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Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 10°C
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VOICES
Don’t sweep bullying under the carpet – young people, parents and teachers must all talk about it openly.

Andrew Jackson is the ISPCC’s National Anti-Bullying Coordinator and in-house expert in therapeutic work regarding child bullying.

Andrew and the ISPCC Shield support, focus and empower schools, clubs and communities when tackling the widespread issues that surround bullying. As part of this support the ISPCC has developed the ‘Shield My School/Club Programme’, which includes an Anti-Bullying Toolkit – a complete resource that will guide you proactively when responding to bullying.

Here, Andrew discusses his work with one senior school…

IT WAS NEARING the end of August in 2013, and for most schools this was the time to plan for the year ahead.

Talbot Senior National School was ahead of the game, though, in one very important way; they were about to review their anti-bullying policy using the ISPCC’s self-facilitating toolkit.

David Ruddy, principal of the school, arranged for the session to take place. All the school staff were present and ready to review their current anti-bullying policy and see what they needed to do to make it as strong and robust as possible.

What is a National Anti-Bullying Coordinator?

That’s where I stepped in. My role as the ISPCC’s National Anti-Bullying Coordinator was relatively new. In fact, it had only been officially created a few months earlier in March of 2013. In the lead up to this I was in charge of reviewing bullying research materials and helping to create our newly formed ISPCC Anti-Bullying Toolkit.

So, this was the beginning of a new process and it was well-timed both for me and for Talbot Senior National School. The Department of Education and Skills was in the process of releasing its policy document on anti-bullying for all schools nationally. Ruddy said that, as a result, schools had ‘declared war on bullying’.

Exploring the impact of bullying

The process was simple. I was not there to spoon-feed the staff on new ways of responding to bullying, instead I was there to get the staff thinking about the issues they and their students were experiencing, for them to explore the impact of bullying behaviours on the entire school environment, and to begin developing positive options.

All the staff within the session were very open and engaging. It was clear they all had experience with bullying incidents and had opinions on what worked and didn’t in addressing it.

It was also obvious that within Talbot Senior National School most areas around tackling bullying were done well. They welcomed difference and diversity through promoting respectful relationships across the whole school community. However they felt they could do better, and together we identified that they needed to be more proactive in encouraging their pupils to disclose incidents of bullying behaviour. This was subsequently supported by setting up a discipline committee and also by surveying the parents and pupils.

The growing problem of cyber-bullying

However some specific issues kept on coming up, no more so than cyber-bullying. It was clear cyber-bullying was frustrating the school staff, not just because of its insidious nature, but also because they were expected to have so many answers and parents wanted to see it resolved, now!

While this issue was quite specific, the need for a broad response became obvious. As with all types of bullying behaviours, it should never be down to one person or one institution to solve it. A community-based response is needed. Parents students and schools all need to be on the same page when it comes to successfully addressing all bullying behaviours.

Involving the whole community 

This became a core element to the schools new anti-bullying policy and code of conduct. The school agreed they needed to get feedback from both students and parents when updating their policy. This allowed for a greater sense of involvement from the whole school community and start raising the awareness that is essential to combat bullying.

I have kept in regular contact with the school and received some interesting feedback. Principal Ruddy said he initially thought that because of all the work completed over the year since the school’s review of their anti-bullying policy, any incidents of reported bullying would be small.

In fact the opposite was the experience of the teachers. Pupils were much quicker to report any incidents or perceived incidents. Parents were equally more vigilant. Ironically, the increased reports indicate that the policy is working and that pupils have greater confidence to report.

Monitoring social media use

In particular some incidents of cyber-bullying behaviour were reported. The cyber-bullying behaviour was a direct result of Facebook activity. The school thought this puzzling as pupils under 13 years are not allowed access to Facebook, according to the site’s own rules. The school then immediately summoned the help of parents and asked them to sign with their sons or daughters, a pledge that access to Facebook would not be allowed. Almost all parents signed the pledge.

A number of weeks later there was a report of two pupils using Facebook and being nasty to each other. When the school checked their files they discovered that those students and their parents had not signed up to the school pledge. A meeting was held with the parents and they happily relented and signed up to the pledge having seen the adverse effect of the online activity.

Bullying will always occur, but we can limit it 

I think it is fair to say that removing bullying from any school by 100% will never happen. But this is not the main issue. The most important aspect is to have a system in place that everyone has confidence in and can rely upon, so whenever bullying occurs, pupils will know the problem will be dealt with quickly and positively.

It is also evident that Talbot Senior National School has responded and continues to respond very positively to any bullying concerns. It remains vigilant and responsive to the needs of both its pupils and parents while also reinforcing the need for awareness-raising across the community by arranging various informative sessions.

Almost a year after the initial work done in Talbot Senior School, the ISPCC and principal David Ruddy were invited to make a presentation before the Seanad on how impactful the ISPCC’s anti-bullying work has been to date.

In a very honest and kind reflection, David Ruddy summed up his schools position by stating: “Andrew Jackson, the ISPCC’s National Anti-bullying Coordinator was not only supportive and informative in helping us perfect our anti-bullying policy, but also gave us the ‘boot up the back-side’ that perhaps everyone needs in response to the issue of bullying.”

In addition to the programme the ISPCC can offer schools and clubs informational outreaches on bullying behaviour and how to combat it. 

If you are interested in an outreach or require more information, contact Andrew on ajackson@ispcc.ie or www.ispcc.ie/shield.

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