Senator Jimmy Harte,the ASTI and INTO have welcomed the Action Plan on Bullying 2013, following its launch by Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D. and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald T.D. today.
Senator Harte said that in recent months, Donegal has been tragically hit by the deaths of a number of young people following allegations of online bullying including the Gallagher family, who lost both daughters Erin and Shannon.
He added, “The twelve actions as set out in the plan to tackle bullying problems in primary and secondary level schools are essential if we are to prevent a further loss of life due to bullying”.
“Over the past decade, bullying has changed from something that predominately occurred in schools and now, as a result of technological developments, frequently occurs online via web sites such as Facebook, Twitter and ask.fm and through text messages and phone calls.
“The Action Plan on Bullying will put procedures in place which will, with time, combat bullying in schools and change the lives of many young people who are affected by bullying on a daily basis,” he said.
INTO welcome plan
The INTO has also welcomed the publication of the Department of Education and Skills action plan on bullying.
The report specifically states that a lot is already being done to prevent and tackle bullying in Irish schools. It cites evidence from the National Parents Council (Primary) survey (2012) on bullying which found that “a great deal of good practice exists in primary schools”.
In particular, the INTO welcomed the explicit statements in the report that “bullying is not a problem schools can solve alone” and that bullying is a “complex social issue and can take place anywhere children and young people are together.”
Sheila Nunan, general secretary of the INTO said not all bullying happens in schools but most people look to schools to resolve it. She said primary schools have shown they can be part of the solution. “This report sets out the need for others, particularly policy makers and parents, to be actively involved in tackling the problem. Recommendations in the report, if implemented and resourced, could improve the situation.”
Ms Nunan said bullying is taken seriously in schools. “Every year thousands of hours are spent investigating allegations, monitoring situations, following up on cases and meeting with parents and pupils,” she said. “Teachers are committed to tackling bullying.”
“Most parents who have had to deal with this issue are well aware of the excellent work done by schools and the lengths to which teachers go to deal with bullying,” said Ms Nunan.
But she said there is sometimes little recognition that schools have limited resources or that tackling bullying is largely dependent on the co-operation of all parents in the school. “Irish classes are the second largest in the EU which makes it very difficult to spot bullying which is secretive by nature,” she said.
“On occasions, a parent of a victim may want the bully punished, sometimes severely and summarily and often before the facts of the case can be established. Others will insist the school deal with bullying that happens outside of school. In some cases the parents of a bully or alleged bully will not accept that their child could be involved in bullying behaviour,” said Ms Nunan.
“Teachers, although caught between these conflicting demands, have to treat all children and parents fairly.”
Schools are continually revising and improving anti-bullying policies. They are dealing with new forms of bullying and lessons learned from dealing with cases. Bullying and dealing with it features on many staff meetings. It is past time that departmental policy caught up with practice in schools.
12% of students report they are bullied weekly
In Ireland, 12 per cent of students reported they were bullied weekly in school. Pupils who are bullied in school have weaker reading scores and the more they are bullied, the lower their reading achievement. That’s according to the PIRLS 2011 International Results in Reading which tested fourth class pupils in over 50 countries including Ireland.
The percentage of pupils in Ireland who reporting they were bullied weekly was significantly higher than in Sweden (7) Denmark 8 and Finland 9 but lower than northern Ireland 14 Austria 17 and Netherlands 16.
In contrast 64 per cent of Irish pupils reported they were almost never bullied in school. Their average score for reading was above the national reading scores for Ireland.
Also welcoming the plan, the ASTI say the report “recognises the valuable role that schools play in fostering children’s and young people’s self-esteem, confidence and resilience. It acknowledges the work that schools do in addressing bullying and in promoting learning environments which are inclusive and respectful to all. Actions which support schools in this work are welcome.”
ASTI General Secretary Pat King cautioned the report was being launched against a back drop of severe cuts in education: “However, this report is being launched in the context of severe education cutbacks which are having a devastating impact on school communities all over the country. Cuts such as the moratorium on Year Head and other in-school middle management posts and the withdrawal of ex-quota guidance counselling provision are impacting directly on a school’s ability to provide a supportive environment for vulnerable young people.
“While all teachers play a role in monitoring the wellbeing of young people in their classrooms, this is an increasingly difficult task given that classes are larger and many families are currently under stress. Typically it is teacher year heads who work to identify pupils at risk, act as a contact person between the school and the family, access specialist and support services if necessary, and implement the school’s code of behaviour. In many schools, these posts have been virtually wiped out.
“Schools are also cutting back on guidance services as a result of Budget cuts. In a survey carried out last year, the ASTI found that seven out of 10 schools were being forced to reduce guidance provision by an average of 7.8 hours per week.”