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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Can bullying be beaten?
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff

Two boys bullying another
An academic has called for an end to "sticking-plaster" solutions
Bullying causes untold misery to thousands of children.

Name-calling, extortion, violence and exclusion are among the symptoms of a problem unknown to or ignored by adults.

It is not as cartoonishly simple as the antics of Flashman in Tom Brown's Schooldays or Gripper from Grange Hill.

But our distance from school life means we can see bullying only in clichéd, simplistic terms, ignoring the subtleties of children's power relationships.

Donald Christie, a psychologist at the University of Strathclyde, thinks the culture of the playground and classroom must be made more "pro-social" - that is, more pleasant and considerate.

'A sense of power'

He said: "We talk about anti-social behaviour, but there's not a commonly used word for what we consider good behaviour.

"We need to do more about that. Every school should acknowledge that it has a problem.

"The bullying thrives where the bully is gaining a sense of power over the situation.

"The acceptance and even admiration of it are also part of the problem.

"So, if we can shift the culture so that all the individuals involved in the community show their moral disapproval of bullying, we start to make inroads.

'All schools are affected'

"We must get this on the agenda. It's got to be discussed."

Several government initiatives have attempted to target anti-social activity in schools.

But in a recent survey, 40% of children said they had been bullied.

Mr Christie said: "There's a huge concern about the problem of bullying. It's a serious issue facing all schools.

"For about 5% of children, we are talking about bullying being an absolutely relentless, day-after-day experience of a serious problem.

"These sorts of cases, if not addressed, can lead to other things.

"The cases of suicide are not as rare as all that. They appear in the press quite regularly."

Gripper from Grange Hill attacking a fellow pupil
Gripper from Grange Hill was a school bully seen by TV viewers in the 1980s

One such is that of Karl Peart, 16, who was reported to have taken a fatal overdose of prescription painkillers at his home in Lynemouth, Northumberland.

His parents said he had been bullied throughout his time at school, and had made several visits to casualty wards with his injuries.

Anecdotal evidence suggests suicides caused by bullying are common, but they are difficult to quantify.

Inquests focus on the causes of death, including the emotional circumstances of the deceased. But there is no recognised cause of "bullying".

Mr Christie said: "There was a girl several years ago who committed suicide.

"The reports referred to a range of problems that she faced, including pretty harsh treatment at the hands of her own family, as well as the school."

These, of course, are extreme cases, but in lesser cases bullying can cause insomnia, low self-esteem and even post-traumatic stress disorder.

The cliché is of the victim as a loner with a physical or behavioural difference from the rest of the group.

Mr Christie said: "There's no doubt bullying can pick up on that, but the starting point can be more arbitrary. Anyone can be a victim.

'Sticking plaster'

"It's important not to restrict our picture of bully or victim to a single type."

Government initiatives have attempted to raise awareness by encouraging pupils to report incidents.

Research in Sheffield has shown that, after initial success, enthusiasm tended to wane, leading to a return of the problem.

Mr Christie described most of the efforts so far as "sticking-plaster" solutions.

He added: "The problem is, if the emphasis is on the specific situation, then it misses the point. In a sense it puts the spotlight on the victim.

"It's not much of a leap to saying it's about them failing in the first place."

In 2000, the Scottish Parliament placed a legal obligation on head teachers to consult pupils' views on running schools. Part of the intention was to deter anti-social behaviour.

Many schools have started a "buddy" system, where an older pupil guides a younger one through their education.

Mr Christie said: "Schools that are working in this way effectively encourage the children to take more responsibility

"Children usually respond well to this. Hopefully, this can help to make bullying unacceptable."

So, while creating "pro-social" schools cannot guarantee an end to suicides, it at least offers an alternative to the current situation.

School tribute to 'bullied' pupil
06 Jun 03  |  Tyne/Wear
Name-calling 'worst form of bullying'
16 Apr 03  |  Education
Experts debate text bullying
18 Mar 03  |  Wales
Children take on bullying fight
30 Jan 03  |  England


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