The grilling came as the minister faced a lively question and answer session after speaking to pupil delegates at the anti-bullying network conference in Dundee.
Mr McConnell also announced the continuation of funding for the ChildLine anti-bullying helpline in Scotland.
Mr McConnell said: 'I believe every school must be a safe school. Every child is entitled to go through their school years without their experiences being blighted by bullying. But these are complex issues.
'Solutions will be many and varied and they will not be found overnight. The anti-bullying network is doing sterling work in supporting schools and authorities to share good practice. Today's conference is a good example. It also provides training and consultancy services to support schools and local authorities in developing anti-bullying strategies.
'I am pleased to announce that we will continue to offer financial support to ensure the continuation of the childline anti-bullying helpline. This is a free confidential telephone helpline for any child or young person concerned about bullying.
It provides an excellent service to children in trouble. In addition to the calls received to ChildLine's core service a further 1595 children received support on ChildLIne Scotland's Bullying line in the period April 1999 - March 2000. It is unlikely that these children would have received a service had it not been for this project line.
'Involving pupils can have an immediate impact on the problem and has long term benefits in building better citizens for the future. Senior pupils can have a key role to play in supporting the younger ones.'
'Good discipline is essential to creating a focussed educational environment. A school with a positive ethos encourages achievement, celebrates success, has a high expectations of every child, has lower exclusion rates and fewer discipline problems.'
He told delegates that they all had a part to play in ensuring a safe and positive school environment:
'You will have a large part to play to ensure that the bullies don't get away with their poisonous behaviour. Don't let them wreck your education. Don't let them wreck anyone else's. Let's all help each other to tackle this hard and head on.
'I can tell you what we are doing to try and combat this scourge but I also want your views. I want to hear about your experiences and ideas, about the solutions you have for dealing with bullying and poor discipline.
'Whether it is bullying in the classroom, bullying in the playground, bullying in the corridors, bullying on the way to or from school. We are on the right road, but there is still a long way to go, and your ideas can help.'
1. The Anti-Bullying Network is a Scottish executive initiative based at the faculty of education, Universityof Edinburgh It enables schools across Scotland to share good practices in tackling bullying and to provide a high quality in-school training and consultancy service. Its website was launched in December 1999 and is aimed at young people, parents, teachers and other members of the community. It can be found at www.antibullying.net.
2. The executive will be providing grant funding of up to£39,000 to underwrite the ChildLine Anti-Bullying Helpline during 2001-2002. We have funded them on this basis for the last few years otherwise the special line would have to close.
3. The minister for education recently set up the discipline task group to address issues on discipline in schools. Its broad remit is to make recommendations covering the involvement of teachers in initiatives about discipline, strategies to deal with instances of indiscipline, the training of teachers in classroom management, the role of parents in motivating and supporting their children and fostering positive attitudes to education and to look into the role of other agencies in improving discipline. The task group is due to report back with its findings in June.