A floral tribute from 16-year-old Karl Peart’s teacher at his funeral in June read: “I hope you find the peace you longed for. I tried to keep you safe, but my efforts were in vain.”

Karl is one of three children to commit suicide in the last few weeks because they were being bullied at school. He is believed to have taken a mixture of painkillers and alcohol after being bullied through primary school and regularly attacked at secondary school.

The same month, Christopher O’Reilly, aged 15, was found hanged by his Leeds United scarf in his bedroom by his mother. And a couple of weeks later, 11-year-old Thomas Thompson took an overdose of painkillers after being bullied for a number of years at school for being “too clever”, his family said. He died before reaching hospital.

Meanwhile, the parents of nine-year-old Jessica O’Connell removed her from school after being told that a fellow pupil who had bullied their daughter would only be suspended for a day because the bullying was “not serious enough”.

Jessica chronicled the bullying in her diary. One entry reads that a pupil “threatened to kill me if I didn’t let her hit me so I had to let her hit me because I didn’t want to die”. Another entry says: “I wish I was dead so I don’t have to suffer any more pain.”

And just this week, Sarah Fisher revealed that she had lost her voice for almost a year because she was so traumatised by being bullied at school. The 16-year-old can still only speak in a whisper, and then only for short periods of time. Sarah had been repeatedly called names and pushed and shoved at school. The bullying worsened after she lost her voice. She is now looking forward to starting at a new college.

Schools have a legal duty to prevent all forms of bullying and to have anti-bullying strategies in place. Earlier this year, ministers announced a £470 million behaviour and attendance programme in a bid to crack down on school bullying. Proposals include funding and training for all secondary schools in anti-bullying strategies and specialist consultants to help local education authorities tackle the problem.

However, in all schools, at least 5-10 per cent of pupils will experience long-term, persistent bullying, but in some schools this figure will be higher. Bullying can take several forms, including:

• name calling and teasing
• being pushed, hit or attacked
• having your bag or other possessions taken and thrown about or stolen
• having rumours spread about you
• being ignored and left out
• being forced to hand over money

There are several factors that make bullying more likely:

• lacking close friends in school
• being shy
• an over protective family environment
• being from a different racial or ethnic group to the majority
• being different in some respect, for example, stammering
• having special educational needs or a disability
• having expensive accessories such as mobile phone or computer games

For six years, bullying has been the biggest single reason for children calling ChildLine, with about 20,000 calls a year. The recent report “Tackling Bullying” sponsored by ChildLine, funded by the department for education and skills and conducted by the Thomas Coram Research Unit found that over half of primary and secondary school pupils thought bullying was a big problem in their school.

Just over half of pupils in Year 5 said they had been bullied during the term, compared with 28 per cent of pupils in Year 8. Over 60 per cent of pupils thought their school was good at dealing with bullying.

Name-calling was the most prevalent form of bullying. A minority of pupils reported sexist, racist and homophobic abuse. Nasty messages sent by text on mobile phones or through emails is emerging as the latest form of bullying.

In 1999, the then DfEE said: “The emotional distress caused by bullying in whatever form – be it racial, or as a result of a child’s appearance, behaviour or special educational needs, or related to sexual orientation – can prejudice school achievement, lead to lateness or truancy, and in extreme cases, end with suicide…Low report rates should not themselves be taken as proof that bullying is not occurring.”


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