Bullying in Schools
The suicide of Ayden Keenan as a consequence of bullying was reported on Channel 4 News on June 19th, 2013. The fact that this is not a sensationally unusual story is shocking enough in itself, but what made this case different was that Shy Keenan, Ayden’s mother, had made any number of attempts to get the school to do something about the bullying, and had always been turned away. On the programme she told us that Ayden had approached one of his teachers who had told him bluntly that nothing more could be done.
There are schools where the problem of bullying has been successfully handled by involving other children in the solution.
When Lorna Farrington took on the headship of Highfield Junior School in Plymouth in the mid-1990s the school was in chaos. During her first week she was nicked with a knife, and held up by the throat by three parents. By the time I visited the school in 1997 the atmosphere was orderly and contented. Bullying was controlled by systems of mediation and ‘guardian angels’, who were other children. As one pupil told me, ‘They don’t sort problems out in other schools. We sort them out here.’
At Wroxham School in Norfolk they have an elaborate anti-bullying policy which includes weekly whole-school circle meetings where every member of the school community has a voice, encouraging children to meet year 6 mediators to help resolve their issues and using Restorative Justice strategies to deal with situations that arise between bullies and victims.
In The Hothouse Society, Royston Lambert’s research into boarding schools, he found that the worst bullying happened in schools where the staff themselves used violence as a method of discipline.
I have been shown a letter written by a teacher to her class of thirteen-year-olds after a long discussion about bullying. Here are some extracts:
The following week we talked about why people bully. Your responses were amazing. You said that people bully because:
- they have problems at home which they can’t deal with and so take it out on people at school
- they feel insecure and this is their only was of getting an image
- they are being humiliated by someone bigger and stronger and so want to humiliate someone less strong in order to maintain ‘face’
- they want to look ‘big’ in front of their friends
- they want revenge
- they find someone irritating
- they’re cowards
- they’re jealous
- they feel inadequate in some way; it makes them look hard
- if you feel inadequate it’s comforting to know that you can make others feel inadequate
- they are bossy and like to have their own say
- they are unhappy for some reason and get into bad moods.
- You also said that school is like the rest of society. There are bullies ‘out there’ the world is a competitive place where most people are prepared to put others down to better themselves.
Later in the letter the teacher printed two general conclusions in thick black type: -
People who are not treated with respect will not behave respectfully.
According to you then, we create bullies. It is a way for some to take the respect that is denied them by parents, teachers or peers.
Schools that deny responsibility for any bullying that occurs are only making future bullying more likely.