MPs urge more guidance on bullying

Schools should not blame the victim for bullying, by encouraging them to change their behaviour or excluding them for retaliation, a report has warned.

The Commons education and skills committee expressed concerns some schools’ anti-bullying policies focus on how victims can change their behaviour.

MPs also queried the policy of excluding victims from lessons on health and safety grounds. Accepting that violence in retaliation against bullying is unacceptable, the report further recommends schools to take a history of bullying into account when deciding on “appropriate disciplinary measures”.

The committee called on ministers to issues guidelines to schools that victims should not be expelled. The report notes: “The focus of anti-bullying work should be tackling bullying behaviour and making it clear that such behaviour is not acceptable, and guidance to schools should make this clear.”

It also encourages the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) issue new guidelines on what constitutes bullying.

Schools should ensure anti-bullying policies specifically mention disability, faith-based and homophobic bullying, the MPs continue, and teachers should be confident in dealing with prejudice driven bullying.

“The idea that bullying is in some way character building and simply part of childhood is wrong and should be challenged,” the report argues. Left unchallenged, bullying has negative consequences for young people’s educational and social development, MPs note.

Anti-bullying policies should include the entire school, with both teachers and pupils aware what constitutes bullying. However, the attitude and engagement of the head teacher is vital.

Schools should be open about bullying problems, MPs continue, and uniformly record all incidences. The effect of various anti-bullying programmes should be assessed, in order not to waste money on well intentioned but unhelpful schemes.

The report adds: “We consider that it is unrealistic to expect anti-bullying work to completely eradicate bullying.

“We believe it would be more helpful for the government to foster a culture where schools are encouraged to be open about incidents of bullying, have effective ways of dealing with bullying when it occurs and provide support the victims of bullying, rather than a culture where schools feel reporting incidents of bullying will damage their reputation.”

Liberal Democrat committee member Stephen Williams warned anti-bullying programmes have been “sidelined” in favour of “political rhetoric” on discipline and standards.

The NSPCC called on the government to act on the report, adding it is “concerning” ministers do not know the full scale of the problem.

Bullying is the number one reason young people call ChildLine, NSPCC head of policy Diane Sutton explained, and more than 3,000 young people contact its counsellors a month.

Ms Sutton continued: “NSPCC welcomes the call for additional support for schools. We recommend that teaching pupils positive relationship skills and mutual respect through PSHE should be a compulsory part of the school curriculum.

“Tackling bullying doesn’t just happen within the school gates. We also welcome the emphasis the report places on the vital role parents’ play in understanding how their schools’ anti-bullying policies affect their children.”