Three-pronged attack

13th January 2006 at 00:00
What is your school doing to help pupils who are picked on, asks Harry Dodds

In November, the second annual anti-bullying week was held in schools nationally. Everywhere I went, there were posters, assemblies and lessons tackling the subject in citizenship and personal, social and health education. It was the theme of half the English lessons I saw.

The net result, surely, was everyone in schools - teachers and pupil alike - should now know exactly where to look for help. It seems to have been a consciousness-raising success.

As a new term starts, has it all been forgotten? There can be no better time for you, as new teachers, to examine what impact the week has actually made, and to help keep the impetus and activity going. You'll be helping to improve the culture and climate of your school, and you might be there for a few years yet to enjoy the benefits.

Begin by asking what has actually changed because of the week's efforts.

Has your school's anti-bullying policy been reviewed? Have your pupils been given responsibility for tackling bullying, and an active role in helping sort out problems? Is at least one of your governors now developing expertise in anti-bullying strategies?

Schools must develop their own policies. The external agencies may be there, in force, but it's the nature of bullying to be specific and localised.

The agencies may be excellent sources of support and resources, but you're in the front line. Like every other teacher, you have a personal responsibility to help change your school's culture, and to reinforce persistently the message that there is no place for bullying where you work.

What's more, your anti-bullying policy must be 100 per cent effective - anything less than that will simply drive bullying underground, and make it much harder to deal with.

The school needs to know what's going on in its darker corners. Who are your eyes and ears? Do your caretakers, lunchtime supervisors, canteen and grounds staff have both an awareness of their responsibility to tell teachers what they have seen and heard and clear lines of communication? Are your senior pupils - who are much closer to the corridors and quiet places than you can ever be - ready to report their suspicions? Is there a "worry box", in a place out of the public eye, in which pupils can confidentially leave notes about what they have seen or suffered?

Commonsense suggests that there are three principal populations to be addressed:

* the bully,

* the target (a much more positive term than victim,

* and - by far the most important if you're really going to change the culture and mobilise the whole school into doing away with bullying - the bystander. If anyone and everyone who sees an instance of bullying actively intervenes, rather than enjoying the frisson of witnessing someone else's humiliation, then there's no climate to support its survival.

Targets need assertiveness training, which must be be taught by professionals. They also need the security of knowing that if they report incidents, they will be dealt with firmly.

Dealing with bullies is more difficult. Even the Anti-Bullying Alliance is divided about whether it's best to punish them or to offer counselling, to help the bully empathise with the target's feelings. If the punishment is exclusion - to the streets rather than to a properly supportive environment - then that will be counterproductive. If the punishment is so harsh that the bully, in turn, finds justification for feeling victimised, then that's equally useless. If the solution is counselling, then it must be followed through until it has worked. You'll know it has succeeded when your former bully actually does something to stop others bullying.

Two government initiatives offer sound advice and good resources. Google for "social and emotional aspects of learning". And search for bullying, which will bring up interesting case studies.

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