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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 November, 2003, 09:54 GMT
Anti-bullying charter launched
Two boys bullying another
Schools should provide "safe places" to protect vulnerable children from bullies and an "anxiety box" for them to make anonymous complaints, the government says.

Victims' peers must also be encouraged to become "buddies", offering emotional support, young people's minister Ivan Lewis said.

The suggestions are part of an anti-bullying charter, which all schools in England will be expected to sign.

Their progress will be monitored by the education watchdog, Ofsted.

'Share problems'

All should do more to stamp out "physical or emotional assault" that could have tragic consequences, Mr Lewis said.

He added: "Every school needs to do more on bullying, frankly. But I think some schools are far more advanced than others.

"Some schools are using very innovative approaches - for example, peer mentoring - where they've got young people training to be available to other young people, because sometimes you feel more able to share things with peers."

In recent months, several children have taken their own lives after being assaulted and harassed by fellow pupils.

William, a reformed bully from London, explained to BBC News how he had started picking on other pupils.

He said: "In the beginning, in primary school, it just started out as a joke. A group of us just mocking people and laughing.

"Really, it was just fun for our own entertainment."

However, William stopped bullying when he was made aware of the effects on his victims.

He added: "It really put them on edge. they would go home and cry their eyes out. I can say that touched my heart."

Under the terms of the charter, schools must support staff "appropriately" and reassure pupils their concerns will be dealt with "sensitively and effectively".

It will commit head teachers to reporting back quickly to parents when they raise concerns about bullying.

The charter will not be legally binding, but will form part of Ofsted's overall analysis of school performances.

The head teacher, chairman of governors and a pupils' representative will be asked to sign it.

By law, schools already have to have anti-bullying policies in place.

Mr Lewis was himself bullied at William Hume Secondary School in Manchester and managed to end two years of suffering by taking the bullies on in a physical fight, in which his nose was broken.

He said the charter represented examples of "best practice" for schools to consider.

Mentors, for example, could help the bullying victim to approach a teacher or other adult within the school.

Lunchtime staff should also be trained to deal with the problem.

Mr Lewis said he would have benefited from more openness when a pupil.

He added: "I think if there had been more of an upfront discussion about bullying, and a series of things going in the school which recognised it could be a problem, and messages to me which said, `If this is getting too much for you, come and chat to somebody', I think it would have helped in a big way.

"I think the fact it wasn't spoken about, that in a sense you felt obliged to internalise it, made you part of the problem."

Gill Frances of the Anti-Bullying Alliance said: "We will work with schools to engage staff, parents and pupils in providing safe environments for children and young people to learn and play."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: "Teachers need the space and time to tackle any bullying. A safe environment provides the best conditions for learning.

"Schools would be supported considerably if they did not have to cope with a whole range of other government initiatives as well as achieving this vital goal."

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