No school should tolerate it. No bully should get away with it. No child should experience it. And yet we know it goes on day in and day out in our schools.
There were two sets of bullies in my class at secondary school. They terrorised their victims with threats and intimidation. They were ghastly girls and most of us, who were not the target, just kept clear. There was also bullying of the ‘exclusion’ variety – less obvious but just as diminishing for the victim who was left out of everything and made to feel ugly and unwanted.
Most schools now (unlike then) actually have bullying policies – and bullying is taken much more seriously now than then. But it’s still a problem we have to face up to and work against.
This week is anti-bullying week. To highlight this locally Haringey Youth Council are marching today: about 250 young people, ending the march at Spurs football ground with a series of events. It is fantastic to have a youth organisation taking this on and taking direct action on such an important issue. Congratulations to them.
Bullying damages lives – it isn’t just about harming a child’s schoolwork. Whenever I listen to programs on bullying (sometimes the subject of a phone in on the radio) and I hear adults – sometimes in their sixties or seventies – talking about having been bullied at school, what strikes me is that the hurt has never really gone. They often cry as they talk about those long ago experiences. Those are the psychological hurts that can and do blight entire lives.
Bullying often has a focus such as race or gender – and then displays itself as racial prejudice or sexual harassment. Homophobic bullying is more common than many people imagine. As www.standuptobullying.org (a Liberal Democrat website about homophobic bullying) recounts:
A 14-year old girl, after disclosing to a friend she might be a lesbian, was forced by the PE teacher to sit outside the changing rooms before and after sports lessons until the "normal" children have changed.
A boy who came out when he was 12 was persecuted at school as a consequence. He had a camp way of speaking and walking, which the other children didn’t like. "People would put up signs saying I had Aids, that I was a dirty, HIV faggot and not to go near me. I was punched and kicked."
So – we all need to be active and alive to these issues, whether as parents, teachers, classmates or politicians. There are some key measures that need to be taken. All schools should be required to keep a record of each bullying incident to create a reliable database to make it easier to tackle the problem. Peer bullying mentors in each school seem to be effective too and the Government needs to do urgent and comprehensive research to quantify the occurrence and trends in bullying and the effectiveness of different anti-bullying strategies. Why? Because the Government has thrown good money after bad on bullying because without these records and research no-one really knows what works and what doesn’t. If we had the information, action could be more effective.
And we need to look at the bully too. Bullying happens to disguise flaws in the bully – so they need their anger, low-self esteem and behaviour tackled too. Low self-esteem is a key factor, highlighted in all studies of bullying.
Finally – parents have a key role If your child has been bullied – and if they have had the courage to tell you about it (as some are too ashamed to tell) – then take action. And if you don’t get the response or action you think appropriate – then take it further. There are organisations out there to support you and your child. We adults all have to act together to stop the tears and the terror that bullying brings.
I doubt we can ever end bullying completely, but we can – and must – work harder to reduce the numbers of kids who have their schooldays scarred by bullying.
(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2007