THE PREVALENCE OF BULLYING IN IRELAND
The State of the Nation’s 2012 Report on Children reported that 24.3% of children aged 10-17 reported having been bullied at school at least once in the past couple of months in 2010 (Dept of Children and Youth Affairs [DCYA], 2012). Traveller children, immigrant children and children with a disability and/or chronic illness were more likely to be bullied. A rate of 21.5% was found for the same age group 16 years ago (O’Moore et al, 1997) which suggests that we have had an increase in the level of victimisation. However, it is possible that the greater awareness of bullying which has undoubtedly taken place during the intervening years due to efforts from individual schools may have given rise to a greater readiness to report it. However, with the rate of 40% of nine year olds in 2008 (Williams et al, 2008) and 42% of adolescents reporting bullying in 2010 (Dooley and Fitzgerald, 2012) together with 18.3% (23.6% girls and 15.7% boys) involved in cyberbullying (O’Moore, 2012), this indicates that there can be no room for complacency in tackling bullying in all its forms.
Cyberbullying in Ireland, as with traditional bullying, prompts an extremely strong reluctance on the part of young people to report it. Only 18.8% boys aged 6 – 12 and 26.7% girls reported that they were cyberbullied to their parents (O’Moore, 2012). For the 11% of children who had received sexual messages online, just 21% of parents were aware of it (O’Neill et al, 2011). This makes it extremely difficult for adults to intervene and to provide the much needed support, especially for those who are both cyber and traditionally bullied as this increases the risk of depression, low self-esteem, loneliness and suicide (Gradinger et al, 2009; LeBlanc, 2012).
Reasons put forward for not reporting cyberbullying to parents is the fear that parents will over react, such as taking away phones and restricting internet use. Children believe also that they by themselves can put a stop to bullying. However, there is evidence to indicate that young children and teens are using coping strategies which may lead to an escalation of the bullying. For example, almost one third of Irish teens sent an angry response back when cyberbullied as compared to 16.3% who asked the aggressor to stop (O’Moore, 2012).
WHAT TO DO
Aware that most children and teens attend schools, the recommendations which follow, although they refer more explicitly to schools, need to be applied as forcefully to all organisations, centres and clubs which have a duty of care for young people.
If we are to be guided by international best practice in the prevention and intervention of school bullying then efforts to reduce bullying and cyberbullying are enhanced by a whole- school community approach. This approach has been endorsed by the children and young people who participated in the Ombudsman for Children’s consultative process on the subject of dealing with bullying in schools (Ombudsman for Children’s Office, 2012). It is central also to the recommendations
of the Action Plan on Bullying (DES, 2013) and the Guidelines on the Prevention of Cyberbullying in the School Environment. The whole-school community approach reaches out to all the members of the school community, the staff, pupils, families and the wider community (O’Moore, 2010). It builds a supportive school culture, consistently implementing and reviewing policy and practice to effectively reduce bullying. It enhances also school staff and student understandings and skills in relation to bullying behaviours. In addition, it forms partnerships between the different members of the school and wider community.
The Anti-bullying Policy
For a school policy to be effective it must send out a strong message to all its members that bullying is unacceptable behaviour and that it will not be tolerated. The policy must have a definition of bullying with reference to all forms of bullying. In addition it needs to include, as recommended in the Action Plan, all grounds of harassment under the Equal Status Acts.
It is important also that the policy states the procedure which the school will follow when there is a complaint of bullying by a student, parent, staff member or a member of the wider school community. The sanctions which may follow when a complaint of bullying is upheld should also be outlined. Too often parents are not aware of their schools’ anti-bullying policies. Building awareness and consistent implementation of the school policy can only be achieved if all parents, students and staff are clear on the school’s procedures for preventing, detecting, reporting and responding to incidents of bullying. However, to enhance understanding of and commitment to the school policy and practices, they need to be developed in collaboration with all members of the school community (O’Moore, 2010). It is very important that young people especially, as stressed in the Ombudsman for Children’s Report (2012), are consulted as this will give them a greater sense of ownership of their school’s anti-bullying policy. To promote the policy all available forms of communications, both off line and online should be used.
Acting on this commitment, Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald T.D., convened an Anti-bullying Forum on the 17th May, 2012, to explore ways to tackle the problem of bullying in schools. On the day of the Forum, Minister Quinn issued a public call for written submissions on how we could more effectively prevent and tackle bullying in schools.
The Minister also established an Anti-Bullying Working Group, which I chaired, and asked us to ‘identify priority actions that can encourage schools to develop anti-bullying policies and in particular strategies to combat homophobic bullying to support students’.
The working group considered 68 submissions and consulted with government departments and agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academics and researchers, colleagues from the UK and individuals who had experience of bullying.
The working group also considered national and international literature on the topic including research on approaches and interventions that have been tried over recent decades. The impact of bullying and the very serious consequences for individuals and families was also considered.
In January 2013, Minister Quinn and Minister Fitzgerald launched the Action Plan on Bullying. The Action Plan contains 12 actions and recommendations relating to a further 13 topics.
WHAT ARE SCHOOLS ALREADY REQUIRED TO DO?
Schools are already subject to a number of international conventions and legal provisions including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), Constitutional requirements regarding fair procedures and also duties and responsibilities under a number of national laws including under the Equal Status Acts as well as their duties and responsibilities under the common and criminal law.
In addition to the broader national framework, the Education Act 1998 and other education specific legislation sets out duties and responsibilities which are aimed at encouraging and enabling schools to create safe, positive, respectful and inclusive environments for learning.
The working group highlights that every school must have in place an anti-bullying policy, within the framework of the school’s overall school code of behaviour, which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour. This requirement is already on a legal footing as a result of section 23(3) of the Education (Welfare) Act.
There are also a number of relevant national strategies including the Intercultural Education Strategy 2010–2015 and the Report and Recommendations for a Traveller Education Strategy. The Education Act 1998 emphasizes that schools should promote the social and personal development of students and provide health education for them.
The working group highlight that there is space within the teaching of all subjects to foster an attitude of respect for all; promote value for diversity; address prejudice and stereotyping; and to highlight that bullying behaviour is unacceptable.
In the Action Plan, a number of curriculum components and programmes which are particularly relevant to the prevention of bullying and promotion of respect for diversity and inclusiveness are highlighted. These include:
Stay Safe Programme for primary schools Social, Personal and Health Education Relationships and Sexuality Programme Civic, Social and Political Education
DO WE NEED MORE LEGISLATION?
During the course of the working group’s deliberations, a number of submissions, presenters and public commentators raised the need to have more legislation in Ireland to tackle bullying.
The working group did consider some of the legislative provisions in other jurisdictions and cautioned against some of the approaches taken. In particular, the working group was not satisfied that additional criminal sanctions against children and young people was an appropriate legal approach.
The working group did not recommend the introduction of new legislation at this time and suggested the immediate focus should be on implementing the actions in the Action Plan to support the school system in effectively preventing and tackling bullying in schools.
TWELVE ACTIONS IN THE ACTION PLAN ON BULLYING
The working group suggested 12 actions to help prevent and tackle bullying in schools and Minister Quinn has broadly accepted all 12 actions. The Minister has ring- fenced €500,000 to support implementation of the Action Plan in 2013 and work is already underway on implementing the actions. 1. New National Anti-Bullying Procedures for Schools to be developed and in place for the start of the 2013/14 school year. Work has commenced on developing new anti-bullying procedures for schools, in consultation with the school management bodies, teacher unions and national parents councils.
2. Are view of Teacher Education Support Services to ensure appropriate continuous professional development for teachers is due to be completed in the first half of 2013.
3. SPHE inspections and Whole School Evaluation to be adapted to include more evidence gathering of a school’s actions to create a positive school culture and prevent and tackle bullying. These changes will be made during the 2013/14 school year.
4. The School Self-Evaluation process should support schools in evaluating their own effectiveness in creating a positive school culture and in preventing and tackling bullying. This should be done through the provision of criteria to judge quality within the Leadership and Management and the Support for Students dimensions of School Self-Evaluation (SSE). Work on the development of the criteria for the Leadership and Management dimension of SSE will begin within the Department in 2013. Work on the Support for Students dimension will begin in 2014.
5. A single national anti-bullying website to be developed and go live in 2013 to provide information for parents, young people and school staff on types and methods of bullying and how to deal with bullying behaviour.
6. The Department of Education and Skills(DES)to provide support for Stand Up! Awareness Week Against Homophobic Bullying. Stand Up! was held between 11th – 15th March 2013 and is receiving support from the DES for the first time this year.
7. DES to support a media campaign around cyberbullying specifically targeted at young people. This media campaign was launched as part of Safer Internet Day on 4th February 2013 and further information is available on www.watchyourspace.ie.
8. A coordinated plan for training and awareness initiatives for parents and boards of management to be provided in conjunction with management bodies and parents councils. The plan is due to be agreed by end Q2 2013 with roll out to commence thereafter.
9. Awareness raising measures, including guidelines, for policy makers and DES agencies and services which work in the schools sector will be developed during 2013. 10. A Thematic Evaluation of bullying in a sample of primary and post primary schools will be carried out by the Inspectorate to assess the effectiveness of actions taken by schools. The evaluation framework and instruments will be developed in 2013 to enable school-based work to be conducted in 2014.
11. The National Disability Authority has agreed to carry out research on effective supports for children with disabilities and / or special educational needs. This research work is underway and is due to be completed later this year.
12. The National Office for Suicide Prevention agreed to assist DES with research on the prevalence and impact of cyberbullying on mental health and suicidal behaviour. The research proposal is being finalised and the research work is due to be completed later this year.
HAVING AN ANTI-BULLYING POLICY
‘Good ways that children should be able to take part in making a plan is circle time, being open on your own opinion and discussing it with others.’
Participating children shared the view that having an anti- bullying policy is vital. They felt that an inclusive approach should be taken to the development, implementation and review of anti-bullying policies and that children and parents should be supported to actively contribute to these processes. Children and young people also emphasised the importance of communicating anti-bullying policies effectively. They suggested that schools’ anti-bullying policies should include: a statement of the school’s core values; an explicit commitment to dealing with the bullying; definitions of different types of bullying and bullying behaviours; an outline of the measures that will be taken to prevent bullying; and clear information about how incidents of bullying will be dealt with.
CODE OF PRACTICE FOR EMPLOYERS AND EMPLOYEES ON THE PREVENTION AND RESOLUTION OF BULLYING AT WORK
The Health and Safety Authority, at the request of, and with the consent of, the Minister for Labour Affairs, Tony Killeen, T.D. and following public consultation, including with the social partners, publishes this Code of Practice entitled ‘Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Workplace Bullying’, in accordance with section 60 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (No. 10 of 2005), called the “2005 Act” after this.
This Code of Practice provides practical guidance for employers on identifying and preventing bullying at work arising from their duties under section 8 (2) (b) of the 2005 Act as regards ‘managing and conducting work activities in such a way as to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees at risk’. It also applies to employees in relation to their duties under section 13 (1) (e) of the 2005 Act to ‘not engage in improper conduct or behaviour that is likely to endanger his or her own safety, health and welfare at work or that of any other person’.
This Code of Practice comes into effect on 1st May 2007 and from that date it replaces the Code of Practice entitled “Code of Practice on the Prevention of Workplace Bullying” which was issued by the Authority in March 2002 in accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989.
Notice of issue of this Code of Practice, and the withdrawal of the 2002 Code of Practice, was published in the Iris Oifigiúil of Friday, 30th March, 2007.
You can reach the full of the document here.