‘Want to stop bullying? Let’s start with our deeply unimaginative curriculum’

To tackle bullying, we need our pupils to develop empathy and imagination, writes Tes’ mental health expert. That’s hard to do when the school system values semi-colon usage more than the enjoyment of reading

As a pundit on mental health, body image and education, I am now more than au fait with stories I’m scheduled to speak about being wiped off the board in favour of pressing considerations such as the Duchess of Cambridge looking like she might be a bit pregnant or getting a new fringe (yes, really). However, even I was disappointed when the snow settled upon us during Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which happened to also contain not only Self-Harm Awareness Day and World Book Day but also the release of some new research commissioned by the YMCA on appearance-related bullying. 

The report, which revealed that more than half of under-18s have been on the receiving end of appearance-based bullying, was spearheaded by the Be Real Campaign, a collaboration between YMCA and Dove that seeks to improve the body confidence of the nation. 

The long-term implications of bullying can be devastating. Research shows that half of bullied people go on to exhibit symptoms of depression in later life. Be Real’s research revealed that 53 per cent of those bullied about their appearance were experiencing anxiety as a direct result and 29 per cent felt depressed. A third said they had begun to avoid activities they usually enjoy and were isolating themselves because their confidence had been affected. 

While only quarter of those surveyed said that action had been taken against the perpetrator by their school or college, Denise Hatton, CEO of YMCA England and Wales, was quick to point out that this didn’t necessarily represent a failing on the part of staff: “Many were reluctant to report their behaviour…. for fear of the bully discovering they had ‘snitched’,” she told me.

Of course, if the report had enjoyed the expected amount of media attention, the inevitable cries of “schools should be doing more to tackle this!” and “teach this in PSHE!” would have followed. Indeed, the study itself claims that “young people felt lessons on bullying should be a compulsory part of the curriculum”. 

I wonder, however, whether this represents an effective solution. It certainly doesn’t in isolation. I have speculated in previous columns about the wisdom of a culture that, partly because of Ofsted downgrading schools with frequent recorded incidents of bullying whilst simultaneously placing no legal obligation for them to be noted in official records, actually incentivises schools to ignore bullying.

Read the full article ‘Want to stop bullying? Let’s start with our deeply unimaginative curriculum’

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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