Schools and pupils differ on bullying

Irish Examiner, 20/2/2014, Ireland 

Schools think issue dealt with but students disagree
Wide differences have emerged between how students and management in some schools say bullying and discipline are dealt with, according to the Department of Education’s chief inspector. 

Harold Hislop pointed out the anomalies that have emerged in cases where schools tell inspectors they are dealing well with the issues, but a different story is told by students. In the first three years of confidential questionnaires introduced in 2010 as part of the school inspection process, 67,000 parents and 65,000 pupils have been surveyed. 

Mr Hislop told the Oireachtas Education Committee that a very high proportion of students report feeling safe in school, often over 90%, but that is not always the case. 

“If it’s significantly lower than that, we will say to the school: ‘you may think you’re dealing with bullying well, but here’s very clear evidence that there’s a need to go back to your anti-bullying lessons and make sure children know who to talk to’,” he said. 

The chief inspector said it sometimes comes as a shock for schools which believe anti-bullying policies and their implementation are excellent, but a completely different picture emerges from the student survey data. 

Senator Marie Moloney had asked Mr Hislop and inspectorate colleagues about their role in assessing such policies in schools, saying she knows many cases where parents preferred to move a child to a different school rather than make a formal complaint about bullying. 

Assistant inspector Doreen McMorris said a finding of concern from parents, highlighted in the chief inspector’s report for 2010 to 2012, was that one-in-four parents did not know how well their children’s primary school deals with bullying. 

The report published last November said findings at primary and second-level suggest schools need to raise awareness of anti-bullying measures, strengthen communication with parents and take pupil and student voices more into account in decision-making. All schools are required to have anti-bullying procedures in line with department requirements by Easter. TDs and senators were told the parent and pupil questionnaires have been very successful, and the inspectorate is looking at how to involve students more fully in the inspection process. 

Mr Hislop said assessment emerges from inspections as the weakest area of teacher performance, but it is being given more focus in teacher training and can be improved through new self-evaluation systems for schools. Although most teachers conduct and mark standardised tests, he said they do not always address issues that arise by focusing on areas of a subject where results show pupils are weak. 

He also said that most inspections are now unannounced and, although schools and teachers did not like them at first, they create less stress when it is not known in advance. They also give inspectors a truer picture of how schools operate, allowing a better chance to identify if there are aspects of teaching or management that require follow-up.