Anti-bullying plan for schools by Easter
For the first time, every school must have a policy to deal with cyber-bullying
Hubert Loftus and the Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn at the publication of new anti bullying procedures. Photograph: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland
Every primary and secondary school in the State will be legally obliged to have strong, clear procedures on bullying established by Easter, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has warned.
For the first time, every school must have a policy to deal with cyber-bullying.
Introducing his department’s “anti-bullying procedures for primary and post-primary schools” yesterday, Mr Quinn said prevention, rather than simply responding to incidents of bullying, would now have to be an integral part of every school’s policy.
He said bullying often had a devastating and lifelong impact on children and young people. The procedures were a step towards “putting an end” to it.
While many schools already dealt well with bullying, some did not. For these, a template, which must be included as the core of every school’s anti-bullying policy, has been issued.
The template defines bullying as “unwanted negative behaviour, verbal, psychological or physical, conducted by an individual or group against another person or persons and which is repeated over time”.
It includes deliberate exclusion, malicious gossip and other forms of relational bullying, cyber-bullying and identity-based bullying perpetrated on an individual, for example, because of their sexual orientation, ethnicity, social class or special education needs.
Hubert Loftus, principal officer at the Department of Education, said the new procedures replaced and updated guidelines issued in 1993 “to reflect modern forms of bullying”.
They would ensure greater transparency to parents and guardians. A school’s anti-bullying policy, its procedures and contact points would have to be published on its website.
The best way to address bullying in any school was by creating a “positive school culture, in terms of being respectful in pupil to pupil relationships, teacher to teacher and how adults behave as role models”, he said, adding that there was a strong focus on a school’s culture and environment in the procedures.
Positive school culture
There are tips for schools on creating a positive school culture, including on how to build pupils’ self-esteem, raising awareness about appropriate online behaviour and staying safe online, inclusion of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) posters on noticeboards and holding discussions on identity, relationships and sexual identity.
“The primary focus when you are investigating and dealing with bullying is not on apportioning blame but on dealing with the underlying issues and doing as much as possible to restore the relationship between the pupils,” said Mr Loftus.
“These are mandatory procedures. There is a legal framework . . . under the Education and Welfare Act.”
Parents could be confident the procedures would be implemented as oversight had been strengthened.
“The school principal will be reporting to the board of management on a regular basis and the board of management will conduct an annual review [of its policy] against a standardised checklist . . . Our department inspectorate will have a greater focus as part of school inspections [as to] how well schools work in developing their positive climate and culture and dealing with bullying.”
If they were unhappy with implementation, there was a complaints procedure, he said.