Bullying rise in Edinburgh schools

Picture: Sean Bell
Picture: Sean Bell
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REPORTS of bullying have risen sharply within city schools, with as many as 20 incidents being reported each week.

There were 822 recorded incidents of bullying at high schools and primaries – ranging from name-calling and physical attacks to homophobic and racist abuse – during 2011/12.

Primary schools saw an increase of more than 17 per cent with 541 recorded instances – up from 462 in the previous school year. Secondary headteachers have also reported a rise in reported bullying, from 234 to 281 cases over the same period.

Education bosses claim the rise is down to the fact children feel more able to report bullying. However, politicians and charity groups have said more must be done to support youngsters – especially given the fact these figures are thought to be just the tip of the iceberg.

According to Edinburgh City Council, only around half of cases are ever reported and evidence also points to there being an increase in cyber-
bullying beyond the school gates. An estimated one in three children is targeted on-line, meaning no escape from playground taunts and abuse.

Councillor Catherine Fullerton, the city’s deputy leader for education, said the stark figures should send a message to bullies that their behaviour will not be tolerated.

She said: “Our schools have a very clear policy – bullying is unacceptable and we take all incidents very seriously. A huge amount of work has been done in schools in recent years to raise awareness of this issue.

“Pupils are now more able to recognise bullying behaviour when it occurs and know how they should report it to 
teachers.

“This has meant staff are able to respond quickly and effectively to stamp out 
unacceptable pupil behaviour before it escalates.”

It has been revealed more than half of pupils sort out bullying themselves without reporting the incident to school authorities. Appearance is cited by pupils as the most common reason for bullying.

A recent survey carried out by Children 1st on the rise of cyber-bullying showed that 50 per cent of parents asked had no parental controls set up on computers, smartphones and other home devices with internet access. The most common reason for this was that parents “didn’t think they needed to”.

Two thirds – 67 per cent – said they did not think privacy settings were necessary but 48 per cent said they felt their child was “not safe” when using such devices.

Over a quarter of respondents (28 per cent) said they wished they knew more about the devices their children use.

Emma-Jane Cross, founder of the charity BeatBullying, said many young people were now suffering in silence because of online bullying.

She said: “Bullying both on and off-line continues to be a serious problem for a huge number of teenagers and we cannot ignore its often devastating and tragic effects.”

Kezia Dugdale MSP, convener of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on children and young people, also believes more needs to be done to tackle what she branded a “worrying trend.”

She said: “Almost every schoolchild now has a smartphone or access to the internet, allowing bullying to become increasingly more hidden. Parents think that their child is safe within their bedroom but they are not. To me it’s a kind of problem that you don’t see until the damage is done.

“A concerted effort needs to taken to tackle this both within and outwith schools through peer-led support aimed at making children know just what is acceptable online behaviour.”

Elaine Chalmers, head of ChildLine in Scotland, said: “Any online bullying is offensive and demeaning and should be stamped out immediately.

“Bullying in all forms causes misery for thousands of children and is one of the main reasons children contact ChildLine. 24-hour internet access and an increased use of mobile phones means that cyber-
bullying is on the rise and young people can be abused and harassed by text, email or through social networking sites in their homes.

“Children and young people who need to talk can contact ChildLine, the UK’s free, confidential 24-hour helpline, on 0800 1111 or visit childline.org.uk.”

An NSPCC Scotland spokeswoman echoed this and said: “No child or young person should face violence, the threat of violence or bullying as part of their day-to-day life.

“Unfortunately, for many children this is a daily occurrence – whether at school, at home or in their local community. Bullying can destroy the lives of many children, who might carry the emotional damage into adulthood. Its impacts can be long-lasting and deeply affect a child’s happiness, esteem and performance at school.”

Programme offers solutions

AN acclaimed anti-bullying programme piloted successfully in the Capital is to be rolled out across Scotland.

The programme – called Roots of Empathy and introduced by Action for Children Scotland – involves babies and parents visiting classrooms across Edinburgh to help pupils understand their feelings and, more importantly, those of others.

The baby-bonding sessions have been shown to dramatically reduce bad behaviour.

Aileen Campbell, Minister for Children and Young People, said: “The research clearly shows that Roots of Empathy makes a real and positive difference to the children taking part.

“Making this programme available to all councils is a major step forward and reflects our investment in creating the best place in the world to grow up.”

‘I just wanted to kill myself’

AS a ten-year-old, glamour model Lianne Keegan suffered a daily torrent of abuse by school bullies - but they also made her determined to achieve.

The 27-year-old from Pilton said the verbal and physical torture she was subjected to over three years spurred her on to carve out a successful modelling and retail career.

But she revealed the treatment she received from pupils at the Capital’s Hailesland Primary and Wester Hailes Education Centre left her “petrified” and suicidal.

“They would call me names - they would say I had HIV and wouldn’t sit next to me,” she said.

“They would throw things at me, pull my hair, punch me, literally beat me up. They were putting glue into my hair and it got so bad I had to go to the hairdresser’s and have my hair cut into a bob.

“It seemed to be the whole class that was doing it. At one point I think I wanted to kill myself.”

Lianne revealed that, after a brief respite in her first year as a secondary school pupil at Wester Hailes Education Centre, the abuse began again.

After a serious physical assault in the centre grounds left her “black and blue”, Lianne’s mother decided to move her to Broughton High.

Now in a happy relationship with Shaun, her boyfriend of three years, Lianne said she hasn’t looked back.

“If it wasn’t for the bullies, I don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing now,” she said.

“I wanted to prove to them that they could do everything under the sun to me but it wouldn’t stop me getting on in life.”

She said she was not surprised bullying continued to blight playgrounds and classrooms across the Capital, and insisted more needed to be done to protect victims.

“In a way it’s good you have this rise in the figures for Edinburgh because it shows schools are doing things in schools and kids feel they can now go to a teacher.”

‘I saw her go from being a confident girl to being afraid’

CHILDREN’S author Cathy MacPhail, 67, ambassador for Edinburgh-based welfare charity Children 1st, said she was “sad but not surprised” by the new figures.

She revealed her grown-up daughter, Katie, endured weeks of terrifying verbal and physical attacks by gangs of pupils when she was younger and said some schools were still failing to admit how serious a problem bullying had become.

“My daughter was 12 when a group of older girls and boys at her school began picking on her,” Ms MacPhail said.

“Before it all started, she was so outgoing and really loved sport. Then all of a sudden, she stopped wanting to go out.

“A lot of her friends wouldn’t go out with her as they would get picked on as well. I saw her go from being a bouncy, confident girl to being afraid.

“I remember the first night. She said they had taken her to this bridge, put her on it so she was standing next to the edge and started shaking her legs. They said they were going to put her over.

“She was shaking and trembling when I saw her afterwards - she thought that she was going to die.”

Ms MacPhail said a series of attacks and intimidation followed, with school staff apparently unwilling to take action. Life only began to get easier when the bullies left school for good.

She said teachers had since become better at dealing with the issue but that much more needed to be done to help victims. “I still get lots of letters and e-mails from children who are saying they’re being bullied,” she said.