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17 Oct 2007 : Column 907

That brings me to the third front on which we can fight bullying—by empowering the pupils and the victims themselves. Giving young people the facts about bullying and how to protect themselves is crucial, but we must also equip them mentally and emotionally with the resources and resilience that they need to recognise offensive behaviour, to stand up for their rights and those of others, and to understand others’ feelings and resolve conflict themselves.

Since coming back into education as a Minister, having left it in 1994, I have noticed that, as everybody involved in education will recognise, all the acronyms have changed. I have decided that we need a new word in the English language to describe all the acronyms that we no longer use: “anacronym”, which means an anachronistic acronym. I want to tell the House, however, about a new acronym: SEAL, which stands for the social and emotional aspects of learning.

SEAL is a programme that allows pupils to explore some of these issues in the classroom and to find solutions to deal with them. In my view, every good school is based not just on a good record of attainment and a firm grip on bad behaviour, but on leadership and positive values. SEAL contributes to that value system by promoting tolerance and respect throughout the whole school, and by facilitating better relationships between staff and pupils. It is not a soft option—it is a valuable lesson for life. I believe firmly that, unless we help to strengthen the emotional intelligence of our young people in this ever-changing and hectic world, we will find it harder to develop their academic intelligence, too.

Mr. Sheerman: Much of what my hon. Friend has been speaking about regarding Government action on this issue is first class. However, does he agree that one real problem is that, if we do not give leadership to young people in our schools, we will never keep pace with and crack bullying? The only school in which I have seen that achieved is the Blue school in Wells, in Somerset. It empowers students to deal with bullying through active citizenship, which really cracks the problem. That is the only way in which I have seen bullying expunged.

Kevin Brennan: I have heard of the work of the Blue school in Wells, and of its school council. I know that my hon. Friend has visited the school and seen what happens there. He is absolutely right: it is by creating a culture of empowerment among young people that we will really get to grips with this problem.

Chris Bryant: There are two elements that my hon. Friend has not referred to—the family and the youth service—and although he might say that that is because this is a debate about bullying in schools, they are material to this subject. In fact, a lot of the bullying that happens around schools happens away from the school premises itself and is part of kids’ life. The youth service can make a dramatic difference by enabling kids to face up to these issues in a non-academic environment. Also, nearly every bully is the child of a bully, and if we are unable to tackle some of the parenting problems in society today, do we really stand a chance of weeding out bullying?

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Kevin Brennan: I do not want to stray too wide, and my hon. Friend is right that we could get into a debate about extended schools, the work that we are doing with parents and so on. That would be going a little wide of the mark, and I know that you are strict in your observance of these matters, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Suffice it to say, my hon. Friend is, as usual, correct in his observations.

Some 60 per cent. of primary schools have implemented the SEAL programme, and it is just being introduced in secondary schools following a successful pilot project. We have provided £10 million of funding between 2007 and 2011, with the aim that every school will be in a position to use the programme by 2011. My Department also funds ChildLine in Partnership with Schools—CHIPS; it is the only instance when we actively encourage chips in schools these days. Through that programme, pupils are encouraged to become peer mentors or supporters. Pupils who are being bullied will often prefer to talk to one of their peers before talking to an adult.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): The Minister has been generous in allowing interventions, although he has been speaking for 27 minutes. I might have missed something, but I do not think that he has mentioned two words: “parents” and “guardians”. Perhaps he is remiss in that.

This issue was touched on by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and at one stage I thought that I might agree with him for once. What about having active policies to engage and support the parents of bullied children in schools and, just as importantly, the parents of children who are doing the bullying, who are often shocked and dismayed by the behaviour of their children?

Kevin Brennan: That is important. I believe I had mentioned parents, although perhaps I did not use the words “guardians”. We can develop this theme during the course of the debate, and I am conscious of the amount of time that this speech has taken, but I should say that we are funding organisations that do work in this area, including Parentline Plus.

We have had SEAL and CHIPS in this debate, which is an interesting combination. CHIPS, another acronym, runs mediation, befriending and listening-based schemes, which allow children and young people to support each other. Through these schemes, pupils can take responsibility for promoting good behaviour, preventing bullying, and helping to keep their peers safe.

I have been admonished for talking for a long time, even though I have given way several times, so I shall wind up by saying that I am confident that these new measures will give teachers, parents and pupils the resources, and the confidence, to deal with bullying. I hope that members of the House will agree that they are a significant step forward in tackling bullying in all its forms.

5.22 pm

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): This is an important debate, in which there is unlikely to be a huge difference of opinion between the
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Opposition and the Government. We welcome the various guidance that has been issued by the Department, in particular the “Safe to Learn” guidance. Poor behaviour in schools is parents’ No. 1 concern about schools—it even comes before concerns about standards, although one tends to affect the other. Bullying is the sharp point where poor behaviour in a school acts directly and painfully upon an individual, and we are all too familiar with the consequences. The Select Committee on Education and Skills reported on bullying earlier this year. It said that the effects of bullying cause a

Data on the extent of bullying in schools is sparse, as the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), said in his intervention on the Minister. The Home Office’s offending, crime and justice survey examined the proportion of 10 to 15-year-olds who were victims of theft or assault. Some 25 per cent. said that they had suffered an assault, 14 per cent. with no injury and 11 per cent. with an injury. Of those who had suffered an assault with injury, 61 per cent. said that it had taken place at school, and of those who had suffered assault without an injury, 68 per cent. said it had taken place at school.

Ofsted’s 2003 report into bullying mentioned a survey by Professor Peter Smith, whom the hon. Gentleman interviewed during the course of drawing up his report. That survey, conducted in 1999, said that

Ofsted also found that surveys of children and young people suggest that bullying in schools is more common than adults sometimes think.

That view was also reflected in the Select Committee report, which cited evidence from Barnsley council’s children’s services scrutiny committee, which found that

The NSPCC points out that between April 2006 and April 2007, Childline counselled 37,500 children about bullying, and that bullying is the primary reason for children calling the service in the past 11 years.

Whatever the data, it is fair to say that the problem is extensive, but that several initiatives by the Government and voluntary bodies and charities, such as Beatbullying and the Anti-Bullying Alliance, have had some modest success in changing the culture in many schools to one in which bullying is no longer seen as acceptable. Initiatives such as peer mentoring and clear anti-bullying school policies, set down in writing, must be part of that approach and we welcome all the initiatives that the Government have undertaken.

Mr. Sheerman: We all hate bullying and we are all keen to have anti-bullying policies, but the Select Committee found that not enough research had been
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done before the policies were introduced. We did not find enough evidence of thorough research on which to base the policy.

Mr. Gibb: Yes, I took that important point from the report. Good research in education policy generally is crucial, and many of the problems in education have arisen from a lack of proper, scientifically conducted research. However, I also share the Minister’s view that we do not want to impose too high a burden on schools in recording and reporting data for policy-making purposes, although if schools are taking a thorough approach to bullying, the data should be available as part of the way that they deal with the problem.

Bullying is an especial concern for children with special needs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) said. According to the National Autistic Society, two in five parents of children with autism have said that their child has been bullied in school. For children with Asperger’s, that rises to three in five. Mencap has said that eight out of 10 children with a learning difficulty have been bullied—80 per cent.

Bullying is clearly linked to the general level of behaviour in schools. A school in which behaviour is out of control or poor is likely to have a higher level of bullying than one where standards of behaviour are high. Ofsted’s first recommendation in its 2003 report suggested that schools should

Poor behaviour in schools remains a major problem. It is one of the key reasons teachers give for leaving the profession. In too many schools, the prevalence of so-called low-level disruption goes unchecked and remains a fact of life. I have seen it first hand and I hear horror stories from heads who have successfully taken over failing schools.

John Bercow: I agree with what my hon. Friend has said, but does he agree that the very prevalence of bullying in schools of children with special educational needs underlines the importance of continuing and extending the drive to ensure that special educational needs co-ordinators are, as a matter of course and as the norm, not the exception, part of the senior management of the school, driving forward the anti-bullying policy?

Mr. Gibb: I agree with my hon. Friend. I have heard tragic stories of children with special needs who have suffered terribly from bullying in mainstream schools that went unchecked. I met a nine-year-old boy at Cedar Hall school in Benfleet, which is a special school for children with moderate learning difficulties, who had been suicidal at his previous school. It is tragic that a child of that age should try to throw himself from a moving car on the way to school because he was so miserable there. One wonders what was happening in that mainstream school if that poor child was being bullied so remorselessly that he threw himself down the stairs at home and tried to get out of a moving car on the way to school. That prompts questions about inclusion and the policy to close down special schools.

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Heads who manage to change the behaviour in their schools do so through a rigorous and uncompromising approach to discipline. The rules are clear and enforced consistently. In one school that I visited in Milton Keynes, one of the assistant heads walks the corridors of the school during lessons with a mobile phone. If a teacher has a problem with a child in class, he or she calls the assistant head who takes the child away. Consistent punishments are applied to such a child, so that every child in that school knows precisely what will happen. As a result, behaviour at the school is excellent. At a secondary modern school in Trafford, I saw a boy wearing trainers being told to go home and change into black shoes or stay in isolation all day—a strict school uniform policy strictly enforced.

It is unfair to blame poor behaviour on the intake of a school. Whatever the background of a child, the school should provide a safe and structured environment. I know of schools in challenging areas that have superb behaviour, and schools in leafy suburbs where behaviour is out of control. Eston Park school in Middlesbrough is an outstanding school serving a relatively deprived area. Student behaviour at that school is, according to the most recent Ofsted report, excellent.

At Mossbourne academy in Hackney, 50 per cent. of the intake qualify for free school meals but behaviour is exemplary. Children stand up when an adult enters the classroom, and the atmosphere is one of calm studiousness. Three members of the teaching staff are on duty in the canteen at lunchtime—one in the queue, one where the food is served, and one supervising the tables—and teachers eat with the students. In the playground, I saw five members of staff on duty. That is consistent with Ofsted’s observation of what constitutes an effective strategy to deal with bullying. It notes on page 13 of its report:

The prevalence of extensive extracurricular activity is one of the common characteristics of schools that have not only good behaviour, but high standards of academic achievement. Boredom, whether in lessons or at break-times, is a key contributor to the culture of bullying.

I visited one school in Lincoln that had a fantastic atmosphere. The culture and ethos of that school was that it was cool to work hard and study hard. I met one 15-year-old who was wearing a tie that was different from those worn by others around him. It was a worn and slightly tatty tie. I asked him what the different pattern on the tie meant. He said that he was awarded the tie in year seven, when he was 12, because he had scored more than 100 merit points. I asked him whether wearing the tie was not big-headed and might encourage jealousy. He replied that he had earned it, and was therefore entitled to wear it. He said that he had not had any adverse reaction; the contrary was the case.

Mr. Sheerman: He was 6 ft 3 in.

Mr. Gibb: He was not 6 ft 3 in.

At that school, academic achievement was acknowledged and publicly rewarded, as was sporting prowess and achievement. Too many of our state
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schools, certainly in the recent past, have been reluctant to highlight excellence on the ground that it might undermine the confidence of those who fail to win. But if a school does not reward academic and sporting achievement, the message is sent that those are not important accomplishments. The vacuum of what is important is filled by others: the toughest kid; the most hilarious child in the classroom; the biggest clown; the biggest bully. Those become the sought-after accolades.

A few years ago, that school in Lincoln had a child with a particular medical condition who underwent a sex-change operation. Pupils there were aware of what was happening, but because of the atmosphere of the school, and the way that teachers handled the matter, the child suffered no bullying or difficulties from other children. I have cited some individual schools, but many other secondary schools have achieved a similar atmosphere in which behaviour is excellent and bullying is at a bare minimum. We need to spread such best practice throughout the school system.

People talk about schools not being responsible for what happens beyond the school gates, and the Minister touched on that issue. I have heard head teachers in schools whose names include the word “community” saying just that, even after the arrival of the new powers under the Education and Inspections Act 2006. However, I recently visited a Cumbria comprehensive whose head said precisely the opposite. When he hears that youths at his school have been causing trouble in town, he finds out who they are and takes action against those perpetrators the next day in school. He believes that his school is very much part of the community.

As the Select Committee reported, bullying often takes place on transport to and from school. The Committee found one school that, after establishing that bullying was taking place on certain buses, arranged for prefects to travel on those buses for a time. That is an excellent practice. However, many comprehensive schools simply do not have prefects. One of the common characteristics of the best performing schools is that they have prefects, a head boy and a head girl. That gives responsibility to young people, but also provides a valuable resource for maintaining good behaviour and clamping down on bullying. If pupils—albeit the older ones—tackle bullying, that can be very effective, as they really know what goes on in the school.

I want to make one final point, which I hope will not be controversial. We tend to grapple for answers to some of the problems facing schools—whether bullying, truancy, obesity, poor literacy or poor ability in maths—individually, with guidance or initiatives. All those are welcome, but our approach tends to be to look at the problems individually and then tackle them. However, it is possible that all such problems have a common cause and that if we tackle that, we will be able to tackle each problem. I think that many such problems have common or at least interlinking causes. A report by the Effective Pre-School and Primary Education Project, or EPPE, was published this year. The report is long, with many interesting findings, one of which is particularly relevant to this debate. The report found that

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