Today we have the first part of our fantastic article from guest blogger, Dr. Bob Sproson, Director of Education at Red Balloon, the only alternative educational provider for severely bullied children in the UK.
“In schools that perceive themselves as communities and that provide unconditional positive regard to each member of that community, their members are less likely to seek to bring pain into the lives of each other; in schools which view themselves as organisations wherein students have to compete to earn regard, then bullying will occur.”
Identifying young people who are experiencing bullying: The list of behaviours that could indicate that a young person is experiencing bullying is a very lengthy one, but there are three essentials for all adults. They need to:
- Do all that they can to make young people feel able to talk openly and honestly to them;
- ‘Teach’ young people that there is no shame in being bullied – it can happen to the brightest, healthiest, most capable and most attractive of people;
- Be aware of any change in a young person’s behaviour – it is change rather than any specific behaviour that might indicate extreme unhappiness as a result of bullying.
There are some behaviours that occur more than others (e.g. self-harming, refusal to go where the bullies are, spending excessive time alone, not eating properly) that may indicate that bullying is taking place, but it is the occurrence of different/new behaviours that should be ‘watched for’. Equally any sudden decline in school performance may well indicate bullying (see educational needs of students below). It is essential that schools offer a forum (e.g. ‘form’ time or PSHE) where students are enabled to talk freely and honestly: where such forums exist, it is rare that bullying occurs. Educational needs of ‘bullied’ students: Regardless of whether the needs of students are defined as ‘special’ or simply ‘individual’, it is beyond question that a person who is in a high state of emotional arousal, whose thoughts are dominated by worry and fear, is unable to learn effectively and may even lose access to previously ‘learned’ information. If a student is to learn s/he must:
- Feel safe;
- Be allowed to re-address previous learning without fear of being chided for ‘failing to remember’ (“you used to be quite good at this… we’ve done this before – you should know it”!);
- Be given the opportunity – probably through the creative arts curriculum, or through creative writing – to express their strong emotions, be they anger, shame or something else;
- Receive strong positive support for their learning – a re-emphasis that they are worthwhile, that they contribute to the school community etc;
- Believe they are a valued member of the school community.
If those needs are to be ‘well met’, that may require the provision of additional resources – schools require a mechanism to enable that to happen. Supporting bullied students: Whilst every effort should be made to reduce the likelihood that bullying might occur, it can occur within the most supportive of communities, thus no school should be fearful of acknowledging the occurrence (clearly if there are multiple occurrences, a school should question its own practice). Any student who believes her/himself to have been bullied needs to be:
- Listened to in a non-judgemental manner;
- Given the option of going to a ‘safe place’ during social times;
- Assured that all teachers and support assistants will ensure that no ‘threatening behaviour’ occurs during lesson times;
- Offered advice in terms of managing their ‘online life’ should bullying be occurring through this medium;
- Provided with opportunities to consider their own behaviour and how they might reduce the likelihood of bullying occurring;
- Given support to maintain their academic progress.
Working with the students who choose to bully others: There is plentiful evidence that simply punishing perpetrators has little long term effect: it may simply lead the perpetrator to bully in a more insidious and clandestine fashion. Techniques such as the ‘no blame’ approach and ‘restorative justice’ offer a much greater prospect of achieving the desired outcome – staff should be trained in such approaches. Young people who elect to bully others may lack empathy or simply not understand the impact that their behaviour has on others. If they are able to develop empathy, the likelihood of them continuing the behaviour is greatly reduced. Authors such as Simon Baron-Cohen (Zero Degrees of Empathy, 2012) have argued persuasively that schools should hold the development of cognitive and affective empathy as a core aim for all students. Appropriate work should take place within PSHE or form time; work with individual students might involve (there are similarities with effective work with bullied students):
- Being listened to in a non-judgemental way as to why s/he chooses this behaviour;
- Activities, especially with younger children, that enable them to learn new and appropriate ways of behaving/playing/socialising;
- Access to a personal behaviour management programme designed so that s/he explicitly learns about anger management, depression, the difference between leadership and bullying, and about building positive relationships;
- Asking them how bullying in the community should be dealt with – what the appropriate actions or sanctions might be, and how they think bullying can be ‘stopped’;
- Being given access to a range of creative arts work through which they can express their feelings/emotions;
- Being given access to counselling either with a qualified ‘talk’ counsellor or through sessions such as drama therapy, play therapy or art therapy;
- Reading literature or watching plays/films that deal with bullying issues.
Red Balloon is the only current provider offering high quality academic provision alongside a wellbeing programme that aims to re-build the student’s self image and provide them with the interpersonal skills and the positive self esteem necessary to re-access mainstream school.
7a Chesterton Mill, French’s Road, Cambridge, CB4 3NP Tel: 01223 366052
Registered Charity No. 1109606