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Bullying in schools

Worried about going back to school? Worried about school bullying? Intimidation, threats, taunting, violence?

Recently there's been much increased awareness of bullying in schools and whilst it may appear that bullying is on the increase, I suspect there's been little change in the amount of bullying that goes on in school. What has changed is that society is at last beginning to recognise just how vile bullying is and that the myths and misperceptions are just that - myths and misperceptions. Those who perpetuate these myths are choosing to be part of the problem, not the solution.

It seems that children bully for a variety of reasons and when dealing with child bullying it's essential to identify who is the bully at the centre of the violence - there's usually one person who's the gang leader - and the reasons for bullying which include:

Whilst much of this web site on workplace bullying is relevant to child bullying and school bullying, there is one significant difference. A child is still in their formative years, and if a child is exhibiting bullying behaviours, then if you intercede in the right way, many child bullies - with the exception of those with a conduct disorder - can be helped to learn better ways of behaving and interacting with other children. At present, this is not possible with adult serial bullies, especially the sociopathic ones. Psychopaths comprise at least 1% of society and that's only the ones who have been identified. When socialised psychopaths are counted, the percentage could be 2-3%. Psychopathic personality is a lifelong condition and the only thing mental health professionals are agreed on is that it is not caused by bad parenting. For more information on psychopathic personality read The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckly and Without Conscience by Robert Hare. All psychopaths have been through school. Society has no solutions for dealing with psychopaths. [More on psychopaths]

There are very few programmes that will actively help an aggressive child learn to deal with their aggression. Many schools, under pressure of budgets, lack of time, overburdened with work (especially tick sheets and tests), lack of leadership, lack of local education authority support, lack of government support, and rising class sizes [click here for the real picture of education today], either ignore the problem (in which case it gets worse), punish the bully (in which case it gets worse), punish the target of bullying when they stand up for themselves (in which case it gets worse), or expel the bullying pupil (in which case the problem is passed to someone else). All of these are short-term, short-sighted non-solutions which do not address the cause of the problem, which in all cases will get worse. It can result in the death of a pupil, either from suicide (at least 16 children commit suicide in the UK each year because they are being bullied at school and those in authority are failing to deal with it), or from violence, as in the cases of Damilola Taylor in Peckham, South London and Josh Belluardo in Canton, Cherokee County, Georgia, USA.

When Neil Marr and I were writing our book Bullycide: death at playtime we discovered that if bullying is rife in the playground then itís likely to be rife in the staffroom, and vice-versa. Teachers are the largest group of enquirers to Bully OnLine and in most cases the identified serial bully is the head teacher with one of the behaviour profiles at workbully/serial.htm. A teacher or principal who is bullying members of staff is likely to be bullying the pupils also. In these cases the good teachers - the majority - have become disempowered and disenfranchised. The bullying is designed to try and hide the fact that the principal lacks integrity, maturity and thus, significantly, does not have control of discipline but is now embarking on a campaign to vilify the bullied child and their family in order to divert attention away from his or her lack of competence and to evade liability and personal accountability. Increasingly in the UK, it seems, head teachers are being appointed on the basis of their willingness to simply obey orders and comply with meeting government targets and regardless of their lack of interpersonal skills or educational ability. Such heads often have a high intelligence but a low emotional intelligence (EQ) - and at secondary school level and above it seems that most head teachers and principals share the same funny handshake.

Bullying is the general term applied to a pattern of behaviour whereby one person with a lot of internal anger, resentment and aggression and lacking interpersonal skills chooses to displace their aggression onto another person, chosen for their vulnerability with respect to the bully, using tactics of constant criticism, nit-picking, exclusion, isolation, teasing etc with verbal, psychological, emotional and (especially with children) physical violence. When called to account, the bullying child will typically exhibit the denial - counterattack - feigning victimhood response to evade accountability, often with success. Child bullies are adept at manipulating the perceptions of adults, especially adults who are inexperienced or who have a low EQ.

If a child is exhibiting bullying behaviour, the questions to ask are "why does this child have a lot of internal aggression?" and "why does this child need to displace their internal aggression onto other children?", and "why has this child not learned how to interact with other children in a non-violent manner?". See my page on abuse for clues. 

I believe a school should create an environment whereby children understand from the moment they start school that bullying, aggression and violence are not acceptable. It is often the absence of such an ethos that potential bullies perceive as acceptance of their aggressive behaviour. A policy is a start, but it must be more than  just words on paper, it has to be a proactive policy, not just a rule book which is dusted down in the head's study after aggression has resulted in injury. Any anti-bullying policy or anti-bullying advice which fails to mention of accountability for the bully and for the responsible adults who are failing in their duty of care is likely to meet with at best limited success.

Positive behaviour should be part of the national curriculum, but unfortunately it is not a subject that produces statistical data that the government can use to show how wonderful its education policy is. Behavioural skills, assertiveness, parenting skills, financial skills, business skills, motivational skills, success skills - key skills for a successful life and career - are conspicuously absent from the national curriculum. I also believe that a whole-school policy should also support both parties. The target is taught assertiveness skills (this will not solve a bullying problem but enables a child to learn emotional and verbal self-defence), whilst the bully is taught how to deal with their aggression and how to interact in a socially responsible manner with other children.

I believe physical punishment is inappropriate, for it reinforces the bullying child's view that violence is an appropriate solution to any problem - if you don't like what someone else is doing, it's OK to hit them. The bullying child needs support, supervision, and mentoring, whilst being helped to understand that violence is not acceptable. If the bullying child refuses to respond positively, then an escalating response is appropriate, including ultimately the removal of the child from the class in order to protect the rights of the majority of children who do choose to conform to the required social norms.

The education system is still one where aggression and violence are dominant. The popular students tend to be the jocks, those with sporting prowess, especially in those activities which require physical strength. In classes, the most aggressive pupil tends to be the one around who all others cluster. Aggression rules. Those children who are non-violent, not physically strong, or physically small, are always vulnerable; their needs are often overlooked, as are their talents. It's the non-violent children who will go on to make the biggest contribution to society.

School environments tend to be one of "exclusion" rather than "inclusion". Children are left to form their own groups, or gangs, and you are either "in" or "out". I believe children should be taught at the outset to show dignity and respect to other children regardless of whether they are "in" or "out", and to be proactive in their relationships to other children, especially those who "do not fit in", for whatever reason. Conformity is high in the list of children's priorities, and rejection, for whatever reason, is particularly painful. Sadly, many children do not learn the best interaction skills at home, and this is where schools can make a big difference.

Much good work has been done on addressing bullying in schools, but much remains to be done. Research shows that at least 50% of children will be bullied at school. The incidence is probably much higher. Bullying prevents children from undertaking their studies and results in grades which are lower than they would otherwise be which means that the school appears lower down the league tables than they otherwise would.

If a child learns how to bully, and gets away with it, there's a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest they leave school and carry on their bullying in the workplace. This web site is the result.

So who's responsible?

I think it's important not to immediately blame individuals. And especially not teachers. There are a few bullying teachers (it's surprising how often these get promoted to positions of management), but most teachers are hard-working individuals who dedicate their lives to educating the next generation. The problem, as so often, lies further up the management chain.

We all have a collective responsibility, and bullying is the result of a number of factors. I believe the way forward is to identify all the factors and especially the causes, then begin to modify our education system so that in 25 or 50 years time, bullying is no longer a problem. There are no quick fixes, by the way, although change, if properly implemented - and resourced and funded (smirk) - will start to bring dividends inside a year or two.

Bully OnLine provides unique insight into bullying and explores the profile of the serial bully. Everyone, I believe, has experience of at least one person in their life with the profile of the serial bully. It may be at home with a violent partner or family member, or at work with an aggressive co-worker or boss, or with an aggressive neighbor, or at school with the school bully. Living or working with a serial bully can drive you mad. Click here to see who you know with this behavior profile.

Browse this web site to understand bullying ... start with Am I being bullied? then move on to What is bullying? Click injury to health to see the effects of prolonged negative stress such as that caused by bullying and harassment. Unchecked, prolonged negative stress can result in trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you are severely bullied as a child, the trauma can last a lifetime. To find out what you can do about bullying, click Action to tackle bullying. And have a look at the profile of the serial bully which is common to to many violent people.

For information on child and school bullying, see my pages on child bullying, child abuse, and links to sites and organisations tackling child and school bullying.

Web sites covering home tuition.

From 1 September 1999, all UK schools are legally required to have an anti-bullying policy. See the DfEE website and use the search facility, or see Appendix B: the legal framework for school discipline.

Don't suffer in silence, DfEE anti-bulling pack for schools.

DRS Data & Research Services plc produce a ready-made schools Bullying Survey which, when completed, provides information on the levels of bullying, awareness of the school's bullying policy, whether there is bullying by teachers, and how good the school is at dealing with bullying.

Legal cases

Now on a separate page.

Where now at School Bully OnLine?
Information on child bullying and bullying at school
School Bully OnLine Home Page | School bullying
Information for parents and teachers on child bullying
List of children who have died or been driven to suicide by bullying
Bullying myths | Who is responsible?
Answers to frequently asked questions
Child and school bullying news | Terrorism in the playground
Mobile phone bullying | Truancy | Bullying and special education
Bullying of gifted children | Educating your child at home
Action to tackle child and school bullying
Case law and settlements for school bullying
Links to organisations tackling school bullying
Books, publications, reports
Bullycide - the secret toll | Media reviews and reader feedback
Neil Marr and Tim Field's book Bullycide: death at playtime reveals
the hidden epidemic of child suicide caused by bullying and harassment

The authors Neil Marr and Tim Field

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The Field Foundation | Bully OnLine
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Action to tackle bullying | Related issues

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Books on bullying and related issues
The spiritual meaning within trauma