Typically, parents call a helpline because they feel their child’s school has been unhelpful, accepts no responsibility or simply does not believe them. Of course this does not apply to all schools but when a parent finds themselves in this position they need someone to listen to, bring some common sense to the table and advise them what to do. Despite the fact that most UK schools have an Anti-Bullying policy that encourages our children to talk openly about the subject of bullying, few children see a solution – procedural guidelines are often non-existent. Government, including The Department for Education, Ofsted and Ministers, should be working to bring about change.
In the workplace we have dispute resolution procedures (The ACAS Code of Practice for example) but schools are left to their own devices. It is the current view of The Department of Education that Schools should put their own procedures in place. This is not good enough. Ofsted say they do not have the power to address bullying in schools,
A routine Ofsted inspection could involve a review of bullying statistics in every UK school. Ofsted could be asking how many bullying complaints have been raised and what outcomes and remedial action is taken. We need clearly communicated guidelines for both parents and schools. Every school should have a Safeguarding Officer who is held accountable for overseeing due process. This will free up the teachers who are currently having to deal with distressed parents. Parents will know how to set out their concerns in a constructive and professional manner and, importantly, will have some confidence knowing that they are being listened to.
Very often, the policy statement is worthless because there is no ‘Procedure’ set out to back the policy up. Also, schools do not like to keep statistics and nor do they properly investigate claims of bullying. Those who do look into allegations of bullying by a parent or a pupil are the teachers themselves who were, in the first instance, responsible for overseeing the safety and welfare of those children. So, a) they are teachers and are not trained in conflict resolution and b) they are probably in a conflict of interest because they were initially accountable for addressing the bullying.
In the workplace we have The ACAS Code of Practice. Employers are required to address bullying as soon as they ‘know or reasonably ought to know’ about the bullying. Then there is the process – set out in writing in every workplace, called The Grievance procedure. An allegation of bullying is put in writing by the aggrieved employee and the employer has a duty to investigate. This is followed by a Stage 1 Grievance process which is investigated impartially by an independent person. Then, finally, there is the Stage 2 Appeals process.
An Anti-Bullying policy needs to be backed up with a procedure, a Code of Practice. The Department for Education should generally oversee this Code of Practice. Ofsted should be involved too. Schools that refuse to put a Code of Practice in place, should be penalised by Ofsted.
The Schools Anti Bullying Policy should be given to each child and every parent routinely.
The Policy should be supported by a Code of Practice – a procedure-based process in terms of addressing allegations and documenting and recording incidents of bullying.
Where a parent raises a complaint, they should be handed a form to complete. They need to document their concern if the case is deemed sufficiently serious enough and insist that an independent investigation takes place.
A dedicated expert within the school, (not the year teacher and not the Head of School) should be appointed coordinator to oversee the process and deal with cases. They need very specific training for this role. The Head of School should not influence the process.
Every case should be risk assessed.
Every case should be documented.
The school should meet with the parent – and minute that meeting.
The school should then meet with the child – in the presence of the parent.
The school should then investigate.
The parent should be sent a written outcome in respect of the investigation.
Proposed remedies need to be documented in that report, which should be held on file by the School and produced during Ofsted Inspections.
If the parent remains concerned, s/he should be able to appeal
These cases, statistically (whether informal or formal) should be documented openly declared to anyone who asks to see them – including parents of children who are interested in sending their child to that school.
Finally, instead of competing with one another, Anti Bullying Charities and charitable organisations should collaborate and benchmark and work together on this important subject.
Those with a vested interest in the safety of our children need to unite, consult, work in teams, look closely at suicide statistics and listen to what our children and the parents are saying, (not just what the schools say). Then, we need to put a structured system in place, such as a Code of Practice. The Code should be mandatory across every School in the UK.