By Frankie Stephens – firstname.lastname@example.org
This Anti-Bullying Week, EqualiTeach is pleased to be facilitating critical thinking workshops with 26 year five and six classes across London and the South East of England. It’s fantastic that schools are taking steps to tackle discrimination, intolerance and bullying, and to celebrate diversity within their classrooms.
However, although many schools are taking positive action against bullying, research carried out by the Anti-Bullying Alliance in 2016 shows that one in four school children reported that they were bullied a lot at school. With figures so high, it is evident that despite schools’ best efforts, bullying is still having a huge impact on young people of school age. We spoke to students from primary and secondary schools in London, to ask about bullying in their school environment. It soon became apparent that in all the schools we spoke to, there were some really great steps being taken to tackle bullying, including worry boxes where concerns could be shared, and on-hand counsellors available to students. It was good to see that in all schools, children knew which member/s of staff they should report bullying to. However, when asked the question “What stops people from reporting bullying?”, there was an obvious theme, with answers such as “threats”, “might make bullying worse” and “worried about what other people might think”. Children were worried about being ‘caught’ reporting bullying. In 2016, Childline reported that children are contacting the service to talk about being bullied, as they are afraid to speak out to teachers or other adults or believe that speaking out will make things worse.
How can schools help those who are afraid to speak out? Worry boxes are excellent, as long as they are being utilised correctly. If a student adds a concern into the worry box but is then publicly approached to discuss their report of bullying, all anonymity is lost. In the schools we visited, students also mentioned that by reporting bullying the reporter may have to miss out on their break or lunch time to talk about their report with a staff member. This put students off reporting, as missing break time or lunch time would often be seen as a punishment; why should they be punished for doing the right thing? Teachers must ensure the anonymity of the reporter is respected, and that if a staff member wishes to discuss the report with them, that it is approached with subtlety and at an appropriate time.
Creating a standard bullying reporting form can ensure that students ‘stick to the facts’ when reporting bullying. Encourage students to state who was involved, when the incident took place, whether there were any witnesses, and if they have any evidence (e.g screenshots of cyberbullying). This will show students that there is no room for stories to become exaggerated and reduces the risk of members of staff asking leading questions (Anti-Bullying Alliance, N.D). With students in KS2 and above, why not take advantage of the technology that young people are becoming increasingly familiar with? Create a platform where students can interact with the school’s anti-bullying advisor online and not have to approach the conversation face to face, with the added anxiety of being caught ‘snitching’.
Rather than focusing on what to do when bullying occurs, it is good for schools to take on a holistic, pro-active approach to creating an anti-bullying culture. Schools will often pride themselves on their ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to bullying, however this isn’t always effective, simply punishing the perpetrator without understanding the reasons behind their negative behaviour and how they can change moving forward, may cause the situation to escalate. For a ‘no by-standers’ culture to be achieved, it must be very clear what the course of action for all parties is following a report of bullying. Allowing students to have an input when creating anti-bullying policies and procedures can not only give schools an insight into the needs and preferences of their pupils but can also help as a bullying deterrent. Students are less likely to break rules when they have created them themselves (Jonathan. C Erwin, Classroom of Choice, 2004).
Elizabeth Nassem, a researcher at Birmingham City University’s Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education, has done a lot of research on how providing young people with the facilities and skills needed to manage issues and conflict, can go a long way in helping young people to resolve issues of negative behaviour and bullying amongst themselves. Peer mentoring groups in which students can discuss incidents of bullying that have arisen, what has happened, the likely consequences of their actions, how a situation could be handled more respectfully if it were to happen again, and the chance to role-play alternative scenarios can all help to break the pattern of negative behaviour.
However, this does not mean that teachers should take a back seat and assume that students will be able to resolve incidents themselves. Students must feel that they can approach their teacher as a support. It is important that members of staff are able to reflect on the perspectives of both the accuser and the perpetrator calmly and fairly, without labelling a child as a ‘victim’, a ‘bully’ or just simply a ‘naughty child’. Working with all children involved, to help understand how they are feeling, to understand why the accuser is feeling victimised, what is driving the perpetrator to exhibit consistent negative behaviour to a fellow student or students and help with any underlying issues.
The theme of this year’s Anti-Bullying Week is ‘Choose Respect’, which ties in with the creation of a whole school approach to anti-bullying. At school children should be encouraged to respect one another, teachers and the wider community, as well as having acts of kindness praised, all-in-all working towards a positive, inclusive, anti-bullying school culture.