Trainees 'taught too little about bullying'

Student teachers are being taught little more about anti-bullying measures and how to promote a positive ethos in 2004 than they were 10 years ago.

Brian Boyd, of Strathclyde University's education faculty, told a Glasgow seminar last week that the lack of progress was in part due to the cluttered curriculum in initial teacher education.

In a survey of Scotland's seven ITE institutions, teacher trainers reported that coverage of bullying ranged from permeating the curriculum to a maximum of six teaching hours within a year.

Similarly, coverage of ethos ranged from "permeation" to two discrete hours and up to 24 hours - although Professor Boyd advised that the figure of 24 hours be treated with caution.

He also issued a warning about the term "permeation", saying that in practice it could mean very different things.

In 1994, when Andrew Mellor, manager of the Anti-bullying Network and Scottish Schools Ethos Network, carried out a similar exercise, between 1.5 and six hours were devoted to bullying in ITE, and work on ethos was described as "ongoing". Professor Boyd's explanation for the apparent lack of progress on the delivery of these courses covered several areas:

* the ITE curriculum was cluttered and "bitty", leaving students struggling to make sense of the bigger picture at times;

* universities suffer from inertia and work very slowly;

* the subjects do not fall under one person's sole responsibility;

* there is a lack of available time, even on BEd courses.

Professor Boyd said the lack of progress was to some extent surprising given that Scotland was a world leader in anti-bullying measures, thanks largely to the development of the network.

"It puts us in a weak position as ITE educators if we appear not to be spending very much time on it," he added.

Calling for a new conceptual framework in ITE, he said these areas needed to be taught to new teachers because "to be effective lifelong learners, people must start as young people confident in themselves". That would happen only if they felt safe in their classrooms and playgrounds.

Professor Boyd said the curriculum review for 3-18 offered opportunities for a more joined-up approach across sectors and institutions. The review was about freeing up the system whereas in the past schools were rewarded only for raising attainment, not for risk-taking or trying things differently.

Morag Gunion, HMI lead inspector for additional support needs, told the seminar that 14 per cent of primary pupils felt staff in schools could do more to deal with bullying compared to 26 per cent in secondary schools.

Similarly, when teachers were asked whether they felt their school dealt effectively with incidents of bullying, 3 per cent in primary schools strongly disagreed compared to 8 per cent in secondaries.

In primary schools, 7 per cent of pupils did not feel safe or well looked-after and 13 per cent said the same in secondary schools, she said.

Marian Rae, a P4 probationer teacher of 29 children (20 of them boys) in Ratho primary outside Edinburgh, said that, despite her teacher training, she did not always feel prepared to deal with the realities of classroom teaching. It was sometimes difficult to put into practice the some of the ideas she had developed in her ITE courses, she added.

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