Last week in schools around the country, teachers and pupils have been discussing the approaches that are needed to tackle bullying. Despite the efforts of groups like the Anti-Bullying Alliance, bullying remains prolific. Fixing the problem will require a society-wide shift in attitude.
Bullying at school cannot be prevented, but it can be managed. Hoping for complete eradication ignores the fact that this sort of destructive conflict is part of educating children to engage in constructive conflict later in life.
Identifying bullying as quickly as possible and preventing long term effects on mental health (commonly the worst outcome) is vital in teaching kids to settle disagreement, and differences in identity, fairly and inclusively.
Divisive and inflammatory politics, and the pressures on low income families, however, are trickling into the playground.
Department of Education research on year 10 pupils in 2017 found 40% of pupils had been bullied in the previous ten months, most commonly in the form of name calling which accounted for 26% of cases.
This is nothing new, in fact, name calling has been the most common form of bullying, especially among girls, since surveys in 2004 and 2014. Although the number who reported being bullied has decreased by around 5%, incidents of name calling, social exclusion and violence remain high.
Politicians and Business Leaders Are Setting the Wrong Example
Take Boris Johnson’s description of Burka wearers as letterboxes, the numerous cases of anti-Semitism levelled at the Labour Party and Philip Green’s well documented campaign of harassment and intimidation. It appears that the leaders of today are doing their best to set a terrible example to the leaders of tomorrow.
Research from the Anti-Bullying Alliance in 2016 showed that it is the most vulnerable pupils that need protecting. Disabled children and those with SEN were around twice as likely to be bullied and children who were eligible for free school meals were more likely to be victims of frequent bullying.
The lack of official statistics, and number of unreported cases, on the prevalence of bullying makes it difficult to see the yearly changes in incident numbers, types of bullying and the demographics of victims. This belies the idea that the government is doing its best to target specific areas of bullying and reduce numbers on a yearly basis.
There is Some Hope
Awareness and communication are the best tools for prevention. The general consensus is that zero-tolerance policies are ineffective and unhelpful for rehabilitating bullies, many of whom are struggling with parental issues and living in low income households.
The best way to tackle playground name calling is developing respect for our differences and educating young people to stand up to the first of many threats they will inevitably come across in life.
We need to be realistic. Bullying does not disappear when you turn eighteen. The cut throat world of politics, business and entertainment seems to endlessly produce examples of bullying and harassment being commonplace. Sadly, this continues towards the end of life where some of the most abject examples include care home abuse.
To some extent, bullying is a condition of our current state. Stagnant real wages put pressure on family units, public sector cuts leave schools with less resources and incendiary identity politics set the standard for verbal abuse.
We can only hope that movements like #metoo are setting the right example for the children of tomorrow. Young people should be inspired by increasing number of adults who are saying no to bullying in the workplace and raising the standard for us all.
If the UK government is to reduce the number of pupils who feel bullied, they need to address inequality, perform more regular investigations and set the right example to the next generation.
For practical help and advice for children and adults dealing with bullying at school or work, call National Bullying Helpline: 0845 22 55 787