Texting the teacher and ‘vertical’ form groups: latest weapons against bullying

As part of Anti-Bullying Week, the Anti-Bullying Alliance has published new research showing more than a quarter of 11-16s have given up on an activity because of bullying. So what is the state of the art in anti-bullying policies and where are some schools still going wrong? This is from the Guardian…

Bullying is the first thing prospective pupils, and their parents, hear about when they visit Passmores academy in Harlow, Essex. Some governors, admits the headteacher, Vic Goddard, have worried about the wisdom of this. “One governor said he wondered whether mentioning bullying so often was a mistake – would people think it was more of a problem here because I keep talking about it?

“But, in fact, in the feedback we get from parents after these sessions, many say how pleased they were that we were so upfront about bullying and the need to tackle it. We know that parents really worry about their child being vulnerable – they want to know that a school is doing all it can to protect its pupils.”

A growing number of studies show bullying hits schools where it hurts, in their attendance records and in their attainment levels. According to the Anti-Bullying Alliance, 16,000 children aged 11-15 are truanting every day because of bullying; and a child who is being bullied achieves GCSE grades that are on average two grades lower than they should have been.

This week, for Anti-Bullying Week, the Anti-Bullying Alliance published new research showing how pupils’ potential is still being undermined by bullying. In a new poll, more than a quarter of 11-16s questioned said they had given up on an activity because of bullying. More than nine out of 10 had been bullied themselves, or witnessed someone else being bullied, as a result of being clever or talented. And almost half had played down a talent for fear of being bullied. More than one in five girls had played down their maths skills because they feared being bullied.

“They are shocking figures and show that despite a huge investment in anti-bullying measures in schools, we still have a lot of work to do,” says Lauren Seager-Smith, national co-ordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance. “We already knew that children with, for example, special needs or a disability were more likely to be bullied; what these figures show is that pupils who have talents are also targets for bullies.”

So what do schools need to do to get a better grip on the problem? Earlier this year, Ofsted published a survey into the effectiveness of the measures schools take on bullying. The best schools, it said, had “firm and imaginative” measures. But some schools were failing to take all the opportunities they could to stamp out bullying and were not giving teachers the knowledge or confidence they needed to deal with it.

“Some schools don’t have a definition of bullying – some don’t even like to use the word bullying,” says Seager-Smith. “That immediately rings alarm bells – because if you think there’s no bullying, it means you’re not open to pupils reporting it. Sadly, bullying is part of human nature – and the first way to combat it is to name it openly. Then, you need to keep on top of it, you can’t ever afford to get complacent.”

One of the central planks of Passmores academy’s anti-bullying strategy is “vertical” tutor groups with year 7 through to year 11 pupils in each group. “It gives the younger children older ones who are their mates and will stick up for them – and, in fact, where there are siblings, they’re usually in the same tutor group,” explains Goddard.

“Vertical tutor groups have transformed relationships in our school – they’ve created a family atmosphere.” Younger pupils are also allocated an older student to be their “learning partner”, another attempt to foster closer relationships and, in turn, reduce the risk of bullying…

At Passmores, Goddard believes that online behaviour is no different from real behaviour: make clear what’s right and what’s wrong, and you reduce the risks, he says.

As far as reporting goes, Passmores has both a text number and an email address that pupils can use. “And I’ve got an open-door policy, and my pupils know that,” says Goddard. Active listeners, fellow students who have been trained to help by listening and by suggesting where to go to get help with a problem, can also help.

In terms of dealing with the bullies themselves, Passmores uses a system of restorative justice under which bullies and bullied, sometimes with their parents, are brought together to talk about the impact the bullying has had, and to decide how to go forward. “It’s not quick, but it’s definitely the best way of dealing with the problem,” says Goddard…

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