How to stop Bullying

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Student with learning disabilities gets one-on-one attention from a teacher.

Liffy McDonald enthuses about the work of the Anti-Bullying Alliance

The work of the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) is more relevant than ever in the current climate, and schools have a legal duty to prevent discrimination. Research shows that children and young people with disabilities and SEN are twice as likely to be bullied at school compared to pupils with no known disabilities. Children with autism and those with learning disabilities are particularly at risk. 

The ABA was established by the NSPCC and the National Children’s Bureau, with the objective of raising the profile of bullying, and providing school communities with the skills and knowledge to address bullying effectively.

What are a school’s obligations?
Under the Equality Act 2010, there are nine ‘protected characteristics’, including disability and it’s against the law to discriminate against someone because of them. All schools in England, Wales and Scotland, irrespective of how they are funded or managed, have obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and all schools – or education authorities in Scotland – have to show due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) under the Equality Act. This means the school leadership team needs to actively consider this duty when developing their anti-bullying policy and when reviewing evidence of bullying at the school to ensure efforts to prevent and tackle discriminatory bullying are targeted and effective. The reasonable adjustments duty under the Equality Act requires schools to take positive steps to ensure that disabled pupils and those with SEN can fully participate.

Getting the Balance Right
When embarking on work to tackle bullying of groups of pupils most at risk, it’s really important that from the outset that we challenge our own assumptions and have an awareness of our own potential biases to avoid perpetuating them. Left unchallenged, these biases and preconceived ideas about whether we think a child is more likely to bully – or be bullied – can be particularly damaging for children and young people.

We need to implement a careful balance between being aware of children most at risk and acting to prevent this; and, avoiding treating a young person differently, or suggesting that they will be bullied. It’s also important to be aware of ‘deficit-based’ teaching models when it comes to at-risk groups and to consider how deficit approaches may put young people more at risk of being bullied. Deficit-based models tend to focus on approaches based on preconceived ideas about what a young person can achieve or what they will find challenging. This form of thinking can be particularly harmful because it can mean that teachers can have lower expectations about the young peoples’ outcomes. Children from minority ethnic groups and those with disabilities and SEN, can often be disproportionately affected by deficit thinking.

While individual characteristics can be a reason a child is bullied as it could mark someone out as ‘different’ from others, it intersects with the way in which the school community or environment is set up, which can sometimes put children at risk of bullying. The overall approach must ensure that schools/settings are inclusive environments for children and young people – and crucially, that they foster an environment safe from bullying. The emphasis should be on making the whole school community and teaching inclusive of all differences and diversity and avoiding bias, stereotyping and deficit thinking.

Create a culture of acceptance and respect across the whole school, where pupils can enjoy the education they deserve in a safe and supportive environment. All school staff should act as positive role models to the children in their care which is vital in demonstrating appropriate inclusive behaviour. This can be supported with a whole school charter that outlines the ethos and expected behaviour of all members of the school community.

What can schools do?
What can schools do to ensure that they’re not putting pupils more at risk, and to actively reduce bullying in their school or setting? Here are three key elements:

  1. Create a respectful culture
    Create a culture of acceptance and respect across the whole school, where pupils can enjoy the education they deserve in a safe and supportive environment. All school staff should act as positive role models to the children in their care which is vital in demonstrating appropriate inclusive behaviour. This can be supported with a whole school charter that outlines the ethos and expected behaviour of all members of the school community.
  1. Celebrate the differences in ALL pupils and staff 
    This is vital in ensuring that pupils with differences that are less common, such as a disability or a disfigurement, don’t feel especially different. Avoid “outing” anyone who doesn’t make an aspect of their identity known. This should be all year round, built into the curriculum and include celebrating our diverse backgrounds, histories and life experiences. Make clear that such diversity is welcome in the school community.
  1. Challenge discriminatory and derogatory language
    All forms of discriminatory and derogatory language must be challenged in school to avoid creating spaces where children are more likely to be bullied. Repetitive use of disablist language can have a long-lasting effect on the self-esteem and mental health of those on the receiving end. It is important therefore to measure pupil and teacher experiences of discriminatory language and to consistently challenge it. This is not just good practice—it also helps the school to meet its obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

However, these alone are not enough. They must be implemented within the framework of a consistent, effective and strategically constructed approach to anti-bullying throughout the year, and that the whole school community knows the school’s approach.

Benefits For The Whole School
A whole-school approach to reducing bullying has been shown to be particularly effective in reducing bullying behaviour, and it has a long-term preventative effect on traditional face-to-face bullying, and reduces bullying behaviour generally. 

All children should feel empowered, and they deserve to live life free of bullying and discrimination, and to feel they belong in school. Involving young people in these activities is vital. It’s key to creating environments where everyone is welcome, valued and where children know it’s their right not to be bullied. We have seen some amazing work from schools over the years and when schools get their anti-bullying approach right for pupils with disabilities and SEN, they get it right for all pupils.

Liffy McDonnell Bond
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Liffy McDonnell Bond is the Programme Manager for the Anti-Bullying Alliance.

Website: anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk

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