New plan on school bullying targets online abuse and gender identity

Experts say the shift to remote learning during Covid-19 has exacerbated cyberbullying

A 2019 survey of 19,000 young people by Jigsaw, a youth mental health organisation, and UCD found that 39%  of those in secondary school had experienced bullying. Photograph: iStock

A 2019 survey of 19,000 young people by Jigsaw, a youth mental health organisation, and UCD found that 39% of those in secondary school had experienced bullying. Photograph: iStock

 

A new plan on tackling bullying in schools is to include a new focus on cyberbullying and gender identity.

Minister for Education Norma Foley is due to update Cabinet on Wednesday on measures being planned to update the 2013 plan on bullying in schools.

A steering group is being established to gather evidence on the type of bullying in schools, identify the most successful ways of addressing it and develop new priority areas that need to be addressed.

The new action plan will involve consultation with a broad range of education stakeholders, and will consider recommendations contained in the Oireachtas Committee on Education’s August 2021 report into school bullying and mental health.

That committee heard bullying was “widespread in every urban and rural school”, and that cyberbullying had increased significantly as an unintended consequence of technological advances. The Covid-19 pandemic had also exacerbated this “insidious form of bullying”.

A 2019 survey of 19,000 young people by Jigsaw, a youth mental health organisation, and UCD found that 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.

The Oireachtas committee report urged the department to “urgently update” its action plan in line with current policies on child protection, wellbeing, and relationships and sexuality education.

It also called for a national system for the reporting of data on individual bullying cases, the steps taken to address them and the outcomes of these interventions by schools.

Counselling

The report backed calls for emotional counselling and therapeutic supports to be provided in schools as needed through an expanded National Educational Psychological and Counselling Service.

In addition it supported the appointment of an online safety commissioner with both investigative powers and an educational mandate, including the power to receive and investigate complaints from individuals.

On a practical basis it urged that an innovative “Fuse” programme developed by DCU’s anti-bullying centre should be rolled out to all primary and secondary schools as a model of best practice.

The Barnardos Friendship Group and Roots of Empathy programmes should also be piloted and, pending evaluation, used nationally to foster positive school cultures and enhance students’ empathy and emotional intelligence.

At the time the committee said these recommendations could lead to “transformative cultural change” in schools, with zero tolerance of bullying and a genuinely inclusive ethos.