Call to 'overhaul' bullying in schools across Wales

Staged scene of two teen youths fighting Image copyright Getty Images

A "radical overhaul" is needed to tackle school bullying, the children's commissioner for Wales has said.

Sally Holland said some schools were reluctant to address the issue, for fear of looking bad.

A report has warned that a lack of consistency in handling complaints leaves some children feeling isolated.

The Welsh Government said all forms of bullying should be tackled vigorously and a school behaviour policy should be in place by law.

But Dr Holland said in some cases, the anti-bullying guidance sits on shelves in schools and does not appear to have been read.

"I want to see guidance which is really useful, that builds on the experiences of children and gives them some solutions but also tells schools how to monitor it and not to be scared of monitoring it," she said.

"Some professionals were telling us there's a kind of reluctance to record bullying - they're reluctant to make their school look bad, that there may be some kind of league table or something like that. Of course that's not what I want to see.

"I want to see schools having an honest conversation with their student population and the community around it, about how they're tackling bullying in school and what they're going to do about it."

Image caption Sally Holland said she wants schools to be made to record all bullying incidents

The report said there was confusion over what constitutes bullying and a lack of consistent recording.

These issues were raised three years ago by the schools inspectorate Estyn, yet have still not been addressed.

"Some things have changed, but yes, there are some fundamentals we still need to get right and of course it's frustrating, it's frustrating for children too, of course," said Ms Holland.

"We do need to be recording bullying and make sure the best practice, which we know is out there, is available to schools.

"Everyone should be owning this issue and everyone should be involved in tackling it. Let's not keep it in the corner as an embarrassing aspect of school life. Let's accept that it happens and positively move forward to tackle it."

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Two thousand children and young people contributed to the report "Sam's Story", asking for their experiences of bullying, along with the views of 300 professionals.

Children highlighted differences like ethnicity, poverty, disability and gender stereotyping as key issues for bullies and said parents were often unresponsive.

Dr Holland has now called on the Welsh Government to place a statutory duty on schools to record all incidences and types of reported bullying, and to come up with a clear definition of bullying.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "We will consider the children commissioner's report which will feed into our review of anti-bullying guidance.

"We do not tolerate any bullying in the Welsh education system. We expect schools and education services to make it clear that all forms of bullying are entirely unacceptable and to tackle all incidents vigorously, ensuring that pupils are properly supported.

"All schools in Wales must, by law, have a school behaviour policy in place. Effective strategies to tackle bullying should be central to this policy and put into practice by everyone in the school."

Pupil power

Students at Mountain Ash Comprehensive School in Rhondda Cynon Taff supported by the teaching staff have set up a pupil movement promoting gender equality and healthy relationships in order to reduce bullying.

"WAM: We Are More" has seen young people tackle issues like attitudes towards banter, gender stereotypes, homophobic language, or a perceived pressure to wear make-up.

A boys' choir has also been set up, to help the confidence of young people who had previously felt a stigma attached to boys taking part in the performing arts.

Lowri, 17, said, "When I was called ugly because I didn't wear make up I was very depressed.

"I had counselling for five years, I was very hurt by that.

"If I'd known then it was ok not to wear make up - and that didn't make me ugly, it made me powerful - I would have felt much more strong and I don't think I would have fallen down as deep as I did."

The school also teaches pupils about their rights.

Assistant head teacher, Lauren Mackie, said the work has made a huge difference in the school. "Bullying is an issue everywhere you go - in and out of schools.

"But as a school it's about what we do about it. The most important thing for me is that pupils feel they have a voice now. They can articulate when something has gone wrong, they can talk to us - it's given them that power, that voice, to combat issues they face. It's changed the atmosphere."

The work at Mountain Ash Comprehensive School has been recognised by the children's commissioner and a number of pupils joined her at recent European forum in Paris, discussing youth identity and relationships. One of their pupils has now been chosen to represent Europe at the forum's next event in Helsinki.

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Media captionLowri, 17, said she was bullied for not wearing make-up and had counselling for five years

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