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BEST PRACTICE - MAKING OUR SCHOOLS SAFE

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Over 32,000 children a year are affected by bullying. In the first of our features on child protection, Kaye McInto...
Over 32,000 children a year are affected by bullying. In the first of our features on child protection, Kaye McIntosh reports on what councils are doing to stamp out the problem

Controversy around the education white paper has meant little attention has been paid to the government's commitment to stamping out bullying - something which affects over 32,000 children a year, according to the charity Childline. The white paper states schools must sign up to the Anti-bullying Charter for Action and send a clear message that bullying will not be tolerated. Here are ways how councils can help too:

1 Hold an anti-bullying conference

Wolverhampton City Council has been running anti-bullying initiatives for some time but there has been little

co-ordination.

Steven Dodd, youth against crime co-ordinator for the community safety partnership, says: 'We came up with the idea of holding a conference to look at what we were doing well, what we weren't doing well - and what we weren't doing at all.'

Last November over 200 people - from the director of children's services to parents - came

together to plan future anti-bullying strategies. Sessions were interwoven with children performing dance,

poetry and music.

The conference has helped build networks so Wolverhampton can develop a multi-agency approach. 'The most important thing is that we made the link between what young people are telling us, the work that is going on and the overall strategy for children and young people,' Mr Dodd says. The steering group responsible for setting up the conference will go on to ensure future work is

co-ordinated and supported.

Within six months a parent support group will be set up, and a bullying audit will take place in schools. An anti-bullying event aimed at young people is scheduled for March. In the long term, the council has pledged to appoint an anti-bullying co-ordinator and create a quality standard for schools.

2 Get the United Nations involved

Pupils in Hampshire have been learning about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child through a project called Rights, respect and responsibility.

John Clarke, deputy director of children's services at Hampshire CC, says the declaration that every child has a right to education is a powerful signal: 'Once you explain to children that the adults of the world have signed up to this, that they do not have to earn this right, they start to take notice.'

Lesson plans and activities are incorporated into the curriculum. The project is broad - encompassing all interactions with children. But it has had a direct impact on bullying. An evaluation team from Nova Scotia in Canada, where the project started, visited Hampshire. It found that learning about rights and responsibilities led to improved behaviour, greater levels of peer and teacher support, less bullying and less disruptive behaviour. Among schools that had incorporated the scheme exclusions were reduced by up to 70% and detentions by 50%.

The aim is to get everyone who works with children on board. The headteacher and one other teacher from 300 of the 450 primary schools across the county have been trained and Mr Clarke says the momentum is gathering.

The big challenge will be to sign up secondary schools. This will be more complicated, Mr Clarke warns. 'If children leave year six having studied Rights, respect and responsibility and go to a school which is antithetical, all the gains will disappear by November. It will merely enforce cynicism.'

3 Set up an anti-bullying working party

Westminster City Council marked last November's anti-bullying week by launching a dedicated

working party. The group brings together a multi-disciplinary team, which involves the head of children's services and headteachers as well as co-ordinators from personal, health and social education and the healthy schools programme. Other members include representatives from the youth offending team, educational psychology and education welfare services, Connexions and Victim Support.

Susie Campbell, Westminster's behaviour and attendance consultant, says the most important aspect is involving children themselves. A delegate from a secondary school pupils' council sits on the group and primary schoolchildren have been invited for one-off visits. 'It has been a very powerful group in terms of auditing good practice and through students coming along and saying, 'we need this or that solution'.'

The group meets monthly to share good practice and feed information back to schools through its members.

One of the main strands of work is to develop a toolkit of best practice guidelines that sets out different strategies, such as peer mentoring and restorative justice, that schools can apply to specific situations. Ms Campbell says: 'Peer support is appropriate at the very early stages before behaviour

becomes something we would define as bullying. Restorative justice is at the other end of the scale when you have got a very clear case.'

4 Use technology to find out what children think

'Opinion meters' - freestanding electronic terminals with touch screens - helped Isle of Wight Council consult 4,800 children and families at an event called the Big Day Out. The billboard-sized machines asked questions such as 'are you listened to in school?' and 'do you feel your concerns are dealt with satisfactorily?' Bullying emerged as a key concern.

Rob Falconer, head of pupil services, says: 'We are able to measure the feedback across a range of questions. Kids love it. They are much more likely to use these machines than to write something down on a piece of paper.' The council has now ordered five machines for schools, to find out how their anti-bullying

policies are working.

Technology has been put to work in other ways. Last September the council set up a text-message service and phone helpline for victims of bullying. Mr Falconer describes it as 'a friendly, listening ear'. Two operators answering the texts and calls weretrained by education welfare officers and can refer callers to welfare officers if necessary. Operators handle around 20 texts a month. Mr Falconer says: 'Young people prefer to communicate through texting. They like the anonymity.'

5 Appoint an anti-bullying officer

Anna-Michele Hantler, anti-bullying officer at Stockton-on-Tees BC, says the value of her job is that you have someone completely focused on the issue. 'Teaching staff have so much to do, I can do the homework for them.

'My position is about showing how schools can get anti-bullying work on the curriculum, how they can make playgrounds safe, how they can help staff support kids and how they can help children with peer support to learn to negotiate conflict,' Ms Hantler says.

Among her first moves was to create an 'oasis of calm' at Harewood School. 'It's a place in the playground which is positive, not punitive. When a child recognises that they are wound up, instead of lashing out, they have a place where they can cool off.' The children helped design sculptures, murals and mosaics with artists in residence, Platform Arts.

The oasis cost£6,000, funded by a combination of grants from different sources. Ms Hantler has been working on a funding guide which helps schools locate revenue sources for anti-bullying projects.

Councils considering appointing an anti-bullying officer should look for someone with an 'eclectic' background, Ms Hantler says. 'You should look for someone who can think outside the square, who has working knowledge of schools and the way they operate but who can tap into the areas outside schools, such as health, counselling and therapy.'

Find out more

Wolverhampton City Council - Stephen Dodd: 01902 572014 e-mail steve.wcsp@btconnect.com

Hampshire CC - Ian Massey, education officer: 01252 814772 www3.hants.gov.uk/education/childrensrights

Stockton-on-Tees BC - annamichele.hantler@stockton.gov.uk

Westminster City Council - www.westminster.gov.uk/educationandlearning/schoolsandcolleges/bullying/

Isle of Wight Council - Prue Grimshaw, head of children's and families services: 01983 821000

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