My Department published new Anti-Bullying Procedures for all primary and post primary schools at the beginning of the 2013/14 school year.
The procedures are designed to give direction and guidance to school authorities and school personnel in preventing and tackling school-based bullying behaviour amongst its pupils.
All Boards of Management are required to adopt and implement an anti-bullying policy that fully complies with the requirements of these procedures. A template anti-bullying policy which must be used by all schools for this purpose is included in the procedures.
The procedures for schools outline key principles of best practice for both preventing and tackling bullying and require all schools to commit to these principles in their anti-bullying policy. In particular, they emphasise that a cornerstone in the prevention of bullying is a positive school culture and climate. In that regard, the procedures set out the need for schools to encourage and strengthen open dialogue between all school staff and pupils and to ensure that they provide appropriate opportunities for pupils to raise their concerns in an environment that is comfortable for the pupil. Under the procedures, the Board of Management must also ensure that the school’s anti-bullying policy is regularly highlighted and promoted on a school wide basis with particular attention given to incoming pupils and their parents.
The Board of Management must ensure that the school has clear procedures for the formal noting and reporting of bullying behaviour and these must be documented in the schools’ anti-bullying policy. A pupil or parent may bring a bullying concern to any teacher in the school. Individual teachers must take appropriate measures regarding reports of bullying behaviour in accordance with the school’s anti-bullying policy.
It is not a requirement that a teacher must witness an act of bullying before the school can determine bullying to have occurred. In the procedures the member of teaching staff who has responsibility for investigating and dealing with bullying is referred to as the “relevant teacher”. If it is established by the relevant teacher that bullying has occurred, the relevant teacher must keep appropriate written records which will assist his or her efforts to resolve the issues. All reports including anonymous reports of bullying must be investigated and dealt with by the relevant teacher. Non-teaching staff such as secretaries, special needs assistants (SNAs), bus escorts, caretakers and cleaners must be encouraged to report any incidents of bullying behaviour witnessed by them, or mentioned to them, to the relevant teacher.
The procedures include important new oversight arrangements that involve the school principal reporting regularly to the Board of Management and a requirement for the Board to undertake an annual review of the school's anti - bullying policy and its implementation. Confirmation that the annual review has been completed must be provided to the Parents' Association and published on the school website. In addition, my Department’s Inspectorate, as part of its inspection work, is placing a stronger focus on the actions schools take to create a positive school culture and to prevent and tackle bullying.