Government anti-bullying drive fails to make an impact

Bullying levels remain high in Northern Ireland's schools

Bullying levels remain high in Northern Ireland's schools

TENS of thousands of children continue to be targeted by bullies in schools across Northern Ireland despite a nine-year campaign by the Department of Education to tackle the problem.

In the midst of a week devoted to tackling bullying here, The Detail can reveal that the percentage of children being bullied in our schools has remained at the same stubbornly high levels since 2002 – even though more than £1.5m of funding has been invested by the department in anti-bullying initiatives.

New research which focused on Year 6 pupils in primary schools and Year 9 pupils in post-primary schools has estimated that over 15,000 children in these two school years alone were bullied during the last school year.

The incidents range from being called names to physical assaults. Boys tended to be victims of physical bullying more than girls.

Reports on bullying were published by the department in 2002, 2007 and just a few weeks ago.

Each research study found that 40% of year 6 pupils and 30% of year 9 pupils were bullied by classmates and 20% of pupils also confessed to bullying another pupil.

The latest research was carried out during the 2010/2011 school year and involved 904 Year 6 pupils and 1,297 Year 9 pupils in 120 schools.

The report identified further training as a need for both teaching and non-teaching staff, including how to identify and address different types of bullying.

Education Minister John O’Dowd welcomed the new research at the end of last month but his press statement did not refer to the fact that bullying levels are the same as they were in 2002 and 2007.

He warned that “the physical and emotional distress caused by bullying can lead to underachievement, poor attendance and mental health problems with terrible consequences such as eating disorders, self-harm and at worst, suicide.”

He added that he was committed to tackling the issue and to working with schools to find measures to prevent and deal with bullying. He urged schools to continuously update their anti-bullying policies and said it would be necessary to work in close partnership with statutory and voluntary organisations to address bullying in all its forms.

Since 2007 all pupils in post-primary schools have had access to an independent counselling service in schools. This has recently been extended to post-primary aged pupils in special schools.

All schools must have an anti-bullying policy and they are required by law to have measures in place to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. Each school decides the detail of their own policy.

The Department of Education in Northern Ireland (DENI) has provided a breakdown of funding for anti-bullying initiatives in response to a series of questions from The Detail.

The department has funded the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum (NIABF) since it was established in 2005. The funding has totalled £416,814.

The forum has a membership of over 20 regional statutory and voluntary organisations all acting together to end bullying of children and young people and is hosted and chaired by Save the Children.

The NIABF hosts Anti-Bullying Week which is running this week (November 14th-18th) in over 700 schools across Northern Ireland. This year the focus is on cyber bullying through the use of mobile phones, online gaming, email and social networking.

A further £18,000 in funding was given to the NIABF to produce a localised version of an anti-bullying CD-ROM which was launched in October last year.

In 2008/09 and 2009/10 DENI provided a total of £546,000 in earmarked funding to ChildLine for a dedicated anti-bullying helpline. Set up costs for the helpline were £4,500 and in the 2005/06, 2006/07 and 2007/08 financial years, £40,000 was provided by the department each year for this service.

Last year ChildLine rationalised their service into one call centre operation and there is now no specific sum labelled for anti-bullying. During 2010/11 the department provided £247,000 in funding for the general helpline. Bullying remains high in the top 10 reasons for counselling.

The bullying research in 2007 was carried out by the University of Ulster and cost £76,000. This year the research was undertaken by a team from RSM McClure Watters and cost £49,000. The 2002 report cost £62,588.

Other funding included £3,000 to Save the Children in 2002/03 to assist in the print/distribution and launch of their bullying pack for schools. A further £540 was also provided to the Parents’ Advice Centre for the design work for an anti-bullying leaflet and £4,525 for its print and distribution.

In 2004/05, the department provided just over £2,000 to Translink to support their anti-bullying campaign.

The five education and library boards established an inter-board group to develop a common approach to tackling bullying in schools and each board has a designated officer who works with schools. The department funds this work but a DENI spokesman said that it was not possible to separate this cost from the rest of the boards’ education welfare service.

Lee Kane, NIABF’s Regional Anti-Bullying Coordinator, said: “We need to make sure that we are putting in place structures to support children being bullied and also for those who are bullying.

“Thankfully bullying is no longer seen as a natural part of growing up in Northern Ireland. It is wrong.

“Some children experience very serious forms of bullying. Their lives can be very seriously affected and the experience can stay with them for a long time.

“Of course I would like to see the bullying figures come down but one reason for the levels remaining the same is that the emergence of social networks like Facebook has added to the outlets available for bullying.

“I do think that the awareness of organisations which can give support to young people experiencing bullying is improving.

“All schools must have an anti-bullying policy in place. This needs to be reviewed on a regular basis, particularly around issues like cyber-bullying.”