I am acutely aware of the issue of bullying in schools and my Department has in place a multi-faceted strategy to tackle the issue. The education of students in both primary and post-primary schools on anti-bullying behaviour is a central part of the SPHE curriculum. SPHE is now a compulsory subject both at primary level and in the junior cycle of post-primary schools.
The SPHE curriculum provides for the development of personal and social skills including self-awareness, respect for others, self-esteem and communication skills, all of which are important elements in addressing the issue of bullying. In primary education, the issue of bullying is addressed in the SPHE curriculum in the strand "Myself and Others" from infant classes onwards. In second-level education, the issue of bullying is addressed from first year onwards in the SPHE curriculum at junior cycle, in the module on "Belonging and Integrating".
Each school is required to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour, within the framework of an overall school code of behaviour and discipline. Such a code, properly devised and implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools. Recently, when I addressed the annual conference of the Irish Primary Principals Network, I asked school principals to ensure that effective policies are in place in their schools and that bullying is not tolerated in any way, shape or form.
My Department, in its guidelines on countering bullying behaviour in schools, has provided a framework within which individual school management authorities may meet their responsibilities for implementing effective school-based policies to counter bullying. 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 the school. All forms of bullying including mobile phone and Internet bullying should be covered within a school's general policy on discipline. My Department will keep these guidelines under review with a view to updating them where necessary.