Children’s Commissioner shines a light on children and young people’s experiences of bullying in Wales and calls for a radical overhaul of how it’s tackled and recorded.
The lack of consistency in how schools and authorities are handling and reporting cases of bullying in schools is leading to some children feeling isolated and others unsure of what to do if they are aware of others being bullied. This is a key finding of a large scale consultation with over 2000 children and young people and nearly 300 professionals led by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales.
This consultation, the results of which are published today (18 July) as ‘Sam’s Story’ – explored with children in primary and secondary schools and in community settings across the country, their feelings and experiences of bullying. The results are all too familiar. Being seen as ‘different’ in terms of appearance, interests or identity are major factors behind why children are being bullied. Unsurprisingly, cyber-bullying is also a major concern, especially for pupils at secondary schools.
Commenting on the findings of the report, Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, said:
“From what thousands of children have shared with me, there is absolutely no doubt that bullying can have a devastating impact on a child’s life. I have been particularly struck by the strength of the negative emotions in the pictorial and written data we’ve gathered, which reinforces how destructive bullying can feel for children.”
In 2015 bullying was seen as the top priority by 6000 children surveyed in the Commissioner’s Beth Nesa’ | What Next consultation. The Sam’s Story project has explored children, young people’s and education professionals experiences in more depth.
Key findings from over 2000 children and young people
- Difference is seen by children as a key issue in bullying. This includes issues such as ethnicity, poverty, disability and gender stereotyping
- Isolation is another cause of bullying: this is portrayed as children with no friends and sometimes new to the school.
- Parents are often seen as unresponsive or ineffective.
- A trusted person to talk to seems to be a key pathway to deal with bullying and often, that trusted person is a teacher.
Key findings from nearly 300 professionals working with children and young people
- Consistency; a number expressed a wish for more consistency across schools within local authority areas and across Wales as a whole. The material collected suggests a very diverse and uneven picture.
- Monitoring: participants noted there was no standard or consistent national system for monitoring instances of bullying.
- Nature of bullying: whilst there were certain typical characteristics that made a child more vulnerable to being bullied, there was also a very wide range of possible factors and that this was a complex issue.
- Definition of bullying: recurring theme was the importance of clarity about what bullying is.
Responding to the findings, the Commissioner added:
“Bullying is an age-old problem but I believe that we have the means and motivation to prevent and tackle it in 21st century Wales. We are at a critical time in relation to education in Wales, with the reform of the curriculum well underway and the long-standing guidance on bullying finally under review. The purpose of this report is to highlight the real impact that being bullied is having on children’s lives and to ensure these strong messages play a part in shaping the new curriculum, teacher training and the reform of anti-bullying guidance.”
“The good news is that there are encouraging whole-school approaches being adopted in many schools in Wales, such as the Kiva programme from Finland and Restorative Approaches. Additionally many secondary school students are taking the initiative to campaign and find solutions to identity based bullying such as homophobia, sexism, Islamophobia and racism. I would like every child and young person in Wales to be protected in these ways.”
Priorities for improvement
- Welsh Government should place a statutory duty on schools to record all incidences and types of reported bullying. This will require a clear definition of bullying.
- Schools should establish a preventative approach and enable children to recognise bullying behaviour at the earliest point – and know what to do about it.
Ruth Coombs, head of Wales at the Equality and Human Rights Commission added:
“Sam’s Story highlights that too many children are bullied because of their race, faith, sexuality, gender, and other identities. Such identity based bullying can have long-lasting and serious impacts on a child’s wellbeing, educational attainment and potential. We welcome the recommendation from the Children’s Commissioner to work collaboratively to raise awareness of the Public Sector Equality Duty to take effective action to understand, prevent and tackle identity based bullying, and to enable children and young people to feel safe and supported when it does occur.”
Conwy Education Services Health Schools scheme have run anti-bullying conferences for primary and secondary schools which train teachers alongside members of school councils. These take place prior to Anti-Bullying Week in November. The aim is to encourage children, young people and teachers to run school campaigns during that week. The scheme has also provided a model anti-bullying policy, including a version for children and young people which can be adapted to suit each school.
“The fact that we train pupils alongside their teachers is the key component. Teachers often comment that children and young people start planning their activities on the journey back to school following the conference and it is often the children’s energy which ensure activities take place. Children’s versions of the policies are also key in that they give pupils an understanding of their role and responsibilities in helping to tackle bullying and promoting a culture of openness.”