Extra cash to ‘help beat bullying’

The government has pledged nearly half a million pounds to expand a pupil mentoring scheme as new research finds up to 20,000 children skip school every day to avoid bullies.

Today marks the start anti-bullying week, and education secretary Alan Johnson said the £480,000 funding would allow 60,000 children to report bullying to older pupils, rather than having to speak to teachers or parents.

The initiative, which is run by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), sees trained elected mentors work with teachers, help to resolve conflicts and act as role models for younger children.

It aims to “help children take responsibility for their own actions, foster a more cooperative atmosphere and ensure that children feel a sense of team work and togetherness”, a Department for Education and Skills (DfES) spokesman said.

Mr Johnson argued: “All forms of bullying are wrong – it’s as plain and simple as that.” He added: “I do not subscribe to the view that it is simply part of growing up or just part of school life. It can ruin lives and rob children of a fulfilling childhood.”

This year’s anti-bullying week “focuses on the role of the bystander”, Mr Johnson said, and called on everyone to “play their part” in combating bullying.

The NSPCC say the peer mentoring scheme reduces aggressive behaviour and solves up to 85 per cent of conflicts. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) agreed, telling politics.co.uk it was “very useful in combating bullying”.

“Young people listen to their peers very closely, and peers can help give young people the courage to stand up to bullies and report bullying rather than hiding away and worrying about it,” she said

The announcement comes as charity Beatbullying finds that one third of pupils missing school – about 20,000 – do so because of bullies.

The charity’s director, John Quinn, praised the government for making “some impressive successes in the fight against bullying”.

But he said: “Now we need to enter into phase two, acknowledging the link between bullying and truancy, and see attainment rise, truancy drop and incidences of bullying continue to decrease.”

The Liberal Democrats agreed, saying the Beatbullying report was evidence of the government’s “misdirected” anti-truancy strategy.

“The clear link established between bullying and truancy shows that the vast number of young people missing school are not feckless but fearful,” said leader Menzies Campbell.

Sir Menzies, who is visiting secondary schools today to talk to pupils about bullying, added: “Failing to create safe surroundings for children at school leads to lower educational attainment, higher unemployment and higher levels of anti-social behaviour.”