way schools react is important
The most effective thing
that a school can do to reduce bullying is to have a policy outlining
how the issue is raised within the curriculum, and how incidents are
dealt with after they have happened i.e. the policy must acknowledge
the need for both pro-active and re-active strategies. But no school
has the answer to every problem, and no single method can be used to
deal with all bullying incidents.
The way in which adults react
to bullying contributes to the ethos of the school and can help to make
it more or less likely that bullying will happen in future. Ignoring
the problem encourages it to flourish. A heavy-handed approach can drive
it underground. However, a positive, open response will encourage young
people to speak up about matters that concern them and will improve
the learning environment by promoting more caring and responsible patterns
strategies are best?
Schools are getting better at dealing
with bullying but it will be some time before a quick resolution of
all incidents can be guaranteed. Sometimes all that is needed is a simple
word or two from a teacher to make children realise that what they are
doing is wrong. At the other extreme some bullying remains intractable.
The development of new ideas continues and all it is possible to do
at the moment is to list some of the strategies for which success has
been claimed and to provide a few words of commentary on each.
such as suspension or expulsion can mark the seriousness with which
an episode of bullying is viewed and can also help to provide a safer
environment for victims. It also has to be recognised that some types
of bullying are crimes. Schools are subject to the law of the land
so the possibility of punishment in response to very serious incidents
cannot be denied. However, the great majority of bullying goes unpunished
so some new ways of helping the thousands of hidden victims of bullying
- Assertive discipline
- a method developed the United States which involves a rigid system
of rewards and sanctions consistently applied by all teachers in a
school. It is claimed that this method helps to motivate learning
and to reduce the level of classroom indiscipline, but its effectiveness
in coping with bullying is not clear.
- Bully boxes
- a simple method whereby youngsters can put their concerns on paper
and post them in a "bully box". What happens to these notes
is the key to the success or failure of this technique. Can genuine
comments be distinguished from frivolous or malicious ones?
- Bully courts
- the idea that young people should play a part in making school rules
and in deciding what should happen to those who break them is not
new. Some progressive schools introduced councils to do this over
fifty years ago. More recently a few schools have tried to establish
courts or councils solely to deal with cases of bullying. However,
the principle that young people should sit in judgement on their peers,
and punish wrongdoers remains controversial. What is clear is that
adults must play an active and guiding role in such proceedings in
order to protect the welfare of all the young people involved.
- a teacher or another adult may have the skills and time to offer
support to young people involved in bullying. Both bullies and victims
can benefit from this process. The main problems are that it is time
consuming, the youngsters must take part voluntarily and there is
a lack of trained counsellors in schools.
- some schools have introduced schemes where two parties to a relationship
problem agree that a third person, who may be either an adult or another
young person, helps to negotiate a solution. This seems to be helpful
in many situations, especially where there is not too large an imbalance
of power between the protagonists - but not in all cases of bullying.
A bully may refuse to take part because he or she has no interest
in ending the bullying. A victim may feel that a negotiated solution
is not appropriate when it is the other person who is entirely in
- Peer counselling
- a small number of secondary schools have used older teenagers as
peer counsellors. Good training and continuing support is vital if
these young volunteers are to be able to help victims who may be quite
- The 'no blame'
approach - a step by step technique which allows early intervention
because it does not require that anyone should be proved to be at
fault. A group of young people, which includes bystanders as well
as possible bullies, is made aware of a victim's distress and is asked
to suggest solutions. This approach is particularly useful in dealing
with group bullying and name-calling, when it may be difficult to
use more traditional remedies.
- The 'shared concern'
method - a Swedish technique which has much in common with
the "No blame" approach, although it has not been widely
used in Britain, perhaps because it is more elaborate and time consuming.
Both of these methods have been criticised for failing to allocate
blame but both aim to encourage bullies to accept responsibility for
their actions as well as bringing the bullying to an end.
focused approaches" share much of the philosophy of
the previous two strategies but can be applied to problems other than
bullying. This is helpful because the task of finding out the facts
of an incident and then of making a judgement about whether it should
be called bullying or not is sometimes impossible. Relationship problems
amongst a group of children can be very complicated indeed. They can
also be very damaging to the personal development and education of
some of the individuals involved. Being able to intervene without
wasting too much time trying to untangle emotional knots has obvious
attractions for busy teachers.
- Reporting systems
- it is most important that schools should have efficient ways of
recording reports of serious bullying so that a check can be kept
of patterns of behaviour. This can also help to ensure that incidents
are not overlooked.
- "Safe rooms"
have been set up in some schools at break and lunch times as a refuge
for bullied children. Although this may provide safety in the short
term, it could have the effect of making the rest of the school seem
even more hostile to the children who use it.
- Telephone help
lines - services such as ChildLine provide valuable support
to children who are afraid to speak out about bullying. However, the
fact that they exist is a signal that some schools are failing to
provide conditions in which children are able to discuss their problems
openly. One or two schools have set up their own internal help lines
in an attempt to increase the opportunities for worried children to
- no strategy will be effective unless all members of the school community,
pupils, parents, teachers and others, are prepared to talk about bullying
openly and seriously.
A useful book for teachers
and others is:
Schools and what to do about it by Ken Rigby, Jessica
Kingsley Publishers, 1997.
Some of the information in
this sheet has been adapted from a small book which offers advice to
families who are concerned about bullying:
Bullying at School
- advice for families by Andrew Mellor, Scottish
Council for Research in Education, 1997