Features: April 4th, 2008

By Martyn Goodhand

Bullying in schools has long been the elephant in the corner, an issue which all schools and local authorities are aware of, but which for some was a strict taboo, a subject that was not discussed in open forum, for fear of being branded as having “a bullying problem”. The author describes how real-time reporting and monitoring, coupled with greater collaboration and data sharing can help eliminate bullying and enable schools and local authorities to meet the Government’s goal of a world-class education for every child.

Bullying is amongst the top concerns that parents have about their children’s safety and well-being at school, and also a top concern for children and young people themselves, having the potential to undermine confidence and self-esteem and impact on attendance and attainment at school.

The Government has boldly grasped the nettle, with Children’s Secretary Ed Balls giving a clear commitment to tackling the issue over the long term, in the form of the newly introduced Safe to Learn policy. As part of wide-ranging educational reform, the Government’s safe to learn policy will play an integral role in tackling bullying and ensuring that all children get access to a world-class education.

Indeed, the Education and Inspections Act states that policies determined by the head teacher must include measures to be taken with a view to “encourage good behaviour and respect for others on the part of pupils and in particular preventing all forms of bullying among pupils.”

So what is already being undertaken to address the issue, and what are the next logical steps?

England Gets Tough on Bullying

Schools and Local authorities have already taken great strides towards addressing the issue – indeed, one third of all English local authorities are now signed up to a national scheme which enables a more co-ordinated approach to tracking and managing instances of bullying, harassment and hate crimes.

The schools and local authorities involved are using Sentinel Anti Bullying to enable staff to report incidents securely over the Internet, into a central database which is managed and monitored by each individual local authority. By ditching traditional and time-consuming paper-based systems in favour of a web-based approach, schools have ensured more rapid and proactive management – information can be accessed in real time and action taken.

Crucially, the Internet-based approach also enables schools and local authorities to do more with the data, generating valuable statistical information to track and identify bullying hotspots and repeat offenders. This provides an early warning mechanism that enables local authorities to work with other bodies such as Social Services, Primary Care Trusts, the police and educational professionals to share resources and proactively address instances of bullying and draw up effective policies to tackle the cause.

This can be in the form of simple steps such as deploying more staff at break times or after school, right through to the development of tailored support materials to increase awareness amongst pupils about bullying and its impact.

The web-based nature of this approach means that additional tools can easily be added on to help fine tune the local authority’s anti-bullying policy. One example of this is an on-line survey module that allows the local authority to measure the attitude and experience of young people and parents towards bullying, hate crime and their personal safety across all its schools and communities.

This gives pupils themselves a chance to comment on the effectiveness of the anti-bullying policies in place in their schools, their opinions can then be easily viewed and acted upon by management and local authority.

The bigger picture

Within the local authorities, anonymous, statistical reports are produced for staff, promoting a more coordinated and proactive approach to the elimination of bullying on a countywide scale.

But bullying is not confined to artificial school or even borough borders, crossing local government lines. Which is why authorities are looking to take the next logical step of forming regional clusters and adopting a supra-local approach to tackling the issue.

By overcoming traditional geographic barriers, local authorities across the country could form regional clusters – for example in the North-West, North-East and London – in order to communicate more and share experiences and ideas.

This approach would enable more effective data-sharing, for increased co-ordination and a more strategic route to tackling and eliminating bullying. In this way, local authorities can also share best practice and policies which have had a marked success on combating bullying in schools.

The even bigger picture

It surely makes sense, therefore, that the next logical step would be to extend the sharing of data and best practice ideas further – to a national level. Greater collaboration can only lead to better pooling of ideas, of advice on successful (and not-so-successful) approaches and initiatives.

Whilst all specific personal information is held securely and confidentially by each individual local authority, anonymous data and overall trends and patterns in behaviour can be analysed and monitored to help other local authorities across the country to develop the best possible route to eliminating the problem of bullying.

And greater collaboration and the sharing of ideas and best practice can only be a positive and important step in achieving that. Personal information about individuals involved in racism and bullying is restricted to authorised members of school staff. School management and designated Borough officials will have access to anonymous data collected within each school, in order to develop anti-racist and anti-bullying policies and to compile statistical reports to identify hotspots, trends in behaviour and the success of anti-bullying initiatives.

This isn’t about creating bullying league tables, this is about breaking down traditional taboos and actually taking a serious and concerted approach to tackling bullying in schools, and to creating a safe environment for pupils to learn in.

Creating a safe and secure educational environment is an integral part of the Government’s goal of providing a world-class education for every pupil, and it’s only by adopting a truly joined up and coordinated approach to tackling bullying that we will move towards achieving it.

Martyn Goodhand, is CEO of education software specialist Vantage Technologies. More information is available from
www.vantage-technologies.co.uk Tel: 01142 479500