John West-Burnham

Educational Leadership Development

Article Sections

 Basic human Rights

Bullying is a denial of basic human rights and in some circumstances a criminal act – it is not ‘boys being boys’ or ‘girls being girls’ it is systematic and calculated abuse of vulnerable individuals. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states the responsibility of all to secure:

. . . appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse. . .

Thus action to prevent bullying is in fact an exercise in securing human rights. This in turn is directly related to the duty to secure the well-being of every child and young person.

We all know that prevention is better than cure – in business terms we need to move from ‘find and fix’ to ‘predict and prevent’. Predict and prevent is why we brush our teeth every day, have our cars serviced; keep spare light bulbs in the house. It is always more effective to stop things going wrong than to put them right. Sanctions may prevent bullying, or make the bully more subtle, restorative strategies may confront the bully and help the victim but better by far would be to remove the need for reconciliation. The problem is that these are fixing strategies, we need to prevent bullying and make it as unacceptable as smoking in a public place or letting a dog foul the pavement. Prevention requires a fundamental shift in how we approach bullying – moving from punishment and amelioration to eliminating it as possible social behaviour. In the Framework for the inspection of schools Ofsted are very clear that in outstanding schools:

Instances of bullying, including for example, cyber-bullying and prejudice-based bullying related to special educational need, sexual orientation, sex, race, religion and belief, gender reassignment or disability, are extremely rare. Pupils are acutely aware of different forms of bullying and actively try to prevent it from occurring. The school has an active and highly effective approach to identifying and tackling bullying. All groups of pupils feel safe at school at all times.

 

What is significant in this standard is the requirement that pupils ‘are acutely aware’ and they ‘ actively try to prevent it”. Pupils need to understand bullying and understand how they can help prevent it. We know more now than we have ever known about learning and social development and it is now very well established that it is the period from birth to seven that is fundamental to learning potential, language development and social interaction. It is very clear from the play patterns of very young children that they do not recognise or are not influenced by difference and often display high levels of care and empathy. Yet by the age of eight or nine negative attitudes are often emerging.

 

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