Under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, all of our schools are required to have in place a Code of Behaviour and this code must be drawn up in accordance with the guidelines of the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB). The NEWB guidelines were issued to schools in 2008 and make it clear that each school must have policies to prevent or address bullying and harassment and that schools must make clear in their code of behaviour that bullying is unacceptable.
The guidelines further state that as well as making explicit that bullying is prohibited in the school, and having an anti-bullying policy, the code of behaviour should indicate what action the school will take in relation to alleged breaches of the school's bullying policy.
Every school therefore must have in place, a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour, within the framework of the school's overall school code of behaviour. Such a code, developed through consultation with the whole school community and properly implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools.
My Department has also issued Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour as an aid to schools in devising measures to prevent and deal with instances of bullying behaviour. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of school management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of their school.
As a further aid to post primary schools, my Department published a template that can be used by post-primary schools in developing an anti-bullying policy. The anti-bullying policy template is based primarily on the key document Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour. However, it also takes account of more recent legislative and regulatory changes, and reference is made to issues of contemporary concern such as the need to tackle text bullying, cyber-bullying and homophobic bullying.
Responsibility for tackling bullying falls to the level of the individual school, as it is at local level that an effective anti-bullying climate must be established and at that level that actions should be taken to address allegations of bullying.
There is no requirement for local school authorities to report incidents or allegations of bullying to my Department. My Department does receive a number of complaints and queries from parents regarding matters such as bullying, involving schools. It important to highlight that in many of these instances, parents are seeking guidance from the Department on how to resolve an issue or an alleged incident within a school. In dealing with complaints the Department's role is to provide advice to parents and students on the operation of schools' complaints procedures and to clarify for parents and pupils how grievances and complaints against schools can be progressed.
When a Whole School Evaluation (WSE) is conducted by my Department's Inspectorate, the code of behaviour, including its anti-bullying policy is reviewed by the inspection team to check that it is in line with the Department's guidelines. Inspectors normally meet with the principal, the board, post-holders, year heads, class teachers, programme co-ordinators, the pastoral care team, representatives of the students and parents. During these meetings there is a particular emphasis on the quality of student care and support. The inspectors' evaluation is also informed by observations in classroom settings and throughout the school. Where there are weaknesses in a school's policy or implementation of policies clear recommendations for improvement are made and are included in the published report of the inspection.
Revised procedures for WSE in primary schools have recently been put in place. A new element of the revised WSE process involves the issuing of questionnaires directly to pupils and parents. Children and parents will be asked to respond to questions about how the school deals with bullying, discipline in the school and whether or not the school provides a safe environment for children. This enhanced engagement with parents and pupils through questionnaires aims to further support all schools to implement effective measures to counter bullying. The education of students in both primary and post-primary schools in relation to anti-bullying behaviour is part of the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum. SPHE is now a compulsory subject both at primary level and in the junior cycle of post-primary schools.
Since 2001, national professional development support services have provided ongoing support to schools in planning policies on child protection and the code of behaviour and in supporting teachers and principals in the implementation of SPHE. In addition, training on The Stay Safe Programme is offered on an ongoing basis to primary schools.
Other measures in place include the Webwise Internet Safety Initiative, the EU Safer Internet Programme campaign and the establishment of the National Behaviour Support Service (NBSS) which is currently working with over 70 Post Primary Schools to promote and support positive student behaviour.
As the ranges of measures in place demonstrate, my Department is strongly committed to ensuring that schools tackle bullying in all of its forms.