Life

Tackling the bullies a task for everyone

Bullying is a problem that just won't go away. During Anti-Bullying Week, Lisa Salmon outlines the latest statistics and asks what parents and schools can do to help

DESPITE a myriad of initiatives aimed at preventing bullying, it's still occurring with alarming regularity in schools.

Recent figures show that one in 10 children have reported being bullied, and 44 per cent have witnessed another pupil being bullied in the past 12 months.

In addition, more than eight out of 10 young people with learning difficulties have experienced bullying and primary school pupils with special educational needs (SEN) are twice as likely to suffer from persistent bullying.

Such statistics are why the theme of this year's Anti-Bullying Week (November 17-21) is 'let's stop bullying for all', focusing on children and young people who have a disability or special educational needs.

Lauren Seager-Smith, national coordinator for the Anti-Bullying Alliance, a network of organisations committed to reducing bullying set up by the NSPCC and the National Children's Bureau, says: "Anti-Bullying Week has been running for more than 10 years, but there's still a long way to go as significant numbers of disabled children and those with special educational needs are still bullied in our schools and communities. We're calling on the school community to take action to stop the bullying of all children and young people." Evidence shows disabled children and/or those with special educational needs are significantly more likely to suffer bullying than other children, with 83 per cent of young people with learning difficulties having suffered bullying, and more than 90 per cent of parents of children with Asperger's syndrome having reported the bullying of their child in the previous year. "These stark figures demonstrate just how pervasive the problem is and show that we must act now," says Seager-Smith.

TAKING STEPS

BullyingUK, part of the Family Lives charity, has just carried out research which found that more

than a third of bullied children had a disability or SEN.

Suzie Hayman from BullyingUK says: "Often a disabled child is bullied because of ignorance, fear and awkwardness, which can manifest itself as negative attitudes towards disability."

She says bullies will often target those seen as 'different', and disabled children may also be targeted because they appear more isolated due to their impairment.

She suggests parents should: n Prepare the child for school - if you're worried they're going to be a target for bullies, build their self-confidence and self-esteem.

* In school, raise awareness about special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) to all staff and pupils so they understand what a child with SEND is going through and why they behave as they do.

* Raise awareness as to what bullying is in respect of SEND children in school - they may not cope with some types of treatment as well as children without SEND.

* Check the support the child has in school. If they are bullied because they can't do things or behave disruptively, it may be because they don't have adequate support in the classroom.

* Observe friends and other children around the child - do they coerce the child to behave inappropriately? Some SEND children have limited impulse control and don't read social situations well.

* Check the school bullying policy. Is there anything about SEND in it? Is it upheld?

TALKING CURE

Research by BullyingUK found 92.7 per cent of bullying of both able-bodied and disabled children happens during school break times, despite the fact that 82 per cent of school respondents reported that they deliver lessons on bullying.

Jeremy Todd, chief executive of BullyingUK, says: "Young people may live their lives vicariously through the virtual world but our survey highlights that real-world bullying continues to occur during lunch and break times, to and from school and in corridors."

While the BullyingUK research found 81.4 per cent of young people were bullied by more than one person, an encouraging 61.7 per cent confided in their parents. "What's really good news is that there are lots of opportunities now for people to talk about bullying in schools and to support both the bully and the victim," says Todd. Nearly 29 per cent of teachers feel restorative justice, when the bully has to face the victim and hear how they were made to feel, is the most effective anti-bullying measure.

The BullyingUK research found just under a third of parents (30.7 per cent) said their child had been bullied online, with 70 per cent of it on Facebook and some on Xbox Live. "Parents need to engage around the issues of social networking and online forums and show the same level of interest in what their kids have been doing when on the computer as if they had been to the park," says Todd He adds: "We can address bullying by simply reinforcing to our children to treat others as they would like to be treated, as often the outcomes of bullying are unexpected as people don't think what it would feel like to have hurtful things said about them online."

* See anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/anti-bullying-week. Parents concerned about bullying can call Family Lives' helpline on 0808 800 2222 or see bullying.co.uk.

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