Under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, all 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 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, within the framework of the school's overall school code of behaviour, which includes specific measures to deal with bullying 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.
In terms of other training I am very aware of the importance of appropriate teacher training and support in this and other aspects of teachers' day to day work with children. In this regard, initial teacher education plays a huge role in training our teachers and ensuring that they are aware of the developmental and emotional needs of their students. As part of their lifelong journey, teachers engage in ongoing professional development (CPD) and this will become a statutory requirement in the near future. CPD helps to ensure that teachers are aware of current research and best practice in working with young people. In the area of anti-bullying, the Deputy will be aware that my Department currently funds the Social Personal & Health Education (SPHE) Support Service which provides support for post primary schools including training courses on positive strategies for managing bullying issues. Schools are also supported in the review of their anti-bullying policies and practices.
At primary level, my Department's support services provide ongoing training and support to teachers and principals in the implementation of SPHE and the Stay Safe Programme, which includes a specific module on bullying.
In addition to these support services, individual schools have autonomy to determine whether they wish to supplement or support the school's work in the area of anti-bullying with other external resources/materials as appropriate.
As the Deputy knows, I am very aware of the need to tackle bullying and it was for that reason that an Anti-Bullying Forum was held in May this year.
As a follow on to that Forum, I invited the stakeholders and any other interested parties to submit their views on this important topic to my Department by 29th June 2012. I understand that the Anti-Bullying Campaign has made a submission as have many other interested parties.
I have also established a working group to address the issue of tackling bullying in schools, including cyber-bullying. During the course of its work, the working group will be considering the outcomes from the Anti-Bullying Forum together with the submissions received. Over the last few months, the working group has been consulting with a range of stakeholders and with counterparts in Scotland and the UK. The Group is working on an action plan recommending further measures that can be taken to effectively tackle bullying in schools. The Group expects to complete its work by the end of the year.