Page last updated at 14:11 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 15:11 UK

'Forced' from school by bullies

By Joe Kent
Programme producer, Face The Facts

Two boys bullying another
Every school has an anti-bullying policy but they can vary greatly in detail

Around 6,000 pupils have been taken out of - or invited to leave - mainstream schooling in England because of bullying, one children's charity estimates.

Parents, pupils and educational professionals say that all too often it is the victims' lives which have to change while the bullies remain in school.

Fourteen-year-old Louise (not her real name) is one of those children who have been taken out of school.

She suffered a three-year campaign of victimisation which began with name calling and developed into threats and eventually violence.

She was beaten up, tormented and on one occasion had her hair cut and glue sprayed on her while she sat in class. The effect was devastating.

"Her behaviour really changed, she became withdrawn, she became aggressive. I started to notice marks on her arms," explains her mother Catherine.

Louise began to self-harm and even contemplated taking her own life.

Despite repeated phone calls to the school and a string of meetings her mother says they failed to take their concerns seriously.

"Every time there was a problem we reported it and it was never resolved.

"They never came back to us with an answer... every time there was a problem my daughter came home - she missed school."

As for the bullies: "They should have been excluded," she says.

Headmasters 'undermined'

The school Louise attended did not want to comment on her case.

Mick Brookes, of the National Association of Head Teachers, admits there are inbuilt "disincentives" against excluding pupils and "bureaucratic" barriers including an appeals process which can see headmasters' decisions overturned, their authority undermined, and excluded pupils back in school.

"However, that is not an excuse," he adds.

He says action needs to be taken where schools are failing to punish bullies.

Pupils in playground
Bullies are often let out while victims take refuge inside, says Kidscape

Every school in the UK has to have an anti-bullying policy by law. Each writes its own and they can vary from just a few to lines to lengthy documents.

The children's charity Kidscape is concerned by this and notes that some even fail to define bullying, or mention sanctions against the bullies.

Often it is the victim whose education suffers, says Claude Knights, Kidscape's director.

It is not uncommon to have the victim shut in the library at lunch "for their own protection" while "out of the window they can see the bully playing with friends".

She says this is "deeply unfair".

Even more unfair are the many cases she has seen when the parents of a bullied child feel they have no choice but to remove them from school, she adds.

'Placed with bullies'

And leaving school does not always bring respite.

Liberal Democrat MP David Howarth knows of cases of bullying victims being placed in pupil referral units - usually places for children with disciplinary problems, including bullying.

He describes a case where a child bullied at school went on to be bullied at such a unit:

"One can only imagine what that's like, sliding further and further down, not being able to find any place where one can go."

Dawn Primarolo MP
It is 'unacceptable' to be forced from school says the Children's Minister

The government says it is not its policy to place the victims of bullying in pupil referral units.

Another option is the charity Red Balloon which was set up "for the recovery of bullied children".

It has just three centres in the country, providing full-time education, counselling and other forms of support for those bullied so badly they have left mainstream education.

Its founder, Dr Carrie Herbert, believes that her estimate of 6,000 children forced out of schools is a conservative one. By their nature "duvet children" as she puts it, are hard to count "at home under the duvet... too scared to go to school".

The government does not collect such statistics but Children's Minister Dawn Primarolo says it will investigate the figures.

Ms Primarolo concedes that where a child has to leave school because of bullying it is "unfair and unacceptable".

Permanent exclusions of the bullies should be considered in extreme cases, but she does not accept there are disincentives against exclusions.

The minister says the government is working with local authorities to ensure pupils are not forced out of school and says the majority of schools have policies that do work.

But, in some cases, pupils are still being beaten by the bullies.

Beaten By The Bullies will be broadcast on Radio 4 on 9 August at 2100BST.

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