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Toughies get the gentle touch

The Anti-Bullying Drama Pack, By Penny Casdagli, Daniels Pounds 50, Age range 11 - 14, Turning Blind Eyes, Video Pack, Carel PressCheshire County Council, Pounds 21.95 Age range 14 - 16. Beat Bullying With Buzz, Video and teacher's support pack, A19 Film and Video Pounds 25, 21 Foyle Street, Sunderland SR1 1LE , Age range 6 - 11

Good intentions are not always enough, discovers Adrian King, as he reviews the latest anti-bullying packs. Nasty business, bullying. Once it was easy - ignore it or catch the bullies and box their ears. Now there's the "no-blame" approach, not to be mistaken for a soft "it's not their fault" attitude. Bullying is torment that has to stop, but both bully and victim have needs that the teacher can address. Labelling is vicious and bullying behaviour can be outlawed without rejecting anyone.

These three new packs address the subject. First, The Anti-Bullying Drama Pack, a 155-page loose-leaf set which neither attempts a theoretical analysis of bullying, nor helps with a whole-school policy. Instead it provides detailed guidance on using drama workshops to address bullying and its "ritualistic cruelty".

The author is clear about her objective to reduce and protect against bullying in schools where there is already an anti-bullying policy in place. And she achieves her aims.

The pack challenges the "bully" and "victim" labels, and highlights the special needs of pupils of different cultures, abilities or mother tongues. It includes the text of the author's insightful play Only Playing, Miss for reference, suggesting extracts to be used in each of the seven workshops the resource describes. A video of the play is available separately.

The workshops are for key stage 3 (adaptable for younger or older students), but stipulate a maximum of 15 pupils. The first deals with self-esteem and can be used independently, the others deal with the dynamics of the group and its feelings, exploration of scenarios involving bullying, who is involved and what can be done about it.

The workshop sessions assume a well-behaved class, and a confident and skilled teacher. Although the pack effectively models a non-judgemental approach, it seriously underplays the equally crucial need to train staff who are not drama specialists. Nevertheless, this pack has a gentle, perceptive quality that is unusual in this type of resource.

Turning Blind Eyes consists of a 20-minute video, a 33-page guide and a separate booklet containing the script of a full-length play. The guide provides detailed commentary on the need to address bullying, suggests content for a school policy and explores the meanings of "bullying" and "truancy", widening the latter to include disaffection and disruption within school.

It carefully proposes strategies for dealing with and preventing these trends, adding observations from a number of professionals. It also provides a full synopsis of the video story, which deals with a painful series of bullying events ring-led by a boy who combines taunts, physical violence and exploitation of weaker sidekicks. The bullied boy is reluctant to tell anyone and only plucks up courage in the final scene.

There is little help for anyone wanting to explain bullying behaviour or understand how the perpetrators can be helped. Despite the guide's declaration of a no-blame approach in responding to incidents, there is no explanation of what this means or how it can be achieved. The video offers little insight into the abuses, and the model school policy suggests strong-arm tactics to deal with bullies. The play is considerably fuller, but leaves these critical issues unresolved.

The Beat Bullying with Buzz video shows a primary school girl being bullied by two female classmates and the loneliness of a boy who is left out of all his peers' activities. In the end, the two unhappy children persuade each other to tell their teachers.

The film is well-produced and convincingly acted, interspersed by animated comment from Buzz, a cartoon character who points out some of the unspoken dimensions of the action.

His dismissal of all bullies as boring bigheads is unlikely to encourage much change among them and the support booklet further reinforces this labelling. In other respects, the material provides good opportunities for a skilled teacher to raise and explore the issues with pupils.

Adrian King is health education coordinator for Berkshire

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