A Report on School Bullying and the Impact on Mental Health was launched today by the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.
Twenty-eight recommendations are made in the Report, including ten key recommendations (see below). Members of the Education Committee believe that these recommendations can be implemented without delay and that they could have a transformative impact on the entire school community.
On 5 November 2020, the Joint Committee met senior academics from the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre in Dublin City University (DCU) to discuss the impact of school bullying – including cyberbullying – during the Covid-19 pandemic. This seminal meeting was held on the First United Nations International Day against Violence and Bullying at School, including Cyberbullying. The compelling oral evidence, and background research material, demonstrated clearly that school bullying and the resulting impact on mental health is a national issue of concern that warranted examination in a considered and sensitive way.
The Committee sought and received written submissions from a wide range of stakeholders. They then met with key stakeholders, including clinical psychologists and child and adolescent mental health experts; relevant unions; school patrons, parent and management bodies; the Ombudsman for Children; the Department of Education; organisations dealing with cyber safety for children and young people; and, most importantly, young people themselves.
Committee Cathaoirleach Deputy Paul Kehoe said:
“The quality of the evidence, based on comprehensive research findings and the poignant examples of the detrimental effect of bullying on individuals, was warmly welcomed by the Committee. Some young people have endured great suffering because of school bullying with short term and long-term consequences of a very serious nature.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that school bullying can affect a person for the rest of their lives. It can affect a person’s ability to lead a full and positive life as they struggle to deal with serious mental health issues and loss of self-esteem and even the belief that they can lead worthy lives. No human being should have to endure this, and immediate action must be to be taken to resolve an issue that reflects badly on the entire nation.
“The Committee also recognised that cyberbullying has increased significantly as an unintended consequence of advances in digital technology. Research shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated this insidious form of bullying. A sustainable resolution will only be found by developing an inclusive and kind culture in school communities that moves beyond intolerance of bullying to a place where positive mental health and student support is an integral part of the ethos of the school.
The Committee’s key recommendations are:
- The Department of Education’s Action Plan on Bullying and related Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post Primary need to be urgently audited and updated in line with current policies on child protection, wellbeing, and Relationships and Sexuality Education, and benchmarked against UNESCO’s recently published recommendations on tackling bullying and cyberbullying in schools.
- The Department of Education should establish a national system for the reporting of data on individual bullying cases, their causes, the steps taken to address them, and the outcomes of these interventions that are currently being collected by schools and reported to their Boards of Management.
- Anti-Bullying measures should be included as a separate section in the Department of Education Inspectorate’s Whole School Evaluations (WSE) Reports, which are published on education.ie, while separate Anti-Bullying Inspections should also be conducted on a regular basis and published to reassure parents and teaching staff that schools have robust measures in place.
- Emotional Counselling and Therapeutic Supports should be provided on-site, as needed, in all primary and post primary schools through a reconstituted and expanded National Educational Psychological and Counselling Service (NEPCS).
- An Online Safety Commissioner, with both investigative powers and an educational mandate, including the power to receive and investigate complaints from individuals, should be appointed.
- A mandatory online Cyber Bullying and Internet Safety Training Programme should be provided for all teaching staff.
- Separate Mandatory Modules on School Bullying, Wellbeing (including Developing Resilience and Emotional Intelligence), Autism and Neurodiversity, Disability, Racism and Inclusivity should be provided in all Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses, and to all primary and secondary school teachers, as part of their Continuous Professional Development (CPD).
- Middle management posts, an invaluable resource for schools in providing effective leadership to prevent bullying and tackling bullying behaviour, should be restored to previous levels and increased where there is an identified need.
- The innovative FUSE Programme developed by DCU’s Anti-Bullying Centre should be rolled out to all primary and secondary schools as a model of best practice, in liaison with the Department of Education, to ensure adequate funding and resources are provided.
- The Barnardos Friendship Group and Roots of Empathy Programmes should be rolled out as a pilot and, pending evaluation, nationally, to foster positive school cultures and enhance students’ empathy and emotional intelligence.
Deputy Kehoe said:
“The Committee genuinely believes these recommendations can be implemented without delay and lead to a transformative cultural change where not only is there zero tolerance of bullying, but schools foster a genuinely inclusive ethos.
“I have said in a previous report that young people are our future. I believe this needs to be said again here and in an emphatic way. This Committee is determined that it will play a role in making sure that all young people benefit from educational opportunities free from behaviour that impacts adversely on their mental health and causes distress, anxiety, fear and trauma that may be carried into their adult lives.
“All students should feel accepted, safe, and respected. Difference should not only be accepted but welcomed and celebrated. School communities should foster a spirit of kindness and friendship that sees positive mental health as paramount and as the foundation stone upon which all students can learn and develop to reach their full potential. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to be kind to one another and respect the fact that we are all human and everyone is different.”
Deputy Kehoe concluded:
“The Committee is committed to ensuring these recommendations are implemented as expeditiously as possible and has asked that the issues raised in this report be the subject of a debate in both Houses of the Oireachtas. I believe this is a timely and opportune request as schools return in the new academic year.”
The Committee’s Report on School Bullying and Mental Health Impact is available on the Oireachtas website.
The Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has 14 Members, nine from the Dáil and five from the Seanad. More information on its work is available on the dedicated Committee Webpage.
SOURCE: Materials provided by Oireachtas
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