Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)


10 MAY 2006

  Q1 Chairman: Welcome to our witnesses, David Moore, Michele Elliot and Denys Robinson, on this auspicious day. I have just heard from Australia that Britain has won the bid to host the Skills Olympics in 2011. Many of us have been working for that. We have beaten Australia, Paris (France) dropped out, and we have beaten Sweden. It is going to be rather exciting, and so what a good day to have a session of the committee as we cover education and skills. Today we are going to talk about bullying. I will ask David, Michele and Denys if they want to say anything about bullying to get us started, or we can go straight into questions.

  Ms Elliot: Kidscape has been dealing with this problem since 1984. There are two or three very important matters. The reason people are bullied is because the bully has a problem and the bully looks for something to bully somebody about. We run courses for children who have been severely bullied, 50% of whom have attempted suicide. These children come from nice families; they have not done anything to deserve the bullying; they are usually quite intelligent, gentle and sensitive. There is no one particular way to stamp out bullying but many ways. What we have found has worked and the best way is to have a good head teacher. When the head sets the actual ethos of the school, things go well from there. That has been our experience for the past 21 years. We have a list of excellent schools out there doing fantastic work. I will give you one example where it does not work. A 15-year-old girl was stripped to her waist in a school playground, photographs were circulated. She attempted suicide and when the mother, grandmother and father went in to talk to the headmaster, his comment was, and I quote, "It was a bit of horseplay". That is not what we need.

  Mr Moore: Since Ofsted was established 10 years ago, we have always commented in our reports on issues of bullying. Under the new Section 5 arrangements, while there is no specific requirement for inspectors to comment on bullying within the text, they do have to record a response to a judgment statement that action is being taken to reduce anti-social behaviour, such as bullying and racism. In practice, most inspectors do make a comment on bullying if it is judged to be an issue. Schools are expected in this self-evaluation form to say what strategies and policies they have to improve behaviour. This is pursued by inspectors during the course of the inspections through discussions with staff, interviews taking place with groups of pupils, normally by year group or with the school council, and with ordinary pupils in lessons. One of the questions that is frequently asked, and it is something which has to be asked to all, is: what happens if you are bullied? That way the child starts to tell you what actions they would take if they believed they were being bullied or they believed someone else was being bullied, which then confirms whether in fact the systems at the school are as they say that they are. Under our new arrangements, the inspection regime gives shorter notice. At one time, there used to be parents' meetings and the one question that had to be asked in those parents' meetings was: what happens if your child is bullied? Invariably, some parents would say, "My child was bullied and nothing happened". In those meetings, other parents would say, "That is not true because when it happened to our son/daughter, we contacted the school and this is what happened". One thing one has to recognise where parents are concerned in issues of bullying is that they are extremely upset and angry; they feel powerless to support their child. We give them the opportunity, through a questionnaire, to respond to a whole series of questions. One of those is about their child feeling safe in school and how well they perceive the behaviour in the school to be. Parents then use that form to make comments. Some of them write on the back of the sheet. When the reporting inspector draws the evidence from the questionnaire, all those where there is writing on the back or an additional letter are set aside and an analysis is done. If people raise issues about bullying or behaviour, that is then pursued by the inspectors, again during the course of the inspection, although they cannot comment on specific individual cases. They are looking at the systems to ensure that these things do not happen. In addition to that, we also carry out specific work in terms of reports. I believe that you have been given a copy of our last inspection report, which was Bullying: effective action in secondary schools. That is now two years old. That has led to a number of things being pursued by the Department for Education and Skills, namely the work that they have just put on to the website to look at incidents of racist bullying and how that should be tackled. They have now formed a group, on the basis of part of our report, that is starting to look at the impact of homophobic bullying and what advice can be given to schools to counter that.

  Mr Robinson: I have been asked to present evidence specifically about homophobic bullying. As our organisation, EACH, provides training and support to teachers and other education professionals, I think we are in a good position to do that. Could I make three, fairly brief points? The first thing I would say is that it is quite important, and we always say this when we provide training in schools, that this is a whole school issue; it is certainly not about political correctness, and it certainly should be seen in the sense of whole school attainment, whether or not each child can fulfil their personal best. If, on a daily basis, you are being insulted and humiliated, having your coursework vandalised or your clothing ruined, or indeed frightened to walk home because you might be set on and beaten up, you are not likely to do well in your SATs, GCSE or A level. In many schools there are enough of such pupils for this to be significantly impacting on the school's exam results, attendance figures and truancy rates. The second point is that what is perhaps unique about homophobic bullying is the degree of isolation of the victims. If you are being bullied because you are black or disabled or ugly, or whatever it may be, your parent knows and is likely to be supportive. Your teachers are likely to be supportive. If you are being picked on because you are thought to be gay or lesbian, it is very likely that you cannot go home and say this. Indeed, many kids that do that find themselves out on the street and homeless within the hour. This is a real fear that many pupils have. It is never particularly clear to them exactly which teacher they might confide in. It is always going to be an extremely difficult business for any professional teacher when suddenly faced with a pupil who wants to come "out" to them. If they have no previous experience of dealing with a gay or lesbian person to their knowledge, then they are in a very difficult situation, but their reaction of course is absolutely critical to the future health of that pupil. I would stress isolation and we have to think about strategies on what might be done about that. In terms of ways forward, our basic rule of thumb would be that we need leadership from the top, and in many ways I absolutely support what Michele Elliot has said about good leadership in schools. I think we also need leadership from central government. We have had that to a very reasonable extent. The DfES has produced very good written guidance which has gone into school that it is revising. However, I have to say that we strongly believe there is no substitute for face-to-face professional in-service training and that Government should be sponsoring this. Likewise, at local authority level, leadership there could make it clear to schools that this is an attainment wellbeing issue that the LEA rates highly. Bristol, for example, has chosen to pay for in-service training to each of its secondary schools. Alternatively, they might organise day conferences with PSHE teachers or pastoral heads. Above all, at school level, governors and head teachers need to make it clear to staff, pupils and parents that homophobic bullying is not acceptable, that difference is to be respected, and that all pupils have a right to be safe at school. Personally, in my own experience as a school teacher, I would say that getting all the pupils together, perhaps in their PSHE sessions, and developing a code of conduct which specifically addresses this issue, amongst many others, is a way of getting a kind of agreed statement which then is a vital point of reference in future when there are incidents, but you need incident-reporting mechanisms and all sorts of things around that.

  Q2  Chairman: Before we start the questioning generally, can we get some facts? Stephen Williams has been very keen on us having a session on bullying, and he is going to be leading the questioning. One thing that sparked our interest in particular was the evidence from the Children's Commissioner about the priority or the ranking of this concern amongst children that they hold. How endemic, how much of a problem, is it? Can we get it in proportion? How much of a problem is this, David?

  Mr Moore: Our dilemma, as we reported in our survey, is that there are no kept statistics. What you have are numbers of telephone calls to things like Kidscape or ChildLine. There are recorded incidents of bullying when a child who was perpetrating it has been punished. From the work that Kidscape and ChildLine have done, it is interesting that if you survey children and ask what there fear is, their fear is about bullying. There is a difference between fear of bullying and actual bullying. It is very difficult to determine. To give you an example, one of the ways that girls bully is by using non-verbal communication. A girl walks into a classroom. Other girl she thought were her friends come into the classroom, deliberately walk towards her, but then walk away and sit somewhere else and so they isolate her. The same would happen with boys in terms of homophobic bullying. Nothing is said but that diminishes the youngster in their self-esteem and self-confidence. Denys is quite right; it stops them from participating in learning. It is important that in the schools where bullying is dealt with effectively, head teachers do not perceive that you have to tackle it because it is the socially correct thing to do; they tackle it because it stops children from learning, and they are quite firm about that. It is quite difficult to gauge the scale of it.

  Mr Robinson: On the homophobic bullying front, DfES's answer in 2002—and I am afraid all this survey evidence is a bit dated now—was that 82% of teachers interviewed were aware of verbal incidents of homophobic bullying; 26% were aware of physical bullying of that kind. Of 190 lesbian and gay men and women interviewed in the study by Rivers in 2000, 68% of the males reported hitting or kicking that they had received and 31% of the female sample; 72% reported regular absenteeism; and they were "more likely to have left school at 16, despite gaining six GCSE at Grade C". Perhaps that gives us a little idea of the scale.[1]

  Ms Elliot: We have kept several surveys over the years. We did a survey in late 1999 of 1000 adults who had been bullied as children to find out how this affected their lives, and so it was a retrospective survey. They were seven times more likely than the general population to have attempted suicide, et cetera. Our most important surveys are with the children themselves, who do not just express fear of bullying. The surveys that we do ask, "Have you been bullied in the last year and, if so, how?" It varies so much that it is difficult to put a figure on it, but anywhere between 38% and 65% said they had been bullied in the past year. We have been doing this for 20 years and just keeping our records. Therefore, my IT person has developed a way to keep records for schools, a software package that is slightly beyond my technical expertise but does work. It is vital that we have research into what works, that we find out what numbers are being bullied, and that we define it. Otherwise, everyone everywhere has been bullied.

  Q3  Stephen Williams: Could the three of you briefly comment on how you would define bullying? None of you have said that so far. Perhaps you could split it up into a spectrum from teasing to physical violence or something like that.

  Ms Elliot: We would define bullying as a sustained, deliberate attack on somebody with the intention of causing pain, and that could be verbal, physical, sexual, racial, whatever you want to call it; it is all bullying when it is deliberate. Teasing is very easy to describe. I can tease you and you can tease me and, if we are enjoying it, that is great. If it is causing pain, then that is bullying.

  Mr Moore: For inspection purposes, we define it as "aggressive or insulting behaviour by an individual or group, often repeated over a period of time, that intentionally hurts or harms. Research confirms the destructive effects of bullying on young people's lives. Although some can shrug it off, bullying can produce feelings of powerlessness, isolation from others, undermine self-esteem and sometimes convince the victim that they are at fault. It can lead to serious or prolonged distress and long-term damage to social and emotional development". That is the definition to which we work.

  Mr Robinson: I think that covers it very well. Obviously we are involving here: name-calling; public ridicule (and could I say that is most damaging when it comes from members of staff, so do not, please, let us assume that homophobic bullying is restricted purely pupil-on-pupil as that is not the case); hitting and kicking; rumour mongering; and social isolation, which particularly seem to be techniques used by girls.

  Ms Elliot: Except that they are getting more violent.

  Q4  Stephen Williams: The common definition appears to be: an intention to cause pain. Has the method of bullying changed in any way from Tom Brown's Schooldays, where you got thumped and roasted in front of the fire, to more sophisticated bullying that is harder to detect as Denys has mentioned? For instance, you read about text-message bullying. Has bullying become more sophisticated?

  Mr Moore: I think there is an issue that as more teachers become aware of the range of types of bullying, it changes its shape, so that the school mechanisms kick in to limit it. It is not about eradication but about limiting the impact of it. Children then find other ways. It is about trying to keep ahead. For example, the advent of mobile phones and youngsters carrying mobile phones has caused a dramatic change in bullying in so far as you were bullied in school and you were bullied on the street, if those schoolchildren saw you on the street, but you can now be in your bedroom, which ought to be a safe place. A text comes up with this foul statement, and that then brings it into your safest location. I suppose with the advent of more technology, people find other ways. It is interesting that there is a comment, I think in one of the broadsheets, about Friends Reunited, which is an organisation through which you get in touch with people you were with at school. When some people who had been bullied registered their names, they started getting messages from these old bullies. It is quite bizarre.

  Q5  Chairman: Apologising?

  Mr Moore: Oh, no, renewing the bullying.

  Mr Robinson: Of course that IT development is also followed up, and Michele alluded to this, by this very unpleasant practice of subjecting a victim to something very humiliating and filming it using a mobile phone camera and then circulating the photographs.

  Ms Elliot: Or putting it on the internet. Bullying has changed in a lot of ways over the years. Early research in the Eighties by Dan Olweus in Norway showed that boys were more physical and girls were more verbal. It also shows, from retrospective research of these 1000 adults, what happened to them. What is tending to happen now is that bullying is being reported at a younger and younger age, both by teachers and by parents. Parents ring our helpline, and teachers as well, saying that there is deliberate, sustained nastiness from a 7-year-old to a 4-year-old in nursery. We are getting many more reports of weapons. Girls are becoming more physically violent as well as using emotional violence. People are setting up websites about victims and inviting other people to write in to the website so that it is not just that you are not safe with your mobile phone and texting, et cetera; the bullies are very adept at using technology and, as it comes along, they figure out what to do with it.

  Q6  Stephen Williams: We are primarily concerned here with the welfare of children but, in the evidence that your organisation submitted to this inquiry, it was mentioned that bullying can often be extended into adult life as well. Victims can become victims in their adult life, or the bullies tend to be domineering characters later on in life. It can involve teachers as well. I have come across a case in my constituency of a teacher who was subjected to homophobic abuse and was not well supported by the school. Could you briefly comment on support for teachers who may be bullied, ostracised or ridiculed by pupils within schools?

  Mr Robinson: I did say originally that it was a whole school issue. Frankly, if a staffroom is not a place where teachers who are gay or lesbian can be comfortable "out" and socially accepted by their colleagues, then it is going to be a fairly similar account for the pupils, one would guess. The leadership does need to be set from the top and the ethos needs to be developed along those grounds. I am afraid those cases that you allude to are not uncommon.

  Mr Moore: There are four features of good practice that have to be there. You have to have a strong ethos in the school. What does this school stand for and how does it promote tolerance and respect, including respect for difference and diversity? You have to have positive leadership from the senior staff and governors on how bullying is to be dealt with within the overall policy on attitudes and behaviour. That applies to everybody. You cannot have a school that articulates a strong ethos about care and support for pupils when it does not support all adults that work in the institution. It is all part and parcel of the piece. You have to have a very clear statement about bullying, which has input from staff, governors, parents and pupils and which includes examples of how instances of bullying will be handled. The final point is that you have to have a planned approach to the curriculum and tutorial programmes on the issues of bullying in the context which promotes self-esteem and confident relationships. If I can go one step further, it is not just about PSHE being taught in schools; it is about classroom teachers. For example, if a child is name-called and the teacher chooses not to comment, the victim interprets that the teacher is agreeing that the comment was made, and particularly when it comes to slurs against people's sexuality. That does not mean that the teacher then has to challenge the individual who said it and have a huge row. There is a simply a statement that needs to be said: "In this room we do not do that". You are setting the tone. There is a boundary. That is sufficient to support that child. The issue can then be followed up at a later stage.

  Q7  Chairman: Do teachers in training get that sort of message? Are teachers trained to deal with bullying in their training period?

  Mr Moore: The training that is offered to teachers is incredibly packed because it is a short period of training.

  Q8  Chairman: Everyone tells us that. They do not have time to learn about special educational needs. They do not have time to learn about how you teach children to read. What do they have time to do?

  Mr Moore: I cannot comment in detail on that but steps are being taken to try to do more in terms of their understanding of the nature of managing behaviour. A significant part of their training takes place on the job. If you start in a school that is not good at these things, you will not learn how to do them well.

  Ms Elliot: In fact, there is one university, which will remain nameless, that I go to every Christmas, because teachers do not want to teach on the last day of class. I speak to the teachers in training. We spend one half of one day speaking about bullying. They are so keen because it is almost impossible to teach anything else if the children that you are teaching are bullies or being bullied because all they are thinking about is "how am I going to bully somebody when I get out of here?" and the child is sitting there thinking, "what is going to happen to me?" It is vital that we do this. Even if you gave them two days, they would be grateful.

  Q9  Stephen Williams: Chairman, can we come back to your question at the start about measuring the extent of the problem? The impression I gained is that the statistics are patchy and rely either on charities or organisations receiving calls, and that is probably only the tip of the iceberg, or parental surveys that Ofsted mentioned. Do you think that schools, LEAs and the DfES should have a more systemic approach to collecting and understanding this problem?

  Ms Elliot: I think so. One of the difficulties has been the rather now discredited approaches like No Blame, which, by the way, has surfaced under another name. Many authorities took this up. Part of the actual approach was that you do not keep records; you do not keep any written records of anything that happens. Therefore, you really have no idea how effective you are at stopping something. One of the other problems, going back to something that you were saying about how you can combat bullying, is that if there are no consequences to bullying, children will stop telling and the bullies will just continue to go on.

  Mr Moore: I would agree with all of that. One of the dilemmas for the Department for Education and Skills is that they do undertake research but it is always short-term research. To get to the heart of these issues, someone has to be prepared to say that they going to undertake a five-year study. Otherwise, you are just dipping in and getting a little snapshot. One could look at a longer term study that can feed back at different points as to the progress that is being made, but it is about someone being prepared to make that commitment to a long-term study. It is interesting that if you look at work that has been done in Australia, New Zealand and the States, people do undertake the longer term studies. Therefore, they feel more confident in articulating a range of strategies that can then follow from that.

  Q10  Mr Carswell: I was very struck by something that Michele said that if no action is taken and there are no consequences, the problem remains. There is a school in my constituency where there is a big bullying problem and we are now being asked to raise it. I have been given a long lecture about something called restorative justice.

  Ms Elliot: No blame by another name.

  Q11  Mr Carswell: Do you think that is effective? That is what triggered the last question.

  Ms Elliot: I do not have any problem with a whole range of approaches. I do not think there is one method for every school that is going to stop bullying, except the common sense one of the head, and that will stop it. If you do not make a clear judgment and make it clear to the students that this is the line that you do not go over, they will continue to go over it. That is what kids do. All of us who have been parents know that. Restorative justice can work in the right ethos but, if the bullying is continuing, the bullies have got the other message that "nothing is going to happen to me". Very briefly, we did a study in two young offenders' institutions. We went in and talked to 95 of these young offenders. It will not surprise you that over 90% of them had been bullies at school. Nobody stopped them. Maybe they would not have been where they were if they had been stopped. Whenever I say this, people tend to think I believe in the "hang them high, discipline, I want to hit kids". No, none of that, and we never hit either one of our sons, luckily because they are 6 feet 3 now. The reality is that discipline has to be there and consequences, and good consequences as well when you behave well. It is very simple. It does not take rocket science to stop bullying. That is what is so frustrating.

  Q12  Stephen Williams: Are there any differences between the nature of bullying in primary schools and in secondary schools? Also, are there are differences between the ways boys bully and girls bully?

  Ms Elliot: There are differences. The differences that we have had in the past, as I said briefly earlier about boys bullying boys, tend to be more up-front -punching or hitting. In the primary schools, if you get the girls at around age eight and nine—and I am sure every female in the room will recognise this—you see, "you are my friend today, you are not my friend tomorrow", that sort of thing, but it is at a much lower level, and it is very easy to stop it at that level. I was a primary school teacher. You change the seating around; you change the lunch rooms around; you assign people to do things; you bring in peer mentoring, et cetera. By the time you get to secondary school, you do not suddenly have full-sprung bullies there. They were the ones who were not stopped in primary school and the victims are the same ones who are going forward with their "oh, I am a victim" mentality. It is more sustained; it is more underground; they are much better at hiding it; and it is much more insidious and more difficult to stamp out. That is one of the reasons we do these courses for children who have been bullied. Our most requested course, and we ran one last week and we will run one on Friday, is offered to kids making that transition stage, the kids from primary school who have been victims and who are going into secondary school still with that mentality, and, believe me, the bullies are there waiting for them. We try to change the mentality before they go there.

  Q13  Mr Chaytor: Do all bullies know that they are bullies?

  Ms Elliot: No.

  Q14  Mr Chaytor: What is best practice in getting the bully to confront the fact that he or she is a bully?

  Ms Elliot: At an early stage, many of them do not know they are bullies and they are just responding as they would at home and this is what they have got away with. Many of these children, when you point it out to them, will actually stop. Some of the other ones do know that it is a way to have power, that it is what they are successful at, that they are popular because the other kids circle around them and do not want to be part of the victims. Those children are much more difficult to deal with. We have invited them on courses and they just do not come.

  Mr Robinson: In our area, there is a very peculiar thing that develops from time to time. I have talked to several people who have been through this themselves. They at 14 or 15 and know or suspect that they are turning out gay. They see some other person in the class being picked on for that reason. They join in the bullying in order to cover themselves, and of course later on they are feeling absolutely terrible about that.

  Q15  Mr Chaytor: In terms of assessing the scale of the problem in schools, earlier you gave us different figures and identified certain ways in which it is reported, but what more needs to be done to get a more accurate picture of the scale of the problem in all our schools, and whose responsibility is that?

  Mr Moore: There are issues about recording incidents in schools. What tends to happen is that when a case has been proven and someone has been punished, that is recorded. There is an issue about schools logging. Many do that simply by having something called a bully box. Children drop in a letter or a note saying, "I am being bullied" and the school keeps a log of all of those and that is how they work out their scale.

  Q16  Mr Chaytor: But there is not a standard procedure?

  Mr Moore: There is not a standard procedure across schools.

  Q17  Mr Chaytor: Is there a standard procedure for logging incidents of proven bullying or not?

  Mr Moore: It is difficult to say because sometimes, if violence is used, the child is excluded for violence, not bullying, although bullying is the underlying issue. It tends to be whatever one they record on the form. That obscures some of that bullying.

  Ms Elliot: The schools tell us that they do not have any clear guidance on doing it. They download our bully incident log from our website. That is by Kidscape and it is not nation-wide.

  Q18  Mr Chaytor: So this is an issue for the DfES presumably to look at more effective standardised procedures for recordings?

  Mr Moore: It would be true to say that the DfES is constantly trying to refine that. One of their difficulties is that they have to be careful that they do not, as it were, impose too many burdens on schools. There is a tension between the requirement not to do that and other measures that could be put in place.

  Q19  Mr Chaytor: There is a requirement to log incidents.

  Mr Moore: There ought to be.

1   Note by witness: I. Rivers "Social exclusion, absenteeism and sexual minority youth". Support for Learning Vol 15(1), pp 13-17. Back

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