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Last Updated: Monday, 22 November, 2004, 00:22 GMT
Bullied girl turns campaigner
By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter

Bullying can often drive pupils away from school

As parents say they want more done to protect children for school bullies, Haley Birks from County Durham tells how setting up her own anti-bullying project helped turn the bullies away.

"One day I just got sick of it, being ignored and that, and they'd been really nasty calling me names," says Haley, 15.

"I couldn't put a brave face on it any more, so I told a teacher and then it got worse because they thought I'd grassed them up.

"I was spat on, I had chewing gum put in my hair, letters were passed round the class about me, they used to sit outside my house in the evenings because they live nearby.

When the bullies realised I wasn't bothered any more, they eased off
Haley Birks
"It was really intimidating, I didn't want to go to school, I didn't want to go out and I was really scared, it was horrible."

The bullying went on for about a year, but what put a stop to it was Haley's idea to set up a special project to campaign against bullying.

She even received a grant of 600 from Community Education at Durham County Council to promote her work.

The work takes her into local feeder primary schools to talk about any concerns children may have about bullying and she takes lessons with Year 7 and 8 pupils at her school to get the anti-bullying message across.

Youth work

She is on the school anti-bullying committee and works as a peer mentor. She is currently planning a workshop for her local youth club.

"It's helped to build up my confidence and I've met loads of new people and made new friends.

"And when the bullies realised I wasn't bothered any more, they eased off."

Haley is taking her GCSEs next summer and hopes to go on to study A-levels and then to university.

But the year in which she was bullied certainly had an effect on her school work.

"My Sats results were not what they should have been.

"I had loads of catching up to do because I wasn't in lessons. I went to school, but I did my work in the library and missed lessons because I couldn't cope with it."

A safe haven

It was stories like Haley's that drove Cambridge-based educational consultant Dr Carrie Herbert to set up a charity to educate children who were missing school to avoid the bullies.

"I constantly found a child had stopped coming to school because they were being bullied," says Dr Herbert, who opened the Red Balloon centre in the city.

If we don't deal with bullying between the ages of 11 and 17, then we are storing up problems for the future
Dr Carrie Herbert
"A lot of children are bullied, a lot cope and put on a stiff upper lip or find it stops after a few weeks, but for some there's such a significant impact that they say they're not going to school."

Dr Herbert says the centre, which offers the usual academic curriculum alongside therapy and support work, takes children who are at their wits' end.

"I would say 50% of our children have attempted suicide. We take children who have really had it - reached the end of whatever tether they had."

To give some indication of how bad the bullying can be in some cases, Dr Herbert recalls how one child had been hit over the head so badly that he had to have a metal plate inserted.

Another boy had been forced to swallow a sharpened coin which made him very ill. He was too scared to tell his mother and doctor and it was only when he was x-rayed in hospital three weeks later that the problem came to light.

Dr Carrie Herbert
Dr Carrie Herbert: Angered by tales of bullying
And a strikingly pretty girl had been threatened with being slashed in the face because she was so attractive.

The Cambridge Red Balloon centre has 12 places for children aged between 12 and 16 years and the charity is planning to open three new centres in Norwich, Colchester and north-west London.

Children generally stay a year at the centre before being re-integrated into mainstream school.

Dr Herbert says it is crucial to stop bullying in schools so that lives are not ruined.

"It has a terrible effect on people's lives. I've met adults who say they don't form relationships, can't trust people, can't hold down a job and so on because they were bullied at school.

"If we don't deal with bullying between the ages of 11 and 17, then we are storing up problems for the future."

Parents back anti-bully campaign
22 Nov 04 |  Education
'Nearly half' of pupils bullied
16 Apr 04 |  Education
Bully victims 'need more study'
05 Sep 04 |  Education
Q&A: Bullying
22 Nov 04 |  Education

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