Northern Ireland news

Parents should be more involved in anti-bullying push

While there are about 200 suspensions every year for bullying, the full extent of the problem is much greater

Pupils and parents should be more involved in how schools develop anti-bullying policies, an assembly committee has urged.

The cross-party education committee yesterday published its report on the Addressing Bullying in Schools Bill.

For the first time, schools will be ordered to record all incidents, a move that will blow the lid off the issue.

There is no requirement for schools to report every occurrence, and no detailed figures for primary or secondary schools exist.

While there are about 200 suspensions every year for bullying, the full extent of the problem is said, by teachers, to be much greater. The anti-bullying bill before Stormont demands that all schools monitor and record incidents.

In the 2013/14 academic year, there were 179 instances of pupil-on-pupil bullying that were dealt with by suspension, the lowest total in a decade.

The new bill, which seeks to define bullying, also places duties on governors of grant-aided schools to devise and implement measures to prevent incidents.

Committee chairman Peter Weir said while members were broadly in favour of the principles of the bill, the report recommended amendments "which we feel will help to inform and strengthen school policy in respect of bullying and make the final bill more effective".

In developing the report, the committee heard from school principals and teachers who, he said, "greatly impressed us with the subtlety, skill and dedication that they bring to resolving issues of bullying".

"However, we must assume that good practice does not always happen everywhere and therefore there is a need to set down in law some basic approaches to countering bullying in schools," Mr Weir said.

"We are concerned that while the bill does require schools to consult with pupils and parents on their anti-bullying policies, it does not set out a timescale for discussion and review. We believe that in order for schools to ensure that their anti-bullying policies remain effective and fit for purpose, a full consultation with pupils and their parents should occur at least once every four years.

"The most important voice in all of this; the voice that is sometimes lost; is of course the voice of the child. For that reason we organised focus groups to allow children and young people to have their say. One of the pervading themes to come out of these groups is the growing incidence of cyberbullying and the inherent difficulties in recognising and tackling this issue. We are therefore recommending that a new power that will allow governors to consider measures to tackle cyberbullying is included in the final bill."

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