Routine anti-bullying inspections should be carried out in schools, with published findings, to help reassure parents and staff that protective measures are in place, an Oireachtas report has said.
Following months of deliberation and testimony from expert witnesses, the education committee has also backed the creation of an online safety commissioner to both receive and investigate specific complaints.
Bullying is “widespread in every urban and rural school”, the report notes.
A 2019 survey by Jigsaw, the youth mental health organisation, and the UCD School of Psychology, of 19,000 young people, found 39 per cent of those in secondary school had experienced bullying. Although down from the 45 per cent identified in the same survey in 2012, the committee was eager to highlight the “worryingly high” persistent nature of the problem.
Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) said their experiences occurred in school, compared with 12 per cent via a device, and 3 per cent at home.
"Some young people have endured great suffering because of school bullying with short-term and long-term consequences of a very serious nature," said committee chairman Paul Kehoe. "It is not an exaggeration to say that school bullying can affect a person for the rest of their lives."
Data submitted to the committee by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) claims 7.6 per cent of children aged 11-15 will encounter “chronic bullying”, compared with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 10.8 per cent.
Among 28 recommendations, the committee has pushed for the provision of emotional counselling and therapeutic supports and, for teachers, mandatory cyber-bullying and internet safety training.
Structured approaches to problem solving, it said, should be provided by way of the Fuse programme, developed by Dublin City University's Anti-Bullying Centre, as well as the Barnardos Friendship Group and Roots of Empathy programmes.
Throughout the process, the committee heard from various other stakeholders including clinical psychologists, mental health experts, unions, parents and school management bodies, education officials, the Ombudsman for Children, cyber-safety advocates and children themselves.
It found cyber-bullying has increased significantly as an unintended consequence of technological advances, while the Covid-19 pandemic itself has exacerbated an “insidious form of bullying”.
It noted the Department of Education’s Action Plan on Bullying and related Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post Primary [schools] required urgent updating, having not been updated since their introduction in 2013.
The department should establish a national system for the reporting of individual bullying cases, the report said, including causes, measures taken to address them, and outcomes.
“[These are] currently being collected by schools and reported to their boards of management. However, this data is not being fed back systematically to the Department of Education,” the report said.
“The non-reporting represents a missed opportunity to use this data to assess the efficacy of existing anti-bullying efforts and to improve the development of future interventions and programmes.”