - some words remain constant. One of them is bullying. Quite right, too: we forget at our peril how damaging even low-level bullying can be. It is a central responsibility of schools to create conditions that deter bullying and then to act quickly and effectively if it happens.

Chris Lee's book offers a comprehensive guide to this sensitive topic. He starts with a good account of what bullying is and uses a range of activities for staff to encourage a school-wide approach to the topic.

There are many of these, and just how far, in practice, schools would actually be able to undertake work in such depth is debatable.

But what is admirable about this book is the way it makes a difficult and sometimes intangible issue and shows systematic strategies for dealing with it. Lee helps us to identify bullies and reflect on appropriate punishments. He also gives a very helpful step-by-step approach to the development of an anti-bullying policy. This perhaps is the book's most powerful feature, reminding us that policy generation is more important than having a written policy.

One of the interesting features is the emphasis on collecting data from students and parents. It is easy for us to assume that bullying is a rarity in our own schools, or linked only to a few well-known ruffians. Lee's bullying survey gives students an anonymous opportunity to inform school staff about the situation.

The only question I might have added would be about possible bullying hot-spots - that is, asking students to tell teachers of areas in the school where they feel less secure or even intimidated. They may not be the areas we would assume. He includes guidance for mealtime assistants. This is important because it may feel in some schools as if we hand the territory over to the students with the rapid retreat of teachers and other authority figures until the afternoon bell. This is prime bullying time and supervisors need to be trained in how to speak appropriately to young people, how to shadow students of concern and how to embody the school's anti-bullying approach.

This is a welcome book, a skilful mix of practical advice placed in a broader perspective of defining bullying carefully and exploring existing good practice.

Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI school, Suffolk

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