Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)


10 MAY 2006

  Q60  Chairman: You are both saying the same thing really, because Deborah is saying—did you call her, or him, a "relationship counsellor"?

  Mrs Duncan: She is a behaviour monitor, but she does all sorts. She works with all the vulnerable youngsters. She is there and they know she is there, and they can go to her at any time.

  Q61  Chairman: That is the other side. What about tackling the inability to build a relationship that John has put his finger on?

  Mrs Duncan: She can do that sort of thing as well.

  Q62  Chairman: She can do that as well?

  Mrs Duncan: Yes, she is a trained counsellor and she uses all sorts of mechanisms. I look at this list that I have of people who have been bullies during this year, and they are for a variety of reasons, as was mentioned earlier. For example, some are bullies because their parents are bullies. I see that when they come in and challenge me, if I discipline their child. They try to bully me, and shout and swear at me, and so on. I have had a couple of cases of that just this week actually. Often they are learning that bullying behaviour at home; or sometimes, like you say, it is because nobody loves them at home and so they are seeking to get attention and love at school, and they do it in that way. There are different reasons for it.

  Q63  Jeff Ennis: I guess that the person you have in the school that the kids can go to would be very much along the same lines as the German model—a teacher to trust, as it were—mentioned in the previous session. It is a similar principle, I guess.

  Mrs Duncan: Yes, it is a similar principle, but we have a confidentiality policy. The children are clear that sometimes she will have to take it further and tell. She is our child protection officer as well. So every week, on a Tuesday morning, she comes to see me and she tells me any significant things that are going on, to keep me briefed—which is also important.

  Q64  Jeff Ennis: Do you think that sort of formal structure would have more impact on the bullying situations in school?

  Mrs Duncan: I think so, because it is sometimes an issue in large schools that children do not know who to go to and do not know who they can trust. It is having clear people who are marked out as, "These are the people you can go to if you are being bullied". Going back to the teacher training, that is important. I think it is happening with initial teacher training now, because the ones I am getting through on interview are very clued up on it. I asked a safeguarding question last Friday on interview: "How can we safeguard the safety of our children in schools?". They were very clued up on child protection, bullying, all that sort of thing. I think that the other speaker was right: the established teachers may sometimes need to be reminded, and we have to do that with in-house training.

  Q65  Jeff Ennis: Do you think that the development of Children's Trusts and that sort of situation within the Every Child Matters agenda, and all of that, will impact positively upon bullying in schools?

  Mrs Duncan: I do and, going back to my point that if you make schools do it they will do it, we now have a responsibility with the Every Child Matters agenda, and Ofsted are looking at "How are you tackling safe, secure and healthy?". In our school self-evaluation form you have to say, "What are you doing to make sure that every child is safe in school?".

  Q66  Jeff Ennis: Does the DfES give a consistent message on bullying or could it offer more support to schools, do you think?

  Mrs Duncan: It is not consistent, I think—because we are both pausing. We know where to go to look for advice and help on bullying. We know about Kidscape; we know about some of the websites. Again, I do not think it is as strong a message as we have had on, say, racism.

  Q67  Chairman: What about my criticism of Ofsted? It seemed to me that you have good evidence but, if there are only 6% . . . . He has gone.

  Mrs Duncan: He has not!

  Q68  Chairman: Oh, dear! But do you think Ofsted could do more?

  Mrs Duncan: I will defend David slightly, in that, under the new arrangements for inspection and in the self-evaluation form, there is a whole section where you have to talk about children's safety, security, personal well-being and emotional well-being. So they are doing it indirectly through that particular section.

  Q69  Chairman: We have let him off the hook!

  Mrs Duncan: Which is rare!

  Q70  Chairman: John?

  Mr D'Abbro: It is rare for a headteacher to defend Ofsted. Yes, I would have to defend David. We need to understand—and I am coming at this from a special school perspective—that children learn behaviour from adults. We have to look at where does this problem fit vis-a"-vis society and school. Schools are such a socialisation agent. I do not want to get into the macro politics of that, but basically we get the sort of children we have always wanted, because we put certain procedures and certain systems in place. In my experience, most children learn their bullying habits from their parents or carers. I would hate to believe that, within the workforce that I manage, we have got bullying within the staff; but, if we did, it would follow that staff would bully pupils, and pupils would bully pupils. We can look at Ofsted and say, "Is Ofsted doing it?" or "Is the DfES doing it?"; but it is actually an endemic problem within society, in the same way as we now have legislation that safeguards the rights of minority groups. We need to look at that in relation to bullying. It is Deborah's point: if we made schools do it, I think that it would have more impact than it does currently.

  Q71  Mr Carswell: In terms of tackling bullying, I am concerned about something I have heard about called restorative justice. There is a school in my constituency where it is used as a tool. Do you think that it is part of the problem or the solution? Is it something that you would use in your school, or would you be wary of it? My fear is that it means that people can do things and not face consequences. Do you share that concern?

  Mrs Duncan: I went to a conference in London recently about behaviour management strategies and I was speaking about positive discipline, which is one I have used in my school. Going back to what John was saying, the system I have is a pyramid and it says very clearly, "If you do this, this will happen". The next stage is, "If you do this, this will happen". So every child in the school knows exactly what will happen. I think that is really important. Having to follow through on those this year in my school has been quite difficult, because I have gone into a school where that has not been the case. There has been a lot of talking about what you have done and being sorry for it, but not being punished for it. I very much believe that you do need to punish bullies. Otherwise, they will carry on doing it. At the same time, however, I have colleagues in the Association of School and College Leaders who have tried restorative justice. I think that it is good practice to discuss things and be open about them, but only if the victim wants to be involved in that. As we heard earlier, if the victim is then presented in front of the bullies, it can make them feel even more vulnerable. So if it comes from the victim and they want to do it, then it can be good. I would never discourage activities where children discuss, in circle time or tutor time, if somebody has done something wrong and they are sorry. I think that you can have a combination in a school, but I very much believe that, if people bully and do it persistently, they need to be punished for it. That is what I am doing; but I am getting a hard time from some parents about it, because I am seen to be too strict.

  Q72  Helen Jones: We talk about the learned behaviour of children. I wondered if we could talk a little about methods for encouraging good behaviour and how you feel that impacts on bullies. I always feel that when we are discussing a problem like that we are in danger of missing the fact that many of our children do behave well. I can remember my own experience of teaching, where we had, for instance, a number of children with disabilities. I was very impressed by the way the young people looked after them, sought to include them in everything, and it was a positive relationship on both sides. What sort of a role do you think having strategies for encouraging good behaviour has in tackling bullying, and in rewarding good behaviour?

  Mr D'Abbro: I think that you have to catch children being good. The big problem with schools is that often we catch children being inappropriate. I would like to think that, within the service areas that I manage, we actually have systems in place that catch children getting it right, so that children learn that they get praise for getting it right rather than being highlighted because they get it wrong. That is not to say you do not have the systems in place to challenge children when they get it wrong. I would contend that the single most important thing in the work that we do is the quality of relationship between the adult and the child. Within the context of the quality of the relationship, if you have effective and positive relationships that is the tool that you will use to effect change and challenge children when their behaviour is inappropriate. If you are saying do we use enough opportunities to role model—to show children the right way of sorting out issues—then I think that in effect, in practice, yes, you should do. You challenge children when they get it wrong and you have procedures, but what underpins that is the quality of relationship and the quality of care between the teacher, the facilitator of learning, and the student, the pupil.

  Q73  Helen Jones: Deborah, you said you had a positive discipline strategy. Does that include positive rewards, and so on?

  Mrs Duncan: Yes, we have a pyramid of rewards as well.

  Q74  Helen Jones: I have had a local school that did that very successfully.

  Mrs Duncan: Yes, there are a lot of these systems about behaviour for learning, positive discipline, and that sort of thing. What we talked about was that there is a large number of children who we call "ghost children". They come into school, do as they are told, do exactly what they are asked to do, and go home. Nobody talks to them; nobody praises them; nobody has anything to do with them. In this system we have changed that, and you get a stamp in your planner for turning up on time every day for a week, for not getting any bad comments, for just being well-behaved and doing what you are supposed to do. The other thing we did was, at the beginning of the year, we taught the behaviour that we want. I think that to assume that children know how to behave these days is a false assumption. Some children have never been taught how to behave. I have just had a manners and respect fortnight, where we have talked about how to behave properly. I am at the moment teaching my daughter, who is three, that; but some of these children have either never learned it or have forgotten it. So we have been giving them praise for opening a door for another person; for saying "please" and "thank you"; for just using basic manners. Some of them thought that it was a bit of a joke, but it has made them think about it. I think that you have to teach behaviour; you have to teach the children what you expect. Then you can hold them to account if they do not do it; but if you have never taught them and they are not taught it at home, then it is not their fault, is it?

  Q75  Chairman: This is such clear and sweet reason coming from the two of you. Why does it not permeate the culture of every school in the land?

  Mrs Duncan: I do not know. I would argue that there are a lot of schools where there is very good practice in terms of tackling bullying.

  Q76  Chairman: I am switching and swatching here, in the sense that all the stuff that you see in the press about "horrific schools" and so on, I do not find. I find that most of the schools I go to are very good schools, operating well, and all the rest. On the other hand, when we get the Children's Commissioner saying, "Bullying is endemic", you do worry that, below the surface, there are a lot of children who are not getting the best out of their educational opportunities, because bullying is not recognised in the way that you two seem to recognise it: as a genuine problem.

  Mrs Duncan: It is always there, and what slightly worries me is the rise of the use of technology for bullying. I have just been dealing with one incident that built up over the weekend on MSN. These girls were emailing each other nasty messages all weekend, and then it erupted in a fight on Monday. It is often, particularly with girls, texting and emailing, and things like that. That has increased in recent times; so I think that bullying just takes different forms as you go through time.

  Q77  Chairman: What rules do you have on mobile phones and technology like that? What are the rules in your school on the carrying and use of phones?

  Mrs Duncan: The rule in my school is that they can have one in their possession, but it has to be switched off or on silent, or whatever, and they cannot use it during the school day between 8.30 and 3.30. However, I am mindful that, particularly with girls, parents often want them to have one for safety reasons. I am trying to move with the times, but if they are using them during the school day they are confiscated.

  Q78  Chairman: John?

  Mr D'Abbro: The same as that, yes. I can think of occasions where children may have legitimate uses, or, rather, a legitimate need to use the phone during the school day, and they would have to ask permission—and I think that is reasonable.

  Q79  Chairman: Having four children, I have been familiar with bullying. One child particularly was bullied. What is the rule? I remember complaining to a head that the child was being bullied, and the feeling was, "The bullying is taking place just outside the school gate, and my remit only runs to the school gate". What do you see as your remit in terms of bullying? You have just said that the technology allows someone to bully all weekend, remotely.

  Mrs Duncan: I cannot punish a child if they have bullied somebody at the weekend, but sometimes that spills over into school the next day. So I punish them for what happens as a result.

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