Dáil Éireann - Volume 653 - 24 April, 2008

Written Answers. - Bullying in Schools.

Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps she has taken to counter bullying in schools here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15826/08]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin:I can assure the Deputy that supports are in place to enable schools both to prevent bullying and to deal with cases that may arise. There is no requirement for schools to report incidents of bullying to my Department, nor do I believe that this should be the case. Responsibility for tackling bullying falls to the level of the individual school as it is at local level that an effective anti-bullying climate must be established. I am, however, anxious to support schools in tackling bullying and it is for that reason that a number supports have been put in place in recent years.

Each school is required to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour, within the framework of an overall school Code of Behaviour and Discipline. Such a code, developed through consultation with the whole school community and properly implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools. My Department has issued guidelines as an aid to schools in devising measures to prevent and deal with instances of bullying behaviour and to increase awareness among school management authorities of their responsibilities in this regard. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of school management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of their school. In view of the increasing demands which have been placed on schools as a result of statutory obligations and the requirement for policies in a range of areas, my Department has been working to ensure greater availability of guidelines and template policies to assist schools.

Last year, I announced the publication on my Department’s website of policy templates for post-primary schools in five key areas, including anti-bullying, as part of our ongoing efforts in [182] this regard. The template documents are not prescriptive, but rather highlight possible approaches and potential material for inclusion in school policies. The anti-bullying policy template is based primarily on the key document Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour. However, it does take account of more recent legislative and regulatory changes, and reference is also made to issues of contemporary concern such as the need to tackle text bullying, cyber-bullying and homophobic bullying.

The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) is at present developing further guidelines for schools on Codes of Behaviour, as provided for under section 23 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. Work on the guidelines is at an advanced stage and will be informed by broad consultation. Once the NEWB Guidelines are in place, my Department will commence the process of revising and updating its own “Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour”. This review will take into account issues such as legislative developments, the involvement of the support services available to schools, technological advancements such as use of the Internet, e-mail, mobile phones and camera phones and the latest developments in International best practice on dealing with bullying behaviour. My Department, through the National Centre for Technology in Education has also developed Policy Guidelines and Advisory Notes for schools and parents which deal with the issues of internet and mobile phone bullying.

I wish to draw the Deputy’s attention to the “think b4 u click” internet safety campaign. This new campaign seeks to raise awareness and promote safe, responsible practice by young people when on-line. The campaign has a strong peer-to-peer perspective and centres on an interactive on-line service, www.watchyourspace.ie developed by the National Centre Technology in Education (NCTE). This site offers practical tips and advice and supports teenagers who use the web. A key feature is the advice given from teenagers to teenagers on how to cope with the fall-out from abuses and misuse of social networking and picture -sharing websites. This new initiative perfectly compliments the other NCTE safety activities that are already up and running successfully such as Webwise, SAFT and the Once projects.

Dealing with bullying has also been incorporated in training for principals through the Leadership Development for Schools programme. I have also stressed to the teacher unions the importance of not just having a written policy on bullying but also ensuring a climate in which it is not tolerated in any form and in which children know that if they make a teacher aware of bullying that it will be dealt with. The education of students in both primary and post-primary schools in relation to anti-bullying behaviour is part of the SPHE curriculum. SPHE is now a compulsory subject both at primary level and in the junior cycle of post-primary schools.