Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)


10 MAY 2006

  Q20  Mr Chaytor: What about racist incidents? Is there a requirement to log racist incidents?

  Mr Moore: Yes.

  Q21  Mr Chaytor: But not homophobic incidents?

  Mr Moore: No, there is no requirement at the moment.

  Mr Robinson: In many ways, a lot of this problem that we have would be solved if the same practice, that is very good practice that is followed on racist incidents, were applied to homophobic incidents, but it is not, I am afraid. In the same way, for example, where schools of course are all required to have an anti-bullying policy in place, only 6% of schools make any kind of specific reference to homophobic bullying.[2]

  Ms Elliot: And some schools keep no records at all.

  Q22  Mr Chaytor: On the evidence of the statistics that have been collected, what proportion of all children (a) in primary and (b) in secondary schools are subject to bullying? What is your best estimate of that?

  Ms Elliot: If you look at everything from the Sheffield research straight through to Dan Olweus, all kinds of research, that can be anywhere from 18% to 38%.

  Mr Robinson: On a rule of thumb basis, and I can only speak here from personal experience of 30 years a teacher, I would say that in each class you have probably got one or two pupils who are growing up gay or lesbian. Then there will be two, three or four more who do not quite fit in with the general feel of the class; they are perhaps a little sensitive, a little uninterested in sport or whatever, if they are boys, and so they are likely to be victims. If you think of the ones who genuinely are in later life going to turn out to be a gay or lesbian, and total that up for a school of 1,000, we are probably talking about 50 or 60 pupils. That is why I say that it can have quite a serious effect on GCSE results and league tables.

  Q23  Chairman: Is the independent sector better at dealing with bullying than the state sector?

  Mr Moore: I do not think there is any evidence to say that this.

  Q24  Mr Chaytor: Could I ask about the new inspection arrangements? Given that we have now got shorter notice, shorter inspections, lighter touch inspections, is that going to reduce the likelihood of identifying bullying as a problem? In the old system, there were more opportunities for the parents and the pupils to report directly to the inspectors their perception of the school. Presumably, those opportunities are less available with the new inspections?

  Mr Moore: The new inspection regime has only been running two terms, in effect. The way that colleagues are organising those inspections, it is interesting that time is cut out of that inspection time to talk formally to pupils. If you are doing a secondary school inspection, you speak to a representative group in each year and the school counsellor. Time is being made for that. They are still doing that in primary schools because they see that as an important way of validating what the school is saying. As you have said, we do not have the parents' meeting. I would be surprised if Ofsted were to want to curtail that. If issues are flagged up, even when we are looking towards proportional inspections that they offer for schools deemed to be already outstanding, someone is going in for a day and they would still want to check against the issues around children's safety because there is the "every child matters" agenda. You have to be confident and the school has to be able to evidence what it is they do. That is what you then look at when you start to question them on it.

  Q25  Mr Chaytor: In assessing children's safety and general wellbeing, what specific criteria are used within the new inspection framework? Is there one that specifically refers to bullying?

  Mr Moore: Yes, because you have to ask if the school complies with the requirements of Every Child Matters and there is the issue about child safety. Bullying automatically comes into that.

  Q26  Mr Chaytor: Is it a specific criterion on which the school is assessed?

  Mr Moore: Yes, we have to form a judgment, as I said at the beginning. There is a form on which you have to make a judgment. It says, "What is the school's strategy? Is that strategy effective for dealing with things like bullying and racial harassment?"

  Q27  Mr Chaytor: Finally, can I ask about training because there was some comment earlier about the paucity, in training teachers, of identifying the symptoms of bullying. Equally, if the consensus is that it all stems from the head teacher, it should be an easier problem to resolve by ensuring that all head teachers are effectively trained as part of their professional development. What is there for head teachers? Is it systematic or is it arbitrary?

  Mr Moore: I believe those sorts of issues are covered in the National School Leadership Programmes. Local authorities lay on very good training and they bring in people from a range of expertise across the country. We know from one of the authorities we inspected that there is a direct correlation between incidents of bullying being reported by parents from particular schools and those schools never going to that in-service training, and there is nothing that anybody can do. Because schools have a high degree of autonomy, if they choose not to participate, then technically there is nothing that can be done. I suppose those letters could be passed on from the local authority to an organisation like ours. Complaints go to the DfES. They could come to us and we could then look at the inspection regime and whether that school should be brought forward for inspection.

  Q28  Helen Jones: Is there any detailed research that tells us why children bully and which children are the most likely to start bullying others in school? We hear a lot of anecdotal evidence but how much real, detailed research is there in this area?

  Ms Elliot: The research has been done mainly by Dan Olweus in Norway. You have heard me mention his name. He is the guru. It is very specific research. Basically it says that these are children who come from homes where there is inconsistent discipline. Some of his research shows children who are particularly hyperactive. There is a whole list, and I will give that to you rather than go through the whole thing. He then studied these children and followed them for 40 years. The results were really fascinating because they were four times more likely to end up in prison than the regular population, and a whole range of other things. In addition to children coming from homes were bullying is basically fostered, we found a whole other group of bullies who come from homes where they are so indulged that they go to school and they are little gods and they think that everything revolves around them. We call them the brat bullies basically, but we do not have research to say how many and which they are. His research, as far as I know, is the only long-term research being done on the bullies themselves.

  Q29  Helen Jones: What about those who become victims of bullying? Again, we hear anecdotal evidence about people getting themselves into a victim mentality. Equally, on occasions an outsider might wonder why on earth someone has been picked on to be bullied? Do we have any evidence about the victims of bullying, why they are targeted, what happens to them when they are targeted, and how that affects their learning, their later life, and so on?

  Mr Robinson: I have referred to a number of studies by academics and by the DfES. Those are a bit out of date now. I would urge DfES, and perhaps the Department for Health as well, to spend some money on carrying out much more thorough research. I think this would be a reasonable task for government, frankly.

  Mr Moore: You might want, at some point, to have a discussion with those organisations that support, for example, women who have been victims in terms of abuse by their partners. I suspect there is a high correlation between what happened to them when they were at school and the mental state that it got them into and them then becoming caught up in that. There is an important difference about one of the underlying causes of boys bullying and girls bullying. Girls tend to talk about themselves more than boys. Boys operate at quite a superficial level and talk about football and all sorts of other things. They do not make big disclosures. The difficulty is that the more that you disclose about yourself, the more ammunition people have to harm you. That is an important difference that underlies some of the girls' bullying. You can track that by looking at older people. You have to look at older people and track back.

  Mr Robinson: Without wishing to be crass, it is possible that boys who are growing up gay tend to reveal more about their inner selves than straight boys do. There is something about the whole way in our culture that boys perceive themselves to be men. If you have this terrible pressure that there is now for boys to be macho, to be tough, not to show their feelings, to treat girls as sex objects, to be harsh and rough and all the rest of that, then obviously somebody who does not fit those parameters, whether they are gay or not, is likely to be at risk.

  Q30  Helen Jones: Denys, is there a difference, in your experience, between those who bully people who are gay or lesbian, or perhaps bully them on racist grounds, and what you might call the more generalised bullying: "I bully someone because I do not like the way she looks or dresses", or whatever? Is there a difference or can you trace the same pattern in those that carry out that kind of bullying?

  Mr Robinson: The people who are likely to take it up and do something about it are probably the same types all around but, that said, they are probably more likely to have grown up in homes where casual vile comments about gay or lesbian people are tossed around and not challenged and thought to be great. They import that into school and cannot see any reason why they are being challenged—"Doesn't everybody think gay people are contemptible? What's the problem?"

  Ms Elliot: We are keeping records. We are dealing with children who are victims of bullying. Going back to your question of what makes a victim, we have been keeping pre-imposed questionnaires that have been independently evaluated. I will leave this with you. It is about working with victims. It is the very severe end that we are dealing with and so I cannot tell you what makes a victim except that the bully is looking for a victim.

  Q31  Helen Jones: That would be interesting. Denys, you said in your evidence that 94% of British schools do not have policies that address homophobic bullying. Why is that, do you think, and what would such policies look like? You referred earlier to the fact that you need a whole school approach to bullying in general. What changes would you like to see addressed on that particular issue?

  Mr Robinson: The critical thing, surely, is that the school has agreed. As I say, it is so much stronger if all the pupils have been actively engaged in discussing this stuff in their groups and have come up with a conclusion themselves, rather than it just being decided by the head and governors and handed down. There needs to be an explicit statement that this school will not tolerate homophobic bullying. It needs to be spelt out somewhere so that it is a point of reference.

  Q32  Chairman: We do not want to get to the stage where there is a good code against homophobic bullying and racist bullying but not other for bullying. That has to be clearly examined.

  Mr Robinson: I entirely agree with that. Could I back-track to a question that Helen Jones made? I am not trying to make a political point here exactly but the baleful influence of Section 28 for very many years from 1988 gave many schools and head teachers, some of whom frankly are homophobic, the excuse to hide behind that legislation by falsely claiming that it prevented them from teaching about homophobia, or indeed even taking effective action about homophobic bullying. Now that that has gone, we have a battle to make people realise that it has gone. It is surprising how many people will still say, "Oh, we cannot touch that; it is Section 28".

  Q33  Jeff Ennis: The Children's Commissioner, earlier on this year, suggested that we ought to be thinking in terms of having an annual survey on bullying in order to get a better monitoring system off the ground. Do you all agree with that suggestion?

  Ms Elliot: I agree, as long as it does not interfere with actually doing practical work. One of the problems in all of these types of issues is that the Government throws money at "let's have a survey, let's have anti-bullying week, let's do this", and it becomes window-dressing. "Let's tell the children to tell": fine, we told all the children to tell and then what happened? Not a lot. A survey is fine as long as there is a practical outcome to it and so that the kids are actually helped.

  Q34  Jeff Ennis: We have looked at the different aspects of what bullies are. Can bullying be class-based? Does it cover all social classes? Are there any features that working class bullies might have over middle class bullies?

  Mr Moore: It cuts across all groups, but one form of bullying that does exist is around differences between socio-economic groups in the same school. If you have highly motivated pupils and an under-culture of disengagement, that group then bullies those children. They use words like "swat" and the rest, but it pulls down a group that is motivated. It is about how a school tackles that bottom-end culture. That is why that policy is so important and the expectations of the schools are clearly articulated to the children.

  Mr Robinson: Swats very quickly become poofs.

  Q35  Jeff Ennis: Are the legal duties on schools centred around bullying strong enough or do we need to beef them up?

  Mr Moore: There is a point when bullying starts to become a criminal offence if you are over a certain age because it involves intimidation and threatening behaviour. There is a raft of laws already around dealing with certain types of behaviour that a school could employ. What may inhibit them is the fear of criminalising a child. At the end of the day, and both my colleagues have said this, if the school does not make it clear what the consequences are or could be, because schools have the power to exclude a child if they believe their behaviour is unacceptable, there is another set of laws that the children need to be aware of: if you do this, then somebody can bring a civil action or a criminal action against you, and you need to understand that. It is about schools being up-front and saying that to the young people and to their parents so that when the parent says, "I refer to this, that and the other", you then say, "You may well do in your own home but in this community this is the way that things are. It is not negotiable". The good schools that we have inspected took that line: it is not negotiable and this is unacceptable.

  Q36  Jeff Ennis: How can we make it easier for children who have been bullied to tell an adult and open the process?

  Mr Robinson: I refer to one suggestion in my written evidence, which we came across and I have not been able to track down in detail. We were told that there is a system running in certain schools in parts of Germany where the pupil body elects teachers of trust, so-called, who then, under German law, have the legal ability to receive confidential information which they are not then obliged to pass on. They almost have a sort of priest function, I suppose, in a sort of way. In many ways, it would be helpful in every school for there to be people like that who are not head teachers or LEA appointed, because it is coming from the grass roots up.

  Ms Elliot: On the first assembly you make it clear to the entire school that this is a school that does not tolerate bullying. You put in pupil helpers, call them what you will, peer mentors, and do not give them too much responsibility because I worry about that a lot. Put up things like bully boxes but do not call them bully boxes; call them suggestion boxes, and a child can put something in if he thinks he is getting too much homework. Then a kid walking by putting something in is not thought just to be a child who is reporting. Several of the schools that I visited in Norway, granted they were the smaller schools, had a brilliant system because each child needed to have a bus pass or a lunch voucher and, to get that, they went to a particular teacher. During that time, which was once a week or once a month, the child actually saw the teacher and could tell the teacher things that they would not otherwise tell. Our experience with the victims of bullying is that the older they get, the more rarely they tell. They certainly do not want to distress their parents, or the teachers for that matter.

  Mr Moore: Our evidence tells us that a significant number of schools now have peer mentors or buddies, as they are called, who receive proper training; they have drop-in centres and pupils use those. They also turn to learning mentors. One of the questions we ask is: if you were being bullied, where would you go? Invariably, children will name a member of staff, be that a teacher or an adult, and say that if they were concerned, they would start with them. Quite often they will make the disclosure to that member of staff but not want it to be taken any further. That member of staff then is stuck in a position until they can talk the child round into taking it further, because they recognise that they need to be working with the child. There are quite a lot of systems already in place.

  Q37  Jeff Ennis: What specific anti-bullying programmes or approaches do you think are the best and work most effectively?

  Ms Elliot: I am prejudiced, obviously. I think the systems that work the best are the ones that involve the parents and the children; that put down specific suggestions about what will happen; that get the kids involved in making up contracts, and following through. Again, it is not a magic thing; it is such common sense. It is good teaching. It is good parenting, basically. We have followed schools that put in things like bully courts, for example: where the children themselves come up with ideas about what should happen. It sounds draconian. They have not set up voodoo dolls yet, but who knows what they will do in the future? Maybe bear traps in the playground! But we do find that they actually work, if you just make it up front that, "This school will not tolerate bullying", and on you go. Then any kind of system can work. You can do anything in that.

  Mr Robinson: I would absolutely support all of that and so I will not go over it again. However, I would make one final point. The vital thing in our area is in-service training, or indeed initial teaching training, the TDA. The problem is, because the Government has, very rightly, devolved an awful lot of financial management to schools, headteachers are in charge of the in-service training budget. We therefore have a reverse situation going on. If the school is aware that homophobia is a problem, or are willing to acknowledge it, it might just be willing to include in-service training on this problem in its programme. If the school is denying that they have a problem, or indeed the head is homophobic to start with, the last thing they will do is spend part of their precious budget on getting in-service training about how to deal with gay and lesbian pupils, or people who are thought to be so. So you do actually need either government sponsorship to pay so that the training is free, or LEA likewise. Otherwise, you have a perverse incentive going on.

  Q38  Chairman: Where did the no-blame thing come from? You seem to agree that it did not work and does not work, but where did it come from?

  Ms Elliot: It originally came from Sweden, from Anatole Pikas who is a researcher at the University of Uppsala. It was brought into this country by George Robinson and Barbara Maines. It was bastardised—that is the best word I can use—to the point that it became totally ineffective. There are seven steps, which include the victim telling or writing down what has happened; the teacher then taking that to the bully; setting up a group of bullies, with other people involved to decide what to do; not keeping any records. These are the seven steps, trusting to the children that it will happen and going back and saying, "Did it happen?". What we found—and I have brought this and will leave it with you—20, 30 or 40 letters from the kids and the parents that this has actually happened to. What does happen is that the child says, "I'm not going to tell again because you have just told the bully everything about me; so they know exactly what to do". It has come back, by the way, and it has been around as the "support group method" or the "seven-step solution".

  Q39  Chairman: There is a bit of snake oil, in your view!

  Mr Moore: There is one final point, to do with the in-service training of staff and the initial teacher training. Government has control over initial teacher training. We can therefore suggest that newly qualified teachers have such-and-such experience. The issue is around the existing staff in schools. Denys is quite right. The responsibility for their in-service training is the headteacher's. So the issue is about what sorts of discussions need to take place with headteachers to ensure that those issues become part of ongoing training for staff in managing children.

2   Note by witness: DfES Bullying: don't suffer in silence, 2002. Back

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