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EDITIONS
Monday, 5 November, 2001, 13:40 GMT
School bullying 'not inevitable'
Samantha Newman
Samantha Newman: Off school through fear
The prime minister's wife, Cherie Booth, has championed the cause of victims of bullying in school.


I won't go to school, I'm petrified

Victim Pauline Newman
She said schools could only begin to tackle the problem if they admitted its existence in the first place.

Ms Booth is chairing a conference on bullying, organised by the children's charity ChildLine, in London on Monday.

"It's a terrible thing for a parent to discover that their child in fact is deeply unhappy at school," she said as the conference got underway.

mobile phones
Text messaging gives bullies a new weapon
"You would be surprised at the number of letters I personally receive from parents and children around the country telling me about their experiences."

One teenager who has suffered is 15-year-old Samantha Newman, who says she has been the victim of bullying mobile phone text messages, as well as physical assaults, for more than a year.

"I won't go to school, I'm petrified of going to school," she said.

"At the end of the day it's my GCSEs that are all going to get affected because I'm petrified of going to school."

Long-standing issue

Writing in the Observer newspaper, Cherie Booth said: "Of course, for as long as there has been anything resembling a school playground, bullying has existed.

"It is not on the increase as has been suggested but awareness of its existence and effects is growing."

But last year, the ChildLine took 20,000 calls from children who were being bullied. For the fifth year running, bullying had topped the list of problems children called the helpline about.

"Children like the 10-year-old boy who was held up with a knife to prevent him leaving school, or the 15-year-old Asian girl who was being bullied because she was the only Asian child in her class.

"Children call saying they're being bullied because they're fat, thin, clever, lonely, gay, black, white - the list is endless. Many speak of violence against them, robbery and extortion."


It is surely not acceptable for parents to feel they have no alternative but to move their child to another school

Cherie Booth
Many of those who worked in schools now recognised that bullying went on and needed to be addressed.

"But in some schools, sadly, there is still a tendency to claim 'it doesn't happen here' or to adopt an approach which forces the problem underground rather than out into the open."

This was in spite of the government requirement on them to adopt strategies to minimise bullying and address the problems in a positive way.

"It is surely not acceptable for parents to feel they have no alternative but to move their child to another school to escape the bullies, which happens in all too many cases. That is a victory for the bully," she wrote.

Abuse of power

The ChildLine conference brings together educationalists and researchers into bullying and is being addressed by young people about the relative success of different schemes and approaches in schools.

The Department for Education has sent out 5,000 copies of its new anti-bullying pack - Bullying: don't suffer in silence - which outlines things that for teachers and children can do.

Experts point out that bullying is not confined to schools, it can happen wherever there is an abuse of power - in workplaces, even in families.

"Some people are stronger or more powerful than others and wherever that situation happens you can misuse it," said psychologist Professor Helen Cowie.

But it is estimated that almost a third of children experience bullying in their early secondary school years.

ChildLine spokeswoman Pauline Hughes said: "The key for schools is to find their own solutions which work.

"The conference will be looking at a range of strategies they can consider such as peer support groups which have proved successful. This is where some children are trained to provide support for others.

"They find children who are bullied often find it easier to talk to their peers, perhaps feeling they may have been through a similar thing themselves."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"Childline claims bullying has become a national crisis"
See also:

05 Nov 01 | UK Education
29 Mar 01 | UK Education
24 Jan 01 | UK Education
08 Nov 00 | UK Education
13 Dec 00 | UK Education
13 Dec 00 | UK Education
29 Aug 99 | UK Education
Links to more Education stories are at the foot of the page.


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