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Bullying is big business, with a large number of firms selling anti-bullying courses, workbooks and training schemes to schools and LEAs. None of the methods being used in schools have been evaluated in long term, independent studies by the government.
Some schools have fairly straightforward documents concentrating largely on behaviour, but schools are increasingly turning to particular methods, including the no-blame approach, peer counselling, restorative justice and circle time.
The best explanation we've seen for these methods is in The Anti-Bullying Handbook by Keith Sullivan, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19 558388-4 £9.99 and we recommend this book as an excellent source of information for teachers and parents.
The victim is interviewed and asked to draw a picture or write a poem about the effect bullying has had. A meeting is then held between a teacher and a group of students including the bullies, those who may have seen the incidents and others who are not directly involved. The teacher explains to the group how the victim is feeling and the group then offers suggestions to find a solution.
The idea is that as the bullies are not being blamed for what they've done, they stop feeling threatened and can be part of finding a solution. Those who were bystanders are supposed to be able to see that by doing nothing, they were condoning the bullying.
The group is asked for its ideas, pupils can come up with practical problem solving solutions and the responsibility for carrying out these ideas rests with the group.
Each pupil in the group then carries out their own solution, so that a child who has been excluded from activities with other children may now have someone to play with and another may accompany him on other occasions to make sure there is no bullying.
A week or so later the group reconvenes to discuss progress and what has been achieved. This is supposed to give them a sense of success.Records are not always kept of the way this method is carried out.
This strategy has been described to us by parents as "the school doing nothing". Where particular bullying policies are mentioned in complaints this is the one that causes most concern. Parents tell us that the bullying has continued and that they don't understand why the bullies continue to "get away with it."
Together with our friends at Kidscape, who have also had numerous complaints about this method, we have made representations to the DCSF and in 2005 Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was shocked bullies were not being blamed for their behaviour and that they should be punished.
The idea is that the two pupils talk issues over with a mediator and find a way forward to end the cycle of bullying and complaints. This seems to be more effective when pupils who are friends fall out, but is less effective when it comes to resolving full scale bullying.
Unfortunately it means that when the victim is encouraged to tell the bully how he/she feels, which the bully could use against them at a later date. We regularly hear how the bully agrees to end the behaviour only for it to restart as soon as the sessions end.
Many primary schools use Circle Time. Pupils sit in a circle and play games or do something enjoyable for a short time and then they can discuss matters as a group, including bullying. This is a way for everyone in class to take part in a structured way.
This includes listening to the person making the points without making remarks or laughing. Some schools have a toy or emblem and the only person speaking is the one holding it.
Children have told us they feel humiliated and distressed at having to discuss how they feel about being bullied in front of their class, including the bullies. This is not an appropriate method of resolving bullying of individual children.
These strategies are more popular than others, particularly among schools which favour a "whole school approach" and particularly among those pupils chosen as peer counsellors who enjoy the responsibility. The idea is that everyone in school knows that bullying is unacceptable, children moving up from primary school are reassured that the secondary school is a safe place to be from Day One.
In brief, older pupils undergo intensive training over a number of months into the effects of bullying, and how to care for younger pupils who are unhappy because of it. These volunteers, who tend to be mostly girls, are then identified by badges or ribbons and pupils know they have someone of their own age who will take their concerns seriously. There needs to be strong teacher involvement.
Recognising that some children may not have friends, some schools set aside a quiet room where pupils can go to do their homework, play board games or just chat with others who have nothing particular to do. Boxes can be placed around school so that children who are upset and don't want to approach a volunteer directly, can still use the service by sending a note. Some schools also use email or text messaging instead of a box alert system.
This is a great idea but only if training is adequate for the peer counsellors. We've had many instances of young people who are supposed to be trained asking us for advice on dealing with quite simple issues which should have been covered in their training.
Pupils are often unsure what sort of intervention they should be doing, if any, what they should report to a teacher, and even what they should be saying to the bullied pupil. There is a risk that a pupil may reveal something important like neglect or abuse to a peer counsellor who may not realise it needs to be passed to a teacher.
Schools in the UK are increasingly describing themselves as 'telling' schools and they sometimes operate this system in conjunction with peer group schemes in secondary schools. It seems to be popular in primary schools too.
It means that even if the bullying target is too afraid to tell a teacher, all the bystanders know that it's their duty to do so and that they won't be accused of telling tales. It's a deterrent because the bully knows that he/she won't get away with it.
This is a good idea as bystanders are the key to resolving bullying. It needs to be publicised regularly so that pupils are not made to feel they are telling tales.
Supposed to 'empower' young people as its practitioners believe punishments don't fit the bill. Peer mediation and circle time are often part of the process. Restorative Justice has been used for some time for offenders to try to make them understand the effect they've had on people they have burgled or mugged.
This is similar to a 'No-blame bullying policy'. Sadly, bullies don't always want to make amends but they do find it useful to learn more about their victim through mediation so that they can use that in further bullying.
Read more about the the school's responsibility to protect your pupils on the Department for Education website.