Beating the bullies
by Penny Wright-Thompson
Cases of serious bullying in schools are always in the headlines, and it is sadly obvious that schools are either not coping or, worse, are burying their corporate heads in the sand and refusing to admit that their school could possibly suffer from this problem. In my years in the school classroom, bullying has been evident, and the various schools in which I worked had differing methods of dealing with it – but at least it was recognised and dealt with.
From the news that seems to be repeating itself with worrying monotony, it is clear that some schools do not deal with bullying adequately, if at all, and many teachers still regard it as a ‘toughening up’ activity of the playground! Governmental policies on bullying – both in schools and in the workplace – advocate ways that the problem should be solved, but to date are not working terribly well. We have a National Anti-Bullying Week in schools each November to address the situation and bring it into the public domain. Each year there are promotional events, TV and radio coverage and for one week we are all reminded that bullying is unpleasant and should be rooted out of society.
So why are we all so complacent? Why is street crime so rampant at the moment, with youngsters being bullied and then stabbed to death in broad daylight, on our streets? More importantly, what is really being done about it, and can it be resolved?
In September last year my friend’s twin boys started at the nearby secondary school, nervous perhaps at moving schools, but excited at the chance to make new friends. The all-boys school has a good reputation for achievement and atmosphere, and their older brother is also at the school in Year 10, starting work on his GCSEs.
The twins are in the same class and work closely with each other. They have similar but not identical interests and generally mix well with others. But somehow things did not start right. From the first few days of term the quieter of the two was targeted by another couple of lads in the same class, who covertly worked on making his life miserable. He was verbally abused, physically attacked, missiles were thrown at him across the room – all, seemingly, without the teachers being aware that anything was wrong – and he was threatened and menaced for any money that he had. This was when he stood his ground. The first two weeks were a nightmare, but when he refused to hand over his lunch money he was knocked to the ground and kicked.
At this point, his twin rounded on the attacker and the teachers at last came into the picture. The bullies proceeded to verbally abuse the twins, who retaliated in like manner. This was a serious case of one ethnic grouping targeting another. Ironically all four boys were suspended, although the staff were fully aware of who was the bully, and in the end he was identified when other cases came to light, and was moved to another class.
At this point my friend learned of the hell that her boys had gone through in their first two weeks at their new school. She made it her business to go into the school on several occasions over the following few days to ensure that the matter was dealt with. She made it clear that she would not tolerate such activities not being dealt with appropriately by the school, and if it was not dealt with, she would take the matter outside the school jurisdiction. The school expressed concern over the incident: they could not understand it; bullying did not happen in their school! This is a common fallacy, teachers are too busy with other admin-type tasks to spend much time actually watching their pupils and ensuring their well-being, and bullies are good at covering their handiwork so that they do not get spotted.
‘The school expressed concern over the incident: they could not understand it; bullying did not happen in their school!’
However, my friend had grave misgivings about the whole incident, particularly over the fact that her boys had said nothing, not even to the older brother. They had wanted to try and resolve it themselves and ‘ride out the storm’ of their first few weeks. This was a hard initiation. Schools do not like to admit that bullying might exist in their environment, and often do not like it when unpleasant incidents arise and hit their systems out of place. In this case it was hard to work out why the two boys had been targeted. Was it because they are twins? Because they seemed to enjoy lessons and learning? Because they appear to be clever? Because they are from a different racial culture to that of the bullies? It was obvious that the bullies were attempting to create a dominant influence over all of their classmates.
Perhaps for the twins it was easier to cover up the problem but it is important, as parents, for us to watch for signs of differing behaviour in our children, especially when moving schools or joining other groups. Bullying only persists and thrives because it disenfranchises the person being bullied, who then feels unable to talk to others about their situation and often experiences a sense of shame that they cannot deal with the bullies themselves. Too many young teenagers recently have taken their misery caused by bullying to the extreme solution and taken their own lives. We cannot sit back any longer and accept that this is the way things are. Bullying must be addressed and eradicated – nipped in the bud – before the flowers of the next generation are damaged beyond repair. We all have to take responsibility for bringing it to everyone’s attention when we see it happening, whether in the schools, playgrounds, sports fields, factories, offices or on the streets.
Do your bit today – ask your child’s school if it has an anti-bullying policy and, if not, ask WHY NOT?
In a further issue we will look at the range of ‘clues’ that parents can spot that may point to cases of bullying taking place, and the things that we can do to rectify these and ensure that our children feel able to talk to us about these very personal problems.
Some of the symptoms to look for include:
- sudden lack of interest in going to school
- erratic and disturbed sleep pattern
- not eating properly
- spontaneous morning bouts of ‘illness’ – ‘I feel sick/I have a headache/my stomach hurts’ etc. can all be early warning indicators that something is not right
- ‘losing’ things – property going missing, comments like ‘I must have lost it/left it at school’
- never having any money when they come home – losing dinner money
- not appearing to make new friends or wanting to go out with others.