Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

School Bullying and the Impact on Mental Health: Discussion (Resumed)

Professor James O'Higgins Norman:

I will address some of those points and some of my colleagues might like to pitch in. On anti-bullying language, there is much disagreement internationally in this field. By calling it "anti-bullying", it is making a clear statement against bullying, which drives the work in that direction, but that is defining it negatively. There is much debate on that and there are good points on both sides. The bottom line is about trying to create an atmosphere and a reality where people do not experience bullying in schools or online.

The figure of 51% of schools relates to those that have implemented a local programme to tackle bullying. All the schools in our research have policies in place, that is, they have all taken their lead from the national action plan on bullying and implemented a local policy. The next step was to implement an anti-bullying programme in their schools and only about one half of schools had reported they were able to do that. I personally believe there should be a database on which we track the level of bullying in the country, which goes back to a question one of the other members raised earlier. Having good-quality data allows us to make informed decisions about the initiatives we use and how effective they are, so I very much support beginning to do that and building those data.

On the roadmap, the international research suggests there is not a one-size-fits-all programme or approach to tackling bullying. Schools need to be able to draw down on resources of use to them, depending on what they are dealing with locally. A programme such as the FUSE programme we offer, for example, provides schools with a programme of resources and an approach, and they are then able to adapt that and use it locally. The effectiveness of saying to every school that it must do a particular programme at such a time in such a way is not always proven. The one-size-fits-all approach is something I am cautious about.

The online safety commissioner is really important, although the role still needs to be worked out. It is my understanding it will not be possible to make individual complaints or reports through the commissioner’s office, which will be disappointing for people looking for somewhere to go when they feel there is nowhere else for them to go and they have tried everything else in regard to reporting the problem or seeking help with online safety issues.

As for a well-rounded education, Dr. Keating will talk about how the overall curriculums, including the social, personal and health education, SPHE, curriculum and so on, sit alongside the anti-bullying work we do. The role of the parent is the key, going back to Senator Mullen's point. We need to help parents such that they will feel strong and confident and have a purpose to the way in which they educate their children about bullying, both offline and online, and be able to do that in a consistent and confident way.

I might hand over to Dr. Foody to comment further.