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Beating back-to-school bullying

It’s the beginning of a new school year, and while this can be an exciting time for fresh-faced new pupils, as well as returning pupils, it’s easy to admit that after six weeks of ‘freedom’, the return to school following the summer holidays isn’t exactly eagerly anticipated by all pupils (not to mention staff).

However, complaints about the return of the early morning routine and the structured daily timetable pale into insignificance with the revelation of some shocking new research showing that 45 percent of the 10 million UK pupils returning to school this week will be returning to routine, daily bullying – certainly enough to instil dread into any child.

Not only this, but the figures, from the Diana Award Charity, also showed that 24 percent of pupils admitted to suicidal thoughts as a result of the bullying, and 70 percent often look to change their appearance and self-presentation to prevent themselves from being bullied.1

Image from Graphicstock
Image from Graphicstock

The tip of the iceberg

The results are no anomaly – many people for whom primary and high school is just a distant memory still find it hard to forget their school bully. But while bullying 20 years ago is no less harmful than it is today, the new age of technology has made children increasingly vulnerable to bullying on more different platforms than ever.

Last month, the Children’s Society’s annual Good Childhood report found that UK pupils were among the most unhappy pupils at school due to bullying. The cause of pupils’ unhappiness ranging from being hit by other pupils, to feeling left out, to low self-esteem due to appearance.2

Who’s to blame?

As a result of the new Diana Award findings, schools are in the firing line for not doing enough to protect their pupils from bullying and prevent their pupils from bullying others.

“Our research shows that schools are failing to keep young people safe and happy, and that is unacceptable. For a child to feel suicidal because of the treatment they have had at school is totally unacceptable,” said Alex Holmes, head of the Diana Award anti-bullying campaign.

This echoes the sentiment of the quote from Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of the Children’s Society, following their own findings a month ago: “It is deeply worrying that children in this country are so unhappy at school compared to other countries, and it is truly shocking that thousands of children are being physically and emotionally bullied, damaging their happiness. School should be a safe haven, not a battleground.”

These are only a couple of quotes among many holding schools highly responsible for the happiness of their pupils; however, schools are battling against the new and accelerating impacts of social media, the regular media, and social pressures. Government and school assessments, celebrity culture and the boastful nature of social media can all see young children feeling like failures before they even leave primary school. Not only that, but with the rise of ‘banter’ the lines between bullying and ‘joking’ are becoming increasingly blurred, making it more difficult to identify. One teacher from Norfolk resorted to banning the word banter from the classroom because he believed his pupils were using the term to ‘legitimise bullying’.3

While the mounting statistics and news articles are disturbing, especially as they coincide with the increase of mental health issues in young people, surely there should be a more positive impact of such negative information than simply pointing the finger and prescribing the blame?4 So, what can you do to help prevent bullying?

How to beat back-to-school bullying

According to anti-bullying campaign Anti-Bullying Pro, “one of the most important things that a school needs to have to help combat bullying is an effective and anonymous way to report it.” Some ideas include anonymous email addresses or phone numbers and ‘bully boxes’: locked boxes with a slot through which pupils can post anonymous reports of bullying. Once these measures are in place, it’s important to make all students aware of them and make them feel comfortable to use these channels.

The Diana Awards, the overhead charity of Anti-Bullying Pro, run an Anti-Bullying Ambassadors programme, a series of training events, which teaches pupils the skills they need to be responsible for raising awareness of bullying, leading campaigns, promoting kindness and ensuring their peers stay safe both online and offline. Having a peer-led approach to tackling bullying can help everyone feel responsible, as part of a team, for stopping bullying.

The Anti-Bullying Pro website hosts lots of helpful information about how to deal with bullying.

Here’s what Anti-Bullying Pro advise you do if a pupil approaches you about being bullied:

  • Reassure the pupil that you are there to help and that coming to you was the right thing to do.
  • Ask them to explain their situation, how they are being bullied, and how often they are being bullied, to allow you to determine whether the action constitutes bullying.

Advice to give the pupil:

  • Don’t retaliate to the bully, especially in a way that will get them in trouble.
  • Come up with a positive coping mechanism (you can help them with this), for instance, counting to ten when bullying occurs.
  • Remove themselves from the situation as soon as possible and go to a safe place/find someone they trust/go to an anti-bullying ambassador (if you have them) or member of staff.
  • Find out who the anti-bullying ambassadors/staff are in the school and acquire their help.
  • Ask them how you can help and what they would like you to do – give them a sense of ownership over the situation.
  • Report the bullying to the appropriate member of staff.
  • When dealing with the pupil accused of the bullying, make sure you act in accordance with your school’s Anti-Bullying Policy, and with the victim’s request.

You may also want to consider:

  • Weekly/daily meetings, until the situation improves.
  • Advising the pupil of somewhere they can go to talk to someone at any time.
  • Reporting the bullying to parents (depending on the severity).
  • Encouraging the pupil to buddy-up with a trusted pupil.
  • Encouraging the pupil to keep a diary/log of the bullying.
  • Encouraging the pupil to engage in activities they enjoy, to take their mind off it.
  • Involving the pupil in a lunchtime activity to keep them away from the bully and encourage them to have fun.5

Bullying can continue even after staff have intervened, so it is imperative to follow up any instances reported to you.

The key message resonating throughout professional anti-bullying advice is to make pupils aware that they are not alone, and that they can talk to you about their problems. The Anti-Bullying Alliance emphasises communication as a vital part of tackling bullying: “Never suffer in silence.”6

Following on from their research, The Children’s Society has called for the government to require schools to provide counselling for pupils, and has urged schools to help children’s wellbeing by tackling bullying and promoting physical exercise.

Also, with the approach of anti-bullying week, Anti-Bullying Pro have begun a #back2school twitter campaign to raise bullying awareness, which has seen hundreds of people sharing their school photographs and experiences of bullying to highlight and enforce that anti-bullying motto, “never suffer in silence”.

[1] BT (2015) ‘Bullying at school happens to 45% of children every day’ <https://home.bt.com/news/uk-news/bullying-at-school-happens-to-45-of-children-every-day-11364001178453> [Accessed: 02 September 2015]

[2] Sally Weale (2015) ‘English children among the unhappiest in the world at school due to bullying’ <http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/aug/19/english-children-among-unhappiest-world-widespread-bullying> [Accessed: 02 September 2015]

[3] Richard Haugh (2015) ‘Should banter be banned?’ <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-30234121> [Accessed: 02 September 2015]

[4] Ami Sedghi (2015) ‘What is the state of children’s mental health today?’ <http://www.theguardian.com/society/christmas-charity-appeal-2014-blog/2015/jan/05/-sp-state-children-young-people-mental-health-today> [Accessed: 02 September 2015]

[5] Anti-Bullying Pro (2015) ‘Frequently Asked Questions for Staff’ <http://www.antibullyingpro.com/staff-support> [Accessed: 02 September 2015]

[6] Anti-Bullying Alliance (2015) ‘Advice: Children & Young People’ <http://www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/advice/children-young-people/> [Accessed: 02 September 2015]

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