/ 5 July 2011

Teaching bullies a lesson

Whole-school approaches are the most effective way to deal with bullying. They set out to create a healthy school environment in which good behaviour is valued and behaviour such as bullying is unacceptable.

The whole-school approach recognises that bullying in schools is a reality, but that if you change the climate or atmosphere of a school you can reduce the amount of bullying there. Learners come to know that bullying is unacceptable and learn how to deal with it.

Most bullying takes place at break during playtime. The classroom is another place where bullying happens, as well as on the way to and from school. Bullying can happen at any time, but tends to happen in overcrowded classrooms or on crammed buses. Children may feel hot and irritable on a very warm day or miserable because they cannot go out and play on a wet day.

Watching too much violence on television or playing brutal video games can also spark bullying behaviour.

Most incidents of bullying take place in front of other learners or bystanders. Bullies need an audience. The learners who happen to be watching can encourage bullying just by being there.

Schools can discourage learners from watching or being passive bystanders by:

  • Encouraging learners to stand up to bullying as a group or even on their own as long as it is safe to do so;
  • Making it clear that bullying is not acceptable. No one should be ridiculed, taunted or hurt. All incidents of bullying should be reported to adults; and
  • Teaching learners how to react in various situations through role-plays, modelling and coaching.

    The first step is to recognise that bullying is a problem at the school and to decide that the problem needs to be tackled. The school then needs to decide how it will deal with bullying and develop a policy accordingly.

The school policy on bullying must be short and written in language that everyone understands (see graphic). It should include:

  • The purpose of the policy;
  • A definition of what bullying is;
  • The aims and objectives of the policy; and
  • What actions the school will take.

The anti-bullying policy should be clearly linked to the discipline policy. The nature of the sanctions can be included in the anti-bullying policy or in the discipline policy.

The policy should provide information on what learners must do if they are bullied, or if they see someone else being bullied. Similarly, the policy must be clear about what staff should do if they notice bullying and how reporting should take place. The policy must be clear on who the contact person at the school is.

When learners do not respond to preventive strategies to combat bullying, the school will need to take tougher action to deal with persistent and violent bullying. The school should have a sufficient range of sanctions to deal with this type of bullying in its discipline policy. Ensure that the whole school knows what sanctions will be taken. Make sure that any sanctions are applied in a fair way. These may include:

  • Removal from the group (in class);
  • Withdrawal of break privileges;
  • Detention;
  • Withholding participation in school trips or sports events; and
  • Suspension.

If there has been a serious violent incident then the principal can, and should, exclude a learner. Normal disciplinary procedures should be followed.

Many schools in other parts of the world have used questionnaires to assess the extent and nature of bullying at their schools. These surveys can help the school to decide how best to respond to bullying. The main advantage of surveys is that they can be used on a large numbers of learners over a short period of time. Surveys provide first-hand information based on the learners’ own reports and take account of their age. Surveys can, therefore, provide a lot of information on the nature of bullying at the school.

Mark Potterton is the author of the book Beat Bullying: A practical guide for schools