Bullying in schools

 

MINISTER FOR Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn recently announced details of a forum to explore ways to tackle the problem of bullying in schools. A specially convened anti-bullying forum is scheduled for next month, bringing together a range of experts, support groups, teachers, parents and students. In parallel, the Minister is establishing a working group on tackling bullying, including homophobic bullying, cyber bullying and racist bullying.

It’s a timely initiative. The most recent research indicates that about 35 per cent of all primary and post-primary students are, at some time, subjected to bullying. The Growing Up in Ireland survey reported some disturbing patterns. Among those who suffered bullying, 74 per cent had been verbally bullied, 63 per cent excluded from activities and over 50 per cent had been physically bullied. New technology is placing further pressure on pupils. In one south Dublin school last month, four pupils were suspended after allegations of cyber bullying directed at teachers. Teachers report how cases of bullying on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites have surged in recent years.

Dealing with bullying is a major challenge for schools. Investigations can be difficult and protracted. Every school year, thousands of teacher hours are spent investigating allegations, monitoring particular situations, following up on cases and meeting parents and pupils. There is sometimes little recognition of how teachers in schools work within limited resources as they investigate these cases – or that the success of an anti-bullying policy is largely dependent on the co-operation of all parents in the school. This cannot always be taken for granted. Parents of the bully can be in denial. On occasion, the family of the victim may point an accusing finger at the school itself.

The INTO has pointed out how bullying can be more difficult to detect in Ireland’s often overcrowded classrooms. Sensibly, it has also called for 1993 government guidelines on combating bullying – which make no reference to cyber bullying – to be updated as a matter of urgency. Bullying is a complex problem in schools with no easy panacea. The hope must be that the new forum and working party will, as the Minister wishes, provide a roadmap for schools on how best to tackle all forms of bullying. At the very least, these new initiatives will highlight the seriousness of this problem at the school gate and beyond. That, in itself, makes them welcome and worthwhile.