Can a positive school culture prevent bullying?
Following visits to 37 primary schools and 19 secondary schools, Ofsted has published its latest report on the bullying problem for young people.
Ofsted reports make interesting reading, even if they don’t always give us the solution. No Place for Bullying: How Schools Create a Positive Culture and Prevent and Tackle Bullying (June 2012) is not rocket science, but it does offer some useful observations.
What did pupils say?
Serious bullying often centred around appearance and pupils who were in some way ‘different’
Ofsted talked with pupils about:
- what they thought they should do, if they were bullied at school
- whether they had been bullied while at their current school
- how well they thought the school was dealing with bullying
- their understanding of discriminatory and derogatory language.
Of the sample of 1,060 pupils:
- 35% of primary pupils and 24% of secondary pupils thought that there were no bullies at their school
- 50% of primary pupils and 38% of secondary pupils responded that they had been picked on at some time, but weren’t being any longer
- 8% of primary and 4% of secondary pupils indicated that they were still being picked on.
Friendship issues were a common factor that pupils referred to, and serious bullying often centred around appearance and pupils who were in some way ‘different’.
What are schools doing?
The report found that schools that are most effective at tackling and preventing bullying had:
- a very positive culture
- expectations and rules clearly spelled out
- respect for individual differences
- emphasised empathy and understanding and the effect that bullying can have
- pupils themselves taking responsibility for tackling and preventing bullying
- staff modelling the desired behaviour at all times
- worked with parents/carers and the wider community
- a curriculum that provides a wide range of opportunities to develop knowledge and understanding of diversity and strategies for pupils to protect themselves from bullying
- recorded bullying incidents carefully, analysed them and taken actions where needed
- confidence that the school would take action
- well-informed governors.
Promoting a whole-school culture
Bullying is more often than not a product of the climate and culture that adults have created
The most effective schools deliver a clear message that runs through everything that they do. These schools create their own story and maintain it, keeping pupils central to the process. They ask for stakeholder opinion and act upon it, demonstrating a respect for pupils and the community.
The way in which staff model the desired behaviour is important. The use of the term ‘respect’ was used almost universally, but the report suggests that it was the schools that provided examples of what this looked like in practice, and modelled it, that were most effective. The general atmosphere within the school both reflects relationships and influences them.
Bullying is more often than not a product of the climate and culture that adults have created. The report brings out strongly the impact which the views of parents and the community can have on the attitudes of their children. What’s freely expressed at home will find itself expressed elsewhere too – at least when children think that no one is listening.
There was a significant difference between the perception of school staff in some cases and the perception of pupils. Homophobic language was frequently mentioned, with difficulties experienced in establishing the boundaries between banter and unacceptable verbal bullying.
The report recommends that staff have more training, to build confidence in responding to prejudice-based language.
The report recommends that staff have more training, to build confidence in responding to prejudice-based language
Using the curriculum
The importance of the PSHE curriculum is central. Rather than leaving the development of understanding to chance, the report reiterates the importance of systematically teaching about individual differences and diversity. Schools where pupils were systematically taught strategies to manage their own relationships and to resolve conflicts were found to be particularly effective.
The curriculum should be responsive to issues within the community and the individual needs of the school. Schools need to be prepared to engage in a dialogue with pupils and their parents about what the issues are, and adapt the curriculum accordingly. The reasons for being bullied varied between schools. What is important is that the curriculum is flexible enough to respond to this.
Organising themed weeks
Many schools supplemented the taught curriculum with, for example, anti-bullying weeks. These were most effective when they were also tailored to the school’s needs and focused on a specific aspect, for example cyber-bullying.
The week doesn’t have to be directly about bullying. Themed weeks that focus on understanding another culture, such as ‘African week’, or an aspect of behaviour, such as ‘fair play’, can be particularly successful.
The report supports combining anti-bullying and behaviour policies. The most effective practice existed where bullying was treated as part of a continuum of behaviour, rather than as an isolated issue. Policies that spelled out clearly the behaviour that wasn’t acceptable were considered to be particularly strong.
The management of transition is highlighted in the report. Pupils need to be brought into the vision of the new school, as well as the practical arrangements for finding their way around the building. Positive relationships need to be developed between younger and older pupils, and grouping arrangements across year groups appeared to be beneficial.
Recording incidents systematically
The most effective practice existed where bullying was treated as part of a continuum of behaviour, rather than as an isolated issue. Policies that spelled out clearly the behaviour that wasn’t acceptable were considered to be particularly strong
There was variable success in schools collecting, analysing and responding to information about bullying. And schools were not always good at sharing this with governors.
Where information was recorded in pupils’ individual files, this meant that no overview could be maintained of emerging trends. There were discrepancies between the ways in which members of staff recorded incidents and the criteria they used. Greater consistency and systematic analysis were needed in many of the schools.
Evaluating your school’s approach
Based on the report’s conclusions, you might ask the following questions in your own school.
- To what extent do our behaviour policy and anti-bullying policy link together?
- Is our curriculum responsive to the needs of our catchment and the pupils in our school?
- Does the physical organisation of our school support our anti-bullying approach, particularly during unstructured times, such as breaktimes and lunchtimes?
- Is staff training adequate, and do staff need more help in tackling prejudice-based language?
- Do we regularly seek pupils’ views and take action as a result?
- Do we enable our pupils to understand what bullying looks like in practice, and do we make our values explicit?
- Do we include a systematic approach to enabling pupils to help themselves and their peers, for example through learning more formal ways of resolving conflict?
- Does our code of conduct for staff link in with the rules for pupils and other guides to behaviour?
- Do we encourage vertical grouping, and pair younger and older pupils?
- Are we rigorous in our recording and analysis of trends and issues?
- How do we keep our governors informed, and how aware are they of the issues around bullying?
- Where bullying has become an issue, at what stage are parents involved?
There are no concrete solutions in this report. However, it does bring together some important factors to be aware of, and reminds us once more that tackling this thorny subject goes much deeper than merely refurbishing the school toilets.