The BBC (and media in general) frequently broadcast news-stories flagging up the fact that bullying in schools appears to be on the increase. Far too many children in the UK are attempting, or are committing, suicide. Every time a child commits suicide there is a media frenzy. Quite rightly so.
So why are more and more children committing suicide? Why are parents calling helplines claiming the school either does not believe them or is failing their child in some way? The million-dollar question is ‘why’ is this happening. Why are we letting our most vulnerable children down so badly. Clearly, the current system is broken. Until we get our head around this issue and come up with a solution, the problem will continue.
The National Bullying Helpline has this in writing. Allowing a Head of School to unilaterally manage the process is a recipe for disaster, particularly where a school is in self-preservation mode and wants to contain a problem in order to protect their reputation. Presently, it is up to the School to unilaterally decide how to deal with bullying in their particular school. Surely, the School is in a conflict of interest. They are focussed on their image and their Ofsted results, so is it right to rely on a Head of School to resolve an allegation of bullying in their School.
Currently, there is far too much focus within our schools on image and Ofsted reviews and not enough focus on finding a solution to address the problem. Presently bullying statistics do not appear to be properly documented and recording in schools. Formal investigations are not being carried out.
Given that child suicide rates are escalating, we have to listen to what the parents are saying. Schools need to open their doors to both parents and experts who can help. Very often (not in all cases) parents do not know how to raise a formal complaint or who to address their complaint to. So, they approach a teacher who, let’s face it, is far more interested in teaching than investigating conflict and who does not have the skills to investigate or deal with a highly confrontational and potentially contentious situation.
Where a parent remains concerned about their child, or thinks a school does not believe them, a parent will become more distressed, and even angry. They may feel they are losing the ability to protect their child (and you only have to look to the wild to see how fiercely a wild-animal will fight to protect their young).
The bullying of the child in question almost becomes secondary as the parent and the school end up in conflict over how a particular incident or allegation of bullying should be addressed.
Meanwhile, as a parent and school engage in conflict and disagreement.
• The child watches on.
• The child might even start to feel unsafe.
For the first time in their young life a child might start to feel deeply insecure and unsafe. The very adults they looked up to, and turned to for safety, are in conflict. They see how distressed, how helpless and how angry, their parents are.
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. Maybe its time for a compulsory code of practice for schools and an anti bullying policy designed to resolve conflict similar to the model set out in the workplace.
The Schools Anti Bullying Policy
During 2017 there was a most disturbing, steep, rise in self-harm statistics among teenage girls, according to The BBC News. We have to ask whether some of these statistics are linked to bullying and to a condition The National Bullying Helpline is recognising in the UK called Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder.
Self-harm among young people aged 10 to 19 has risen since 2001. The study, which used reliable national databases to look at trends, reported a rate of self-harm at 37 per 10,000 girls and 12.3 per 10,000 boys in 2017. There were several other notable findings, including a 68% rise in rates of self-harm among girls aged 13 to 16 years, since 2011. Some cases involved use of drugs or alcohol and social divide – finding higher rates in more deprived areas. Disturbingly, the study did not explore the reasons behind these trends. We cannot ignore the possibility that many cases of self-harm go unreported. We have to ask whether bullying and exclusion and feelings of embitterment played a role in these desperately sad cases. Teenagers and young adults fear humiliation and are often reluctant to ask for help. Are these self-harm cases a cry for help or an expression of anger.
What can we do about them?
Embittered people are often angry with the world around them as a result of something significant that has hurt them and/or impacted on their view of others around them. Adults and children suffer with embitterment and a deep routed depression. Mediation and Counselling will not work as this category of patient will struggle to empathise as the believe others around them need to change, not them.
Our research into PTED addresses an approach called ‘Wisdom Therapy’ or Coaching – and a carefully structured technique which will encourage this category of mental health patient to look at the past differently and focus more on the future. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds. It will require extensive skills and patience and much more research needs to take place. However, we are optimistic about the future.