Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Department of Education and Science
Bullying in Schools
Question 462: To ask the Minister for Education and Science the policies and procedures he has in place to ensure school children do not become victims of emotional or psychological abuse in schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7072/09]
I can assure the Deputy that supports are in place to enable schools both to help prevent bullying and to deal with cases that may arise. Responsibility for tackling bullying falls to the level of the individual school as it is at local level that an effective anti-bullying climate must be established. I am, however, anxious to support schools in tackling bullying and it is for that reason that a number supports have been put in place in recent years.
Each school is required to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour, within the framework of an overall school Code of Behaviour and Discipline. Such a code, developed through consultation with the whole school community and properly implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools. My Department has issued guidelines as an aid to schools in devising measures to prevent and deal with instances of bullying behaviour and to increase awareness among school management authorities of their responsibilities in this regard. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of school management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of their school.
In 2007 my Department published, on its website, policy templates for post-primary schools in five key areas, including anti-bullying. The template documents are not prescriptive, but rather highlight possible approaches and potential material for inclusion in school policies and takes account of more recent legislative and regulatory changes. Reference is also made to issues of contemporary concern such as the need to tackle text bullying, cyber-bullying and homophobic bullying. The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) has developed further guidelines for schools on Codes of Behaviour, as provided for under section 23 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. These guidelines have been informed by broad consultation.
I have previously indicated that once schools have had an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the NEWB Guidelines, my Department will commence the process of revising and updating its own Guidelines. This review will commence shortly and will take into account issues such as legislative developments, the involvement of the support services available to schools, technological advancements such as use of the Internet, e-mail, mobile phones and camera phones and the latest developments in international best practice on dealing with bullying behaviour.
The National Behaviour Support Service (NBSS) was established in 2006 in response to the recommendation in "School Matters", the report of the Task Force on Student Behaviour in Second Level Schools. The NBSS is currently working with 50 Post Primary Schools to promote and support positive student behaviour. The National Centre for Technology in Education's Webwise Internet Safety initiative includes an integrated educational programme with the following elements: 1. The development of an integrated educational programme in partnership with the SPHE Support Service called — Be Safe_Be Webwise, which is delivered in the context of the SPHE module on Personal Safety by the SPHE Second Level Support Service. 2. Delivery of Internet Safety Seminars for parents in schools in partnership with the National Parents Council Primary, with over 150 seminars held since 2007. 3. Provision of Internet safety continuing professional development training for teachers. 4. The Watch Your Space awareness campaign, which was launched in February 2007 seeks to raise awareness and promote safe, responsible practice by young people when on-line. The campaign has a strong peer-to-peer perspective and centres on an interactive on-line service, www.watchyourspace.ie developed by the NCTE. This site offers practical tips and advice and supports teenagers who use the web. A key feature is the advice given from teenagers to teenagers on how to cope with the fall-out from abuses and misuse of social networking and picture-sharing websites.
Earlier this month, the NCTE launched a social marketing campaign, combining blanket and targeted messages delivered through a wide range of media channels and involving children and young people themselves, to the promotion of effective responses to cyberbullying by young people. This campaign is on-going and is supported by traditional and on-line media services including: RTE, SKY, Nickelodeon, MTV, City Channel, Google, Microsoft, Eircom, Meteor, and Bebo. Dealing with bullying has also been incorporated in training for principals through the Leadership Development for Schools programme. I have also stressed to the teacher unions the importance of not just having a written policy on bullying but also ensuring a climate in which it is not tolerated in any form and in which children know that if they make a teacher aware of bullying that it will be dealt with.
The education of students in both primary and post-primary schools in relation to anti-bullying behaviour is part of the SPHE curriculum. SPHE is now a compulsory subject both at primary level and in the junior cycle of post-primary schools.