Andy Wightman: Private schools need to get in step over bullying
Bullying has probably always been a feature of school life over the years but with renewed attention on children's welfare and human rights, renewed efforts are being made to eradicate this despicable offence. In 2007, the Scottish Government established Respectme, Scotland's anti-bullying service which is delivered by the Scottish Association of Mental Health in partnership with LGBT Youth Scotland.
Research conducted in 2015 found that 30 per cent of children experienced some form of bullying in the 2013-14 school year.
Online bullying is also increasing and is particularly insidious as it can take place easily, anonymously and at any time.
A number of particularly serious bullying incidents in Edinburgh’s private schools were drawn to my attention by a constituent earlier this year and, although there is nothing to suggest they are part of any wider pattern, I decided to undertake some investigation.
The Scottish Government’s guidance on anti-bullying was issued in 2010 and is currently being refreshed. It recognises that recording and monitoring bullying incidents is essential. All schools run by Edinburgh City Council record incidents of bullying and discrimination and provide annual returns. This is good news.
But the guidance does not apply to private schools and they provide no information or returns to the council on the prevalence of bullying. So I asked them myself what policies they have in place and how many incidents of bullying are recorded each year. Of the ten schools approached, six replied with information.
Four of the six maintain records of bullying incidents, though only one was willing to provide any data. One school had conducted detailed research on where bullying happens and it maintains detailed records of incidents. Its approach is commendable but practice across the sector is highly variable. One school, for example claimed to have no problems with bullying and the school responsible for one constituent’s complaint appears to have a poor record of dealing with bullying.
With around a quarter of students attending private schools in Edinburgh, it is time for a more thorough and consistent approach to bullying across all institutions.
Bullying is a violation of the human rights of the child and all children deserve protection against this abusive and damaging behaviour. But they cannot be confident of this protection if the procedures in place are inconsistent or ineffective and it’s not acceptable that so many children should be subject to such variable approaches to the enforcement of their rights
New national guidance is currently being prepared by the Scottish Government and this is welcome. Too often, bullying has been swept under the carpet in schools. In the private sector in particular, there is too often a fear of the negative publicity that it might attract in a competitive market for fees.
For the sake of young people and their rights, it is time for all schools to be required to adopt a city-wide policy on anti-bullying that includes a robust reporting and monitoring regime to eradicate this intolerable abuse.
Andy Wightman is a Scottish Green MSP for Lothian region