Major anti-bullying plan unveiled

Tue, Jan 29, 2013, 00:00

A national media campaign highlighting the implications of cyber-bullying will form part of a major Government plan to combat the issue among young people this year.

Speaking at the publication of the Government’s Action Plan on Bullying today, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said for some children and young people, “bullying is a scourge that can violate the nurturing environments and in the process obliterate their happiness”.

He added that several recent suicides among young people, which may have been linked to incidents of cyber-bullying, had highlighted the need for a comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem.

Existing anti-bullying guidelines for schools, which date from 1993, will be revised and strengthened before the next school year begins in September under the plan.

Schools will be required to keep a formal record of bullying incidents, which can be reviewed by school inspectors. Boards of management will be expected to play a more active role in evaluating the school’s effectiveness in creating a positive environment for pupils.

A particular emphasis will be placed on tackling homophobic bullying and harassment through social media sites under the guidelines, and a new training programme for parents and school boards will be developed.

A national anti-bullying website will also be established to provide resources on tackling bullying for teachers, parents, youth workers and young people.

A budget of €500,000 has been ring-fenced to implement the plan this year, which will include funding for the National Suicide Prevention Office to research the prevalence and impact of cyber-bullying on young people’s mental health.

The action plan draws on the findings of a working group on bullying and a national anti-bullying forum, which brought together experts, support groups and school representatives last May to examine ways to reduce the prevalence of harassment in schools, communities and online.

Mr Quinn said the issue of bullying was one that schools could not solve alone.

“The role of parents and the wider community is simply crucial in shaping the attitudes and behaviour that encourages respect and empathy for others in young people,” he said.

The action plan has been broadly welcomed by organisations representing schools, teachers and young people, including the Equality Authority, Irish Vocational Education Association, the INTO, and the Irish Second-Level Students' Union.

ASTI general secretary Pat King said any new actions to support schools to tackle bullying were welcome, but the Government’s plan comes at a time when cutbacks to education budgets, especially for guidance counsellors, were “impacting directly on a school’s ability to provide a supportive environment for vulnerable young people”.

Sinn Féin education spokesman Jonathan O’Brien said the “long-overdue measures” to combat bullying were a positive step, but such initiatives should be “underpinned with clear procedures that have a legal standing”.

Sinn Féin last week moved a Private Members’ Bill in the Dáil to introduce mandatory anti-bullying policies in schools.

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