Examination of Witnesses (Questions 48-59)|
10 MAY 2006
Q48 Chairman: Can I welcome you, John
D'Abbro and Deborah Duncan, to our proceedings. I know that you
have heard some of the evidence we have just taken. We now want
to drill down with the two of you, who have a particularly interesting
professional experience of this problem. As with the last three
witnesses, we gave them a chance for an introductory comment.
We have your CV and your background, but is there anything you
would like to say to start us off? Deborah, it is particularly
nice to see someone from Yorkshire and who is not from Barnsley!
John, it is very good to have you here too. Who would like to
Mrs Duncan: I will start. I think
that you have seen my CV. I have been in post for just one year
as a headteacher. Previously I was a deputy head in Bradford.
So I am still getting a feel for the school; what policies they
have; as you have just been talking about, what systems are in
place; and having to make sure that the systems that are not in
place are put right. In terms of bullying, in fact last week we
had an anti-bullying week, where we reinforced all our policies
with the students. So it is quite fresh in my mind and, when I
answer your questions today, hopefully that will be reflected.
Mr D'Abbro: In terms of the comments
I can make, I cannot reflect on what happens in mainstream schools
because I work in the segregated sector of special education;
but in the particular field of special education where I work,
which is with children with behaviour, emotional and social difficulties,
we have a microcosm of society within there. I have to say from
the beginning that I can only give you a perspective from special
education, although I think it is germane to and has inroads into
the mainstream schools as well.
Q49 Chairman: Tell us a bit more
about your special school. How did it come about? How big is it,
and so on?
Mr D'Abbro: It is a group known
as the New Rush Hall Group and it consists of an all-age specialist
school for children with behaviour, emotional and social difficulties;
three pupil referral units; an adolescent psychiatric unit; a
behaviour outreach support team; and we are currently in negotiation
with our Children's Trust and LA, to pick up an early years provision.
I am really, for want of a better word, an executive head. I still
teach a bit. Although I am not sure the children would say that
I teach very well, but I still do teach a little bit. I think
that is important.
Q50 Chairman: How many pupils?
Mr D'Abbro: Right across the whole
services, we work with about 400 children. Within the day school,
that is funded for 72 children, all-ageso from as young
as five up to 16.
Q51 Chairman: And they all come from
one local authority area?
Mr D'Abbro: No. We are the London
Borough of Redbridge, but we do take out-of-borough children.
Q52 Chairman: The proportion of those,
in and out?
Mr D'Abbro: About 20%. There are
issues there about other authorities referring children to that,
taking up Redbridge places as it were. But I will not get into
the politics of that today.
Q53 Stephen Williams: How big was
the problem in your particular school? Perhaps Deborah would be
best placed to start off with this. I understand that you are
new in post, but have you got the impression that bullying is
a significant problem in your school?
Mrs Duncan: I think that it is
a problem in any school, and any head who denies that they have
got bullying is deluding themselves. That is the first thing I
would start with. Secondly, you have been talking about systems
this morning and I have brought in a system called "positive
discipline" this year, which has been working. As part of
that, we record all bullying incidents. Before I came here today
I got a print-off of all the bullying incidents that have happened
in this last year. We have had 39 cases of recorded bullying since
September and we have 1,055 children. What you might then say
is that not all cases of bullying have been reported and recorded.
These are all cases where we have actually punished the child
as a result of someone being bullied; but often, as you know,
there are cases of bullying where it is best just to discuss with
the two parties; you talk it through with the children, and you
do not actually punish them; so then it is not necessarily recorded.
However, every time it is reported we are recording it on our
system. Going back to the earlier discussion, I think that it
would be good thing to have a formal requirement for schools to
report the number of bullying incidents. We have to do it for
racial incidents. I have a special form I have to fill in for
racist ones, but not for homophobia or any other sorts of bullying.
I do not see that that would be a burden on us particularly, because
we are already doing it as a school.
Q54 Stephen Williams: That was a
remarkably candid response, particularly as the press are here
and statistics on your bullying may well end up in your local
Mrs Duncan: I do not think that
is a high number. I do not think that is a high number at all.
What I do personally as the headteacher is, if there is an incident
of bullying and it is not resolved . . . . If there is just one
incident of bullying, often it can just be resolved by a punishment
or a discussion. If it becomes a recurring incident, I always
see the parents personally, because I take bullying very seriously.
I am a parent and I think, "What would I feel like if it
was happening to my child?". I always try to make myself
think that, and then it makes you more sympathetic. So I always
see the parents, and then we work out strategies how we are going
to tackle it. Punishing it is not always the strategy, because
it can make it worse.
Q55 Stephen Williams: We heard in
the earlier session that only 6% of schools have a specific acknowledgement
or a policy to deal with homophobic bullying. Does your school?
If it does, what is actually in that policy?
Mrs Duncan: I have it here. When
you were talking about homophobia, I did check and we do have
the word "homophobia" in there. Racism, sexism, homophobia
are given as examples of bullying. We review this bullying policy
every year with the governors, and then we reintroduce it to the
staff and children. For example, last week was our anti-bullying
week. All the children when they come into school also get this
booklet, which is called Blot it Out. It is our anti-bullying
booklet, and they all get one in Year 7 when they come in. Then,
once a year, we have a week when we focus on it for the week,
just to remind them. This has activities which they do in their
tutor periods, and in personal and social education, where they
do little activities about role playing: "What if this happened?
What would you do?". In it, it says very clearly across the
front, "Horbury School is a telling school"to
encourage them to always tell. In terms of what I found when I
got to Horbury, these policies were all in place. I just wanted
to refresh all the students' and staff's memories about them.
There is a danger that when the children come in Year 7 it is
a big thing and you focus on it and then, as they move through
to the older years, you do not discuss it any more; and then they
are less likely to tell.
Q56 Jeff Ennis: Continuing on the
theme of keeping proper records, why is it do you think, Deborah,
that many schools do not keep proper records at the present time?
What is the reasoning behind it, do you think?
Mrs Duncan: You could argue that
it is because they do not have to do it mandatorily. Often, if
you do not tell somebody to do something, require them to do something,
they do not do it. Of course, schools are very busy places and
we have all sorts of pressures on us to do a variety of other
things. Just last term we had to fill in the self-evaluation form;
we had to restructure the entire staffing of the school. It is
just another thing to do. But if you already have proper systems
in place, it is not a difficult thing to do. I think that they
do not do it just because they are not required to do it.
Q57 Jeff Ennis: It is not going to
be a big step to require headteachers to do it, because there
is already a procedure set down from the anti-racist issues.
Mrs Duncan: It is good practice.
If I were a parent going to look round a school and it was not
doing that, then I would have questions to ask.
Q58 Jeff Ennis: Do you think schools,
and in particular senior management teams, ought to be more proactive
in trying to detect incidents of bullying in school, rather than
depending on the pupils to come forward to a particular teacher,
to the headteacher, or whatever? Do we need to be more proactive?
Mrs Duncan: You can be proactive
in the sorts of things that you deliver, in the way that you educate
children how to deal with it. Often, for me, when a child is being
bullied, sometimes they are being bullied because of some of the
actions they are taking. I have one child in particular in my
school who very much tells tales on other children very openly,
in front of them; so then she gets bullied. We have been working
with her. I have a behaviour mentor who works for me, who is not
a teacher; who is there, available, all day. Children tend to
go to her, and she teaches them strategies how to avoid being
bullied. That is a really obvious one, but sometimes you can teach
children how to avoid that sort of thing. So she does work with
them. When we know that somebody has been bullied, we work with
them; but we do not actually go out looking for examples of bullyingnot
really. If it comes up, then we deal with it; but we try to educate
to prevent. Preventative education is the best, I think.
Q59 Jeff Ennis: I am wondering, from
John's perspective, working with EBD children, et cetera, how
many of your pupils would you say have been victims of bullying?
Would it be higher than the normal school setting?
Mr D'Abbro: Yes, and unfortunately
many of them have been bullies. It is getting back to the pointunderstanding
the reason why they are bullies. Can I just pick up something
that Deborah said? All the things that Deborah said as good practice
I would suggest are good practice in any school. What is good
practice in a special school, an independent schooldare
I say that?a large secondary school, or a primary school,
is good practice. There is one thing I would want to take away
from thatand I was mindful, Chair, when you mentioned Australia,
of the great Australian educator Bill Rogers' lineis that
it is the certainty of the consequence that is more important
than the severity. As a parent, what was really important for
me when my children were growing up was that they knew that if
I said X was X, then X was X, and it was not going to be A or
B. It is the same in schools. If children know that if they do
something wrong there will always be a consequence and it is always
followed through, that will establish the ethos in a school around
lots of things; but I would particularly say in relation to behaviour
management. It is the point Michele made. Children will test boundaries.
That is part of what being a child is about. You have to learn
what is right and what is not right. That is where teachers, by
being role models, must set examples and always challenge children
when they get it wrong. I am not talking about hanging and flogging
children; it is about saying, "That's the line, and if you
step over that line there will be a consequence". I am not
suggesting that children should be frightened, but they should
be absolutely clear that there is a consequence for every action,
because all of us have to take responsibility for our actions.
I just wanted to endorse that bit. In the context of the children
I work withand I was thinking about this when you invited
me to comeis there a correlation that looks at why children
bully? I think it is about relationships. The most important thing
in my world is the relationships I have with the people I love
and care for, and hopefully they think the same way back. In my
experience, in 25 years of working outside the mainstream, I think
that it is a society-based problem, not a school-based problem.
It is about children who are unable to make relationships. Because
they are unable to make relationships, they use other forces,
i.e. they are physically bigger; they are intellectually more
able to intimidate people. They bully people so that they can
feel good about themselves, by making other people feel bad about
themselves. I have no evidence to back that up but I just have
an instinct that, given how important I think relationships are
in our culture, in our world, if you cannot make relationships
then you have to use more covert ways of doing it. I think that
may be something that causes people to become bullies. Equally,
the other side of it is why do some people become victims? That
is learned. As a parent, I think, "Have I got my bit wrong?"