The second in our series of five-step guides for people working with children and teenagers. This month: how to tackle bullying
1 ) The drawing board
Whether you are looking to improve an existing anti-bullying policy or starting one from scratch, and whether you work in a school, children’s home or youth group, the key thing is to consult.
Aim for a whole organisation approach: find out where the problems are and how they can be solved through confidential surveys, meetings and drama sessions. Set up an Anti-Bullying
Group made up of young people, those working with them,parents and outside agencies. In schools, school councils are often a good starting point for this. Leave space for creative solutions, but also suggest ideas that other organisations have found successful. The internet will come in very useful here, but don’t confine your research to the UK.
2) Ideas into action
Decide what you want and draw up a policy. Copying another organisation’s methods will not work – yours must be tailored to fit need and culture. Anti-bullying charters downloadable from the DfES website can provide a useful framework, and ChildLine and Kidscape also provide good guidance. The policy must be easily understandable, and one written by and for pupils should sit alongside any adult version. Many organisations have found peer support schemes hugely effective. Bridgend Council in Wales, for example, has seen reported incidences of bullying
reduce from 74 % to 42 % since it introduced the Playground Peacemaker scheme in half of its primary schools, which trains pupils to monitor and mediate in disputes
3) Say it loud, say it proud
Whatever schemes you go for, make some noise about them. It is no good working day and night to craft the perfect anti-bullying policy if nobody knows about it. Display your charter prominently, and find some innovative ways to raise awareness about what you are trying to do. Perhaps the biggest challenge is ensuring the schemes have enough kudos to appeal to children and young people. The best way of making that happen is to involve as many of them as possible rather than confining it to those involved in mediation and peer schemes. Everyone’s contribution is valuable.
4) Have fun, listen and learn
As with any project, the schemes will work best if everyone, particularly children and young people, enjoy it. Think about bringing in theatre companies to conduct workshops. Sonia Arnold,
assistant director of Education at the London Bubble theatre company runs sessions of one-month workshops in primary schools in Southwark, south east London. Drama workshops including role play – so that young people can try out what it feels to be not only a bully, but a parent or a governor – provide an ideal space for feedback. Performances are particularly effective in youth groups, she says, although an inconsistency in week-to-week attendance necessitates stand-alone sessions here. Above all, she says, listening is key.
5) Keep it real
A policy must be live: bullying tactics change and schemes must be developed to combat what is affecting pupils’ happiness now, so regularly review what you are doing. Good record keeping of complaints made by children and young people, and incidents reported by staff or volunteers will help to ensure effective monitoring. Recognising success is also vital. Val McFarlane, north east regional coordinator of Durham Local Education Authority’s antibullying accreditation scheme for local schools, explains: “Accreditation gives an organisation something to work towards. It gives a clear message about your organisation’s intentions, and is a great way of celebrating what you have achieved” (see further information).
Avoiding the pitfalls
It is vital to allow children and young people to shape policies and schemes – but you cannot expect them to run the show. “You have to remember that they are not adults and need help and support,” explains Vavi Hillel, who heads the peer support scheme at Acland Burghley School in Camden. Hillel considers the work a partnership. Patience is key and you have to work to get the balance in that relationship right, she says.
Under the accreditation scheme set up by Durham LEA in 2003 and backed by the NSPCC and ChildLine, schools prepare an anti-bullying portfolio and, if successful, are awarded a certificate and the right to publicise their accreditation on school letterheads. Durham LEA is providing training to schools and LEAs across the country, and youth groups are also keen to take part. The Department for Education and Skills has expressed interest in rolling it out nationally.
The children’s commissioner has drawn up a list of tips from children and young people, which is available at www.anti-bullyingalliance.org/journeys.htm. Kidscape offers general advice on
tackling bullying at www.kidscape.org.uk, and ChildLine has specific advice on setting up peer support schemes at www.childline.org.uk/extra/reportspeersupport.asp. Brighton and Hove
Council has developed an anti-bullying website for young people – go to www.coastkid.org