A new report on bullying in Irish schools has recommended the introduction of an online safety commissioner and a national database to report bullying incidents and the steps being taken to address them.
The Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science today published its report on School Bullying and the Impact on Mental Health.
In the report, the Committee makes a total of 28 recommendations, including 10 key recommendations, which Members believe can be implemented without delay and could have a transformative impact on the whole school community.
The Joint Committee met senior academics from the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre in Dublin City University (DCU) on November 5th, 2020, to discuss the impact of school bullying, including cyberbullying, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This seminal meeting, was held on the First United Nations International Day against Violence and Bullying at School, including cyberbullying. The compelling oral evidence and background research material demonstrated clearly that school bullying and the resulting impact on mental health is a national issue of concern that warranted examination in a considered and sensitive way.
The Committee sought and received written submissions from a wide range of stakeholders and then met with key stakeholders, including clinical psychologists and child and adolescent mental health experts; relevant unions; school patrons, parent and management bodies; the Ombudsman for Children; the Department of Education; organisations dealing with cyber safety for children and young people; and, most importantly, young people themselves.
Committee Cathaoirleach Deputy Paul Kehoe said: “The quality of the evidence based on comprehensive research findings and the poignant examples of the detrimental effect of bullying on individuals was warmly welcomed by the Committee. Some young people have endured great suffering because of school bullying with short term and long-term consequences of a very serious nature.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that school bullying can affect a person for the rest of their lives. It can affect a person’s ability to lead a full and positive life as they struggle to deal with serious mental health issues and loss of self-esteem and even the belief that they can lead worthy lives. No human being should have to endure this, and immediate action must be to be taken to resolve an issue that reflects badly on the entire nation.
“The Committee also recognised that cyberbullying has increased significantly as an unintended consequence of advances in digital technology. Research shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated this insidious form of bullying. A sustainable resolution will only be found by developing an inclusive and kind culture in school communities that moves beyond intolerance of bullying to a place where positive mental health and student support is an integral part of the ethos of the school.”
The Committee’s key recommendations are:
- The Department of Education’s Action Plan on Bullying and related Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post Primary need to be urgently audited and updated in line with current policies on child protection, wellbeing, and Relationships and Sexuality Education, and benchmarked against UNESCO’s recently published recommendations on tackling bullying and cyberbullying in schools.
- The Department of Education should establish a national system for the reporting of data on individual bullying cases, their causes, the steps taken to address them, and the outcomes of these interventions that are currently being collected by schools and reported to their Boards of Management.
- Anti-Bullying measures should be included as a separate section in the Department of Education Inspectorate’s Whole School Evaluations (WSE) reports which are published on education.ie, while separate Anti-Bullying Inspections should also be conducted on a regular basis and published to reassure parents and teaching staff that schools have robust measures in place.
- Emotional Counselling and Therapeutic Supports should be provided on site, as needed, in all primary and post primary schools through a reconstituted and expanded National Educational Psychological and Counselling Service (NEPCS).
- An Online Safety Commissioner, with both investigative powers and an educational mandate, including the power to receive and investigate complaints from individuals, should be appointed.
- A mandatory online Cyber Bullying and Internet Safety Training Programme should be provided for all teaching staff.
- Separate Mandatory Modules on School Bullying, Wellbeing (including Developing Resilience and Emotional Intelligence), Autism and Neurodiversity, Disability, Racism and Inclusivity should be provided in all Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses, and to all primary and secondary school teachers as part of their Continuous Professional Development (CPD).
- Middle management posts, which are an invaluable resource for schools in providing effective leadership to prevent bullying and tackling bullying behaviour, should be restored to previous levels and increased where there is an identified need.
- The innovative FUSE Programme developed by DCU’s Anti-Bullying Centre should be rolled out to all primary and secondary schools as a model of best practice, in liaison with the Department of Education to ensure adequate funding and resources are provided.
- The Barnardos Friendship Group and Roots of Empathy Programmes should be rolled out as a pilot and, pending evaluation, nationally, to foster positive school cultures and enhance students’ empathy and emotional intelligence.