ALL 4,000 PRIMARY and post-primary schools in Ireland must have formally adopted an anti-bullying campaign by 11 April, as part of the government’s ‘Action Plan on Bullying’.
A Department of Education spokeswoman said that while schools were provided with a template to work from, they were given a certain amount of flexibility “to enable the policy to be tailored to meet the particular needs and circumstances of the pupils and school in question”.
The policies must cover a range of issues including physical, verbal and cyber bullying.
Schools are not required to inform the department when they adopt a policy, but are subject to routine ‘whole school inspections’ that will now have “a stronger focus on the actions schools take to create a positive school culture and to prevent and tackle bullying”.
Monica Monahan, CEO of the National Anti-Bullying Coalition, said that while the department’s guidelines have come a long way, it is “not backing it up with the right support”.
She noted that the person carrying out a school inspection “may not have any experience in the area of bullying” and therefore not be suitable to review a school’s policy.
Next month, the NABC will roll out a pilot version of their ‘OK Kids Programme’ in five schools in Roscommon. The initiative will run for six to nine months and provide training for schools on how to develop and implement an anti-bullying policy.
Monahan described ‘OK Kids’ as a “whole community programme focusing on pro-social behaviour” that will train principals, teachers, parents and students.
She noted that people of every age needed to “become self aware that we are capable of bullying”.
“In this country we don’t have a deep understanding of how bullying issues can actually affect teaching and learning … It’s no coincidence that our suicide rates are rising and that our mental health services are burdened down and that prisons are full with people who didn’t get the intervention they needed when they were younger,” Monahan said.
The NABC is hoping to extend the programme to a further fifty schools at the start of the next academic year.
Impact of bullying
Ian Power, the Executive Director of SpunOut.ie, said that it is “vital” for all schools to work with students, parents and teachers to develop anti-bullying policies.
“A practical, workable policy, coupled with a whole school community approach, has been proven to be effective in sending a message that bullying behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Power stated.
He added: “It is vital there is student buy-in to the agreed policy in order to educate young people about the impact bullying behaviour has on victims and the consequences for those who engage in it.”
Education Minister Ruairí Quinn published the new anti-bullying procedures in September 2013. On Monday, he is expected to announce funding for anti-bullying training for parents.