Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)


10 MAY 2006

  Q80  Chairman: What about the kids that bully by, "I'll wait for you outside the school"?

  Mrs Duncan: I have always taken the view—and in my previous school when I was deputy we also took this view—that while the children were in their school uniform, going to and from school, they are not my responsibility but I will take action if they misbehave. For example, if a member of the public rings up and says, "Some of your children were having a go at my daughter on the way home from school", then I will punish. That is not legislation yet. I am not actually allowed to do that yet, but it is in the new White Paper. We have always done that, because we feel that when they are wearing our uniform and they are moving to and from school they are representing the school, and they are seen to be a part of Horbury School.

  Mr D'Abbro: I go back to the certainty-of-the-consequence line again. I just think that it is such a powerful one. We had an interesting phenomenon at school recently, where some of our older children, who previously may well have been bullied, were allocated laptops. They were saying that they were frightened to go home, because the word had got out and they were saying, "We're going to be bullied by other children because they know we've got laptops". We then had to rethink our procedures for getting children home. I think that it does extend outside the school gates. If it means that we will escort children on to the buses so that they feel safe, that is the bottom line. If the bottom line of Every Child Matters is that you cannot learn unless you feel safe, then I think that it behoves us, as the people in loco parentis, to make sure that children do feel safe and that we do what it takes. I am sure that will not be popular with some of my colleagues; but, as a parent, what was really important for me to know was that when my children were at school they were safe, because, if they are safe, they are happy and they learn. If it means we have to go that extra mile, then I think that we do it. To come back to one of the points and why do not all schools do it—and I am not saying that they do not, I am not bashing the profession—it is much easier sometimes to turn a blind eye than see through the course of action set down by your procedures and policy. Sometimes it is more work to carry out an investigation, or do an audit, or follow something through; but my money says that if you do that, in the long run it will save you more work. The ethos you establish within your community is, "There will always be a follow-through—whether it is a positive one if you are getting it right, or a potentially negative one if you are getting it inappropriately wrong".

  Q81  Chairman: When we did our investigation into school transport, we found that one of the problems was bullying on the buses, whether it was school buses or buses. There was an argument that a dedicated school bus system gave you much more control of that phenomenon. Is there anything in your experience that touches on a school transport system and bullying?

  Mrs Duncan: It has not really been an issue in my current school. In my last school it was a bit of an issue, and we had sixth-form monitors. They rode on the buses and that was their responsibility. They came and reported any incidents or anything that was going on on the buses. It does not really make any difference if it is a bus dedicated just to the children from your school or if it has other people on it: I think that incidents will still occur.

  Mr D'Abbro: I think that it is acknowledged that there will potentially be a problem. If you acknowledge that there is a problem, you then put steps in place to manage it if there is a problem or, conversely, to stop it happening in the first place. Again, I can think of some of our children who were ridiculed and bullied because they went to a special school. So we had to teach them strategies about how to manage that, which is not about lashing out physically—because that was the easiest way—but using different strategies. When the children saw—because there was a consequence for the children from the mainstream school who had been ridiculing them—that that was followed through seriously by the school, we found that they did not have to resort to physical violence to sort it out: they used more appropriate assertiveness techniques to resolve those issues.

  Q82  Mr Chaytor: We have focused very much, in both the earlier session and now, on secondary schools. Presumably children do not just suddenly start becoming bullies—or do they? In your experience, is it a habit that continues over a number of years, or can children become bullies for a short period of time and then the problem is cured?

  Mr D'Abbro: People bully—because it is people, not just children, and we must not lose sight of that—because they do not feel good about themselves. I think that starts in the school process for some children when they are very young. Yes, we can put fixes on a secondary school. In some ways, some of the procedures that we have talked about are more effective in the secondary sector; but they need to be because the schools are smaller. It is actually an issue we need to address in all sectors, but particularly with young children. The children I work with are that extreme of children who are most bullied or the most bullying at a very young age. What I passionately believe is that, by giving children the right resources, i.e. human resources, we can effect change in children's lives and they can learn not to be bullied. It is not a quick fix. Sometimes problems will take as long to solve as they took to come about. It is acknowledging that there is a problem and that you can get, believe it or not, five and six year-olds who bully their parents. That is a really quasi-flip of bullying, but I have seen it. You then have to say that, if we do not address it at five and six, by 14 and 15 we will have a child who will be banged up, either in residential schooling or with a custodial sentence.

  Q83  Mr Chaytor: Are we doing enough in primary schools in terms of early assessment and in terms of passing information to secondary schools?

  Mrs Duncan: Yes, the information is passed to us. If you are working, as we work, on a pyramid principle.

  Q84  Mr Chaytor: So you would get a list of potential bullies?

  Mrs Duncan: And people who have been bullied as well. That is passed to me and then we will keep an eye on them; do some sort of work to prevent it happening early on. The only thing that worries me is when I get information passed about victims of bullying. I had some parents who came to see me when the child had just joined in Year 7 and said, "We're very worried about her coming. Our daughter has been bullied at primary school. We were bullied at school, and we know that she is going to get bullied here". They had already set that in her mind. She was waiting to be bullied when she arrived. So you have to be a little bit careful, because sometimes coming to secondary school can be a fresh start for children. They can maybe leave that circle of bullies behind and make that fresh start. You have to be aware of what has gone on before, but let us not make it a big issue so that it just carries on.

  Mr D'Abbro: My experience of victims—limited and not of the vast numbers of children that Deborah has—is that there is often a correlation between the mental health of their parents and that child, and that they become the symptom-bearers, in jargon terms, for their parents.

  Q85  Mr Chaytor: Given the crucial significance of parents in all of this, are there examples of good practice, of working with parents over a period of time rather than just bringing in the parent to discuss a particular incident? Is that possible?

  Mrs Duncan: The behaviour mentor lady that I am talking about, I do not see her at work every single day, but in one of the meetings we had with parents she told the parents some strategies to use with the child. She said, "When she comes home at night, I want you to ask her to think of two or three positive things that have happened during the day". Because, again, what the parents were doing was saying, "What's happened today? How bad has it been?". So saying, "Come on, tell me some positive things. You can tell us the bad stuff afterwards, but tell us three positive things first". She has worked in the holidays with groups of parents of vulnerable children, to give them those sorts of skills. It is not across the board. We do not do it across the board with parents.

  Q86  Mr Chaytor: This is the initiative of one individual school.

  Mrs Duncan: Yes.

  Mr D'Abbro: Going back to the point that Helen made, in the school where we work we have our own child or family counsellor. I know it was something that was in Sir Alan Steer's report: the importance of—we call it something different, but we would call it someone who is a link between the school and the family of who is at the school. Our child and family counsellor will go out and meet parents before the child comes into the school. So they are actually a bridge, as it were. Further to the intake conference, they are the bridge, the facilitator of the process by which the child comes into the school. We find that has given us vast reams of information about the child and their family, in the context of their family and in their home; but also alerts us so that we can be aware of where there are things that are not written down about the child being a bully or the child being a victim. On a different model, it is the same sort of process. It is about saying, "Let's use other paraprofessionals to support our anti-bullying strategy".

  Mrs Duncan: I think that workforce remodelling is a good thing, which has contributed to helping children who are being bullied. I have appointed three pastoral support officers, and they work with two year groups each. They do that sort of work. They ring home; they are constantly in conversation; sometimes they go out to the houses. Then I also have my behaviour mentor. All these people are there all day long, to be able to deal with issues to do with welfare. In the past, you had a head of year who had a teaching timetable and would say, "I'm really sorry you're crying and in a mess, but I'm going to go and teach PE now. I'm sorry". We have gone past that now, and we are now employing people specifically to look after the welfare of children—which I think is a really good thing, if only we had the money to back that up. However, that is another argument. We are now doing that and it is a really good thing, but it does cost money to do it, of course.

  Q87  Mr Chaytor: What is the level of liaison between the staff that you have working in your school on those issues and the comment that John made about the relationship with mental health? Surely this is something that goes beyond the school and needs a multi-agency approach between education and health? Are there examples of where this is happening now?

  Mrs Duncan: John will work even more so with the agencies, but we work with CAMS; we work with—

  Q88  Chairman: CAMS?

  Mrs Duncan: CAMS is the Children's Mental Health . . . . I cannot remember what it stands for.

  Q89  Helen Jones: Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

  Mrs Duncan: We work with them. We work with educational welfare officers very closely, who come in to school and then we say, "Can you go and visit this family?". We work with the youth offending teams. All those sorts of agencies will come in and liaise with us.

  Q90  Mr Chaytor: Do you think the schools should get a score in their performance tables or their Ofsted report for the way they do these things?

  Mrs Duncan: They do.

  Q91  Mr Chaytor: Ofsted reports are fairly tentative—

  Mrs Duncan: In the self-evaluation form you have to score yourself on how you manage the personal and social well-being of children.

  Q92  Mr Chaytor: Yes, but parents are not interested in what you say about yourself; they are interested in what Ofsted says about you, are they not? Should it be higher profile in the whole question of information about—

  Mrs Duncan: Yes, but the whole point about the new Ofsted is that you score yourself and then Ofsted will make sure that you are telling the truth. They will give a score for that.

  Q93  Mr Chaytor: Should both your score and the Ofsted judgment then be public knowledge?

  Mrs Duncan: It is public. It is on the website when you have had an Ofsted. It is there, so they can see what you have scored: whether you have scored "outstanding", "good", "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" for that particular element of school.

  Q94  Chairman: Would you show Ofsted that list of problems with bullying that you have?

  Mrs Duncan: Yes. Once you start trying to cover up a situation, then I am questioning what is there to hide.

  Mr D'Abbro: If you said to me that children in our school did not make racist comments, I would say that is not true: they do. But what actually happens is, if they do, they are absolutely challenged, both by their peers—and that to me is the evolution of the ethos—and not least by colleagues.

  Q95  Chairman: Are you better on anti-racist behaviour?

  Mr D'Abbro: The problem for me around the bullying agenda is that we do not celebrate diversity enough as a society, in the broadest sense of the word. I take what my colleague was saying about anti-homophobia. I am anti anything that is not okay. If it does not feel right, it is not right, whether it is racism; whether it is sexism. You must always challenge what is not okay. I can understand why there is a need to highlight certain trends within society. If we have a bigger emphasis at the moment on homophobic inappropriate behaviour, then let us challenge that; but let us not lose sight of the fact that all bullying is not okay. As I said earlier, if it does not feel right, it is not all right. That is where the teachers, my colleagues and other paraprofessionals have to challenge children and say, "That's not okay" every time.

  Mrs Duncan: In terms of some of the language the children use and talking about the homophobia, I do not know if you have noticed this but there is a trend at the moment for children to use "gay" as a derogatory term. They say, "Oh, that's really gay". I say to them, "What do you mean? What does that mean?". I do not even think they know that it is a homophobic term. They are not using it like that, but it is common parlance and I always challenge that and encourage the staff to challenge that as well.

  Q96  Mr Chaytor: Can I come back to the question of training or in-service professional development? What is your assessment of the quality of the professional development opportunities in dealing with bullying?

  Mrs Duncan: There is plenty out there.

  Q97  Mr Chaytor: Do your staff take advantage of it?

  Mrs Duncan: I tend to target certain staff who deal with this sort of thing all the time and send them on that training. Every couple of years we will do a whole staff training day on it. I have just done one on the new safeguarding legislation and child protection, and in that we did cover some things to do with bullying. However, I think that it is patchy across the piece. I actually do not agree that the headteachers are trained very well in how to deal with it. I think that I have learned how to deal with it out of experience, and I cannot remember the NPQH qualification having anything about bullying in it at all.

  Q98  Chairman: Could you spell that acronym out for the reporter?

  Mrs Duncan: The National Professional Qualification for Headship.

  Q99  Mr Chaytor: Can you tell us what the National College for School Leadership is doing? You are not impressed by the—

  Mrs Duncan: I am impressed by the National College for School Leadership in many ways, but not in terms of training headteachers about how to deal with bullying, no.

  Chairman: That is what we want to get on the record. I want to bring Jeff in here on a supplementary.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 25 July 2006