Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)


10 MAY 2006

  Q100  Jeff Ennis: Just a quick supplementary on the line of questioning that David has just pursued, particularly aimed at Deborah. Do you at any point in time discuss bullying in the pyramid meetings that you have with the primary schools at your school?

  Mrs Duncan: Yes, we do. It is usually because there is maybe an initiative coming up, or for that reason. In terms of when we get that data about who is being bullied and who is being the bully, that comes as written data usually; or, when we are taking in children's special educational needs, then we do have one-to-one meetings and that is discussed.

  Jeff Ennis: So you do not discuss it across the pyramid on occasions—okay.

  Chairman: You are impressing me so much, I think that you ought to come in and look at the Parliamentary Labour Party. We only have about 5% of bullies, but they are a bit of a nuisance!

  Q101  Mr Marsden: I have only just escaped from the dentist, so forgive me if these issues have been touched on before. Deborah, I wonder if I could ask you, in terms of the sort of bullying that you are dealing with—obviously there is a range of bullying, there is verbal, there is psychological, there is physical—in terms of your strategies to deal with it, and in terms both with teachers and with your support people, do you think you need different strategies with each of those groups to do it? Are there core principles that apply whether it is verbal, or psychological or physical, or indeed whether it is a mixture of all three?

  Mrs Duncan: The core principles are always the same: that it is not acceptable. I always say this to the children and the staff. If we are going to work in the school—I have just over 100 staff altogether and nearly 1,100 children—we all have to get on with each other and have respect for each other. So the core principles are always the same: it is not tolerated. How you deal with it is different. I have had an incident this year where I have had to exclude somebody permanently, because they have physically assaulted somebody else so violently that I could not let that child stay in the school. That is a different punishment to somebody who maybe is just name-calling. They still get punished, but at different levels.

  Q102  Mr Marsden: That is in terms of the perpetrators. I am also interested in terms of dealing with the children who are being bullied. I notice in your biography that you say that you have pastoral support officers, who obviously help those children in that position. Again, in terms of the types of bullying, does that require a different approach, whether it is from teachers or whether it is from your support officers, in terms of dealing with children, depending on the type of bullying? I am thinking particularly in terms of training.

  Mrs Duncan: I do not think that it necessarily needs lots of different approaches, because often a low-level bullying situation can then become one of physical attack later.

  Q103  Mr Marsden: Do we have any statistics on that progression at all?

  Mrs Duncan: I have not. I do not know if there are any out there.

  Q104  Mr Marsden: Do you know, John? Is this the sort of thing where there are statistics out there as to the extent to which one sort of bullying then develops into another?

  Mr D'Abbro: Some of the evidence we had earlier suggests that there are some correlations, but I think the consensus was that some of the evidence we have is quite patchy.

  Chairman: We got something on the record from Kidscape and others in the earlier session but, you are right, it is still patchy.

  Q105  Mr Marsden: Coming to you, John, and looking at your biography and your particular involvement with children with BESD, as you may know, we are currently conducting an inquiry into special educational needs. As part of that inquiry, the whole issue of children with SEN being taught in mainstream settings as opposed to special school settings is obviously a big issue. I wondered whether you had either any views or any evidence as to whether the increasing integration of children with SEN into mainstream schools over the last 15 to 20 years correlates in any way with levels of bullying against them; or indeed what views you have about whether children with SEN in mainstream schools—special schools as well, but specifically in mainstream—face particular problems and difficulties.

  Mr D'Abbro: How long have you got? Ideologically, I wish we did not have special schools. That would give me early retirement! I believe in a concept that, when we segregate children within our society, we actually perpetuate a culture which says some children are different from others, in a negative way rather than a positive way. In an ideal world, therefore, we would not have segregated provision. However, some children cannot be worked with within the mainstream sector, even because of their own disability or because the schools are not teed up for it. So I do believe that it is okay to have special schools within the way our culture runs. My own view is that I do not think there is any evidence to suggest that, when more children with disabilities take up their place within mainstream schools, there is a correlation with bullying. Having said that, some of the children we work with, as and when they go back to mainstream schools and they get mainstream opportunities, sometimes say, "The care that we get within this special school is better than the care that we get within a mainstream school". No disrespect to my mainstream school colleagues but, in a school where there are 80 children and 50 adults, you will get more individual care than in a school where there are 100 adults and thousands of children. I think it is about saying what is the most appropriate environment for each individual child. It is not a cliché, but all children have their own special needs and all children are special. Lots of children can work in mainstream schools, get their needs met and be very effective, and some children need something different. I do not know if that answers the question, but I do not think that, because there are more children with special needs and disabilities in mainstream schools, there is more bullying.

  Q106  Mr Marsden: It is also true, is it not, that children can be—sometimes unthinkingly, sometimes deliberately—very cruel in picking out aspects of what they regard as physical or indeed behavioural difficulties? That is obviously a factor. Deborah, in terms of your school—I have no idea how many children you have in your school who are statemented or with SEN—in your experience, does this form a significant part of a bullying pattern? If so, do you have a particular strategy to deal with it?

  Mrs Duncan: I think that it is on an individual basis, really. Sometimes children who have special needs can be bullied in the mainstream, because of the facts you have talked about and because we do not have the staffing levels to be able to give them that sort of individual help. I have one girl in my school at the moment who has Kabuki syndrome. She is a very small girl and she has particular features. The students go out of their way to look after her, to look out for her, to help her, to be kind to her. There has been no evidence of bullying with her. It is almost the other way: they all love her and they all look out for her. Yet there has been an example of one boy who has had to go from my school to a special school, because he was so weak in his ability to access the curriculum. So he could not go into the mainstream classes with the children; he had to be in our base, which is our SEN area. He could not interact with the other children because they did not understand his needs, and he did get bullied and then also became a bully back, because he was hitting people who were making fun of him. So I think that it is very much on an individual, case-by-case basis.

  Q107  Mr Marsden: Do you think that things have improved across the piece? I just think back to my own school days and some of the people I was with who perhaps had very, very slight physical or behavioural difficulties. Other children can be very cruel in picking on those sorts of things. We have become much more aware, in the best sense of the word we have become much more correct, about the way in which we deal with not just children with disabilities but with people with disabilities. Do you think that is reflected sufficiently in the system or do we actually need to do more, does the department perhaps need to do more, in terms of focusing on those children with special educational needs so that they are not the focus for bullying or intimidation?

  Ms Duncan: I am thinking how we could help the situation more, and I know I have already said this once and I should not say it again, but it comes down to funding. If you have got enough staff there to give them that help, attention and support, then it will make their passage through the school easier, if they have got special educational needs.

  Q108  Chairman: You have already said that you have got a lot more resources than you used to have.

  Ms Duncan: Did I?

  Q109  Chairman: You did. I think you gave an answer to Helen that there was a time—

  Ms Duncan: The head of year.

  Q110  Chairman: The head of year.

  Ms Duncan: I was saying that I have chosen. It is probably another topic.

  Q111  Chairman: You have got more support staff than you used to have, surely.

  Ms Duncan: Yes.

  Mr D'Abbro: Schools are much more complex institutions than they were 20 years ago.

  Ms Duncan: They are more complex, yes, but I just have chosen to spend the money on them instead of something else. It does not mean to say I have got more resources. I have to manage my budget in a clever way so that I have got these pastoral support officers.

  Q112  Stephen Williams: Something that we have not really looked at so far is emotional support for the victims of bullying. What guidance is available to schools for the different emotional needs of different types of victims? There is a clear indication from the evidence that we have got from each of you of what is the difference between being black and being gay. The answer is that you do not have to tell your mother that you are black. If you are a gay pupil or a pupil who is perceived as being gay and you are bullied, you have different emotional needs to other categories of people who are being bullied because you might have a peer group you can relate to, but when you are 14, 15 or 16 you probably have no idea at all in your school whether any other people in your class or in your school are in the same situation as you, and you have got no-one to empathise with. Is there any guidance available to schools as to how they are meant to support people in that situation?

  Ms Duncan: Not really any very clear guidance. There are always opportunities for professional development for staff to go and train on specific areas of bullying, like homophobic bullying; but, no, we do not really have mechanisms whereby we could have a gay support group in school because I think the legislation is still hanging over us that we are not supposed to be encouraging students to be gay but we want to support them if they are, type of thing. We have not got the type of system where we can get them together so they can support each other, you are quite right, whereas if you are black, you can get together with other children who are black and support each other. No, I cannot think of any instances.

  Mr D'Abbro: To go back to your point, I mentioned the quality of the relationship that the teacher has with his or her students, and I would like to think everyone in the room can have thought of someone at their school who they had a relationship with. I think it is about the leader creating an ethos within their school that says every child will have someone who they can relate to, either an older peer or a mentor or a teacher or another paraprofessional who is in the school, so that you ensure that everyone has got someone they can go to. It is easy for me to say that in a smaller setting than in a larger setting. I would imagine most of us went to large schools at some stage in our school career and we can all think of someone we could have gone to, and I think we have to maximise those opportunities within school life.

  Ms Duncan: For children who do not make friends naturally, we do artificially pick somebody else out in their class and say, "I want you to stick by them and look out for them and look after them", and so we make sure they are not entirely on their own.

  Q113  Stephen Williams: Basically, the answer is that there is not any guidance all from DfES on how to emotionally support the victims of bullying.

  Ms Duncan: I do not know. If there is some out there, I have not seen it.

  Q114  Stephen Williams: You are the sort of head who would actively seek it out?

  Ms Duncan: I hope so, yes.

  Q115  Chairman: Are you surprised that the evidence that was presented in the first session shows that there is more bullying in the lower schools, in the primary and junior schools, rather than in secondary?

  Ms Duncan: Yes, I am actually.

  Q116  Chairman: I imagine, like all behaviour, the earlier we crack it and confront it and deal with it the better.

  Ms Duncan: Yes.

  Q117  Chairman: Is that part of your feeder school relationship?

  Ms Duncan: Absolutely. As we talked about before, we do discuss it as a pyramid. We do share the information with each other.

  Q118  Chairman: John, you are not surprised?

  Mr D'Abbro: I am not surprised, no. I think the manifestation of the bullying that we see in secondary, in my experience, has started much further down in the primary sector, and, in some cases, God forbid, pre-school. We are now beginning to identify that within some of the pre-school groups. Some of our colleagues are beginning to assess children who they think will not have the right skills and the right competency of getting on with people when they are actually coming into the school; and that raises questions about the parenting and nurturing experiences that very young children are getting or are not getting.

  Q119  Chairman: This has been an excellent session. Thank you very much for your evidence. I am afraid you have been so good you are in danger of members of this Committee popping in to see your school, Deborah, particularly the Yorkshire dwellers here, but you also, John, because you are not too far from here. Thank you very much for the information you have given us.

  Ms Duncan: Thank you.

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