Anti-Bullying Policy – a journey

Everyone’s favourite thing I know but developing an anti-bullying policy is a crucial step for us all – it is vital if we want to create environments where bullying cannot thrive. Environments where bullying does not thrive are known for the quality of the relationships on show, they are known for being inclusive and safe and  they listen. This does not happen by accident, there will be effective leaders in these places, valued staff, children and young people. There will be shared aims and an understanding of what it means to go there – to be a part of it.

Part of what builds a shared understanding and shared vision is that it is written down and explained, it is shared and understood. It sets the boundaries, ethical and professional, for how people are expected to relate to each other and allows us to hold each other accountable. Places where the tone and mood is set by one powerful individual can be effective but a top down approach which relies on unwritten rules, presents challenges for new faces as well as for those who may not be entirely in step.

I like to explain culture as ‘the way things are done here’.  I want my children to go to a school where they value difference, where they care about the pupils, where they role model good relationships and listen to the pupils. Not a culture based on fear or a domineering Head or a Unit Manager and their acolytes. I have worked in places like this and one of the only ways I could hold colleagues appointable and start to influence change was to include and reference what polices we were supposed to be operating within.
I know many roll their eyes at the thought of policy and, given some of what we have to read and assimilate at times, it’s an understandable response. When we are looking at responding to bullying and, crucially, creating an environment where bullying cannot thrive, we need a written commitment to how we should expect people to behave.

In places where the culture is ‘Well, we all know how to behave and we all know what bullying is’ I ask, ‘How do you know and are you sure everyone thinks the same way?’ In the absence of a written statement that states ‘this is what we mean by bullying here is how you should be treated’ people remain free to interpret behaviour themselves and decide if they feel a response is warranted.
We know from experience that this is way too subjective and people’s own values and prejudices influence this hugely. If you think bullying is ok and didn’t do you any harm, you won’t respond effectively, if you think being gay is wrong, you can’t actually respond effectively to homophobia. If you think online bullying is nothing to do with you then you won’t be able to help anyone deal with it when it is happening to them.  This is why we need  policies, they are not theanswer but they are a part of the answer.

Based on the work we have been doing at respectme for the last nine years, around developing and influencing policy, we have found effective ways to ensure policies are better understood; they are co-produced with stakeholders, especially with children and young people.There is no legal requirement in Scotland for schools to have an anti-bullying policy, but it is  good practice and those who regulate and inspect you will expect to see one.

But we know that employing a ‘scatter gun’ approach to policy development does not work, by this I mean working with any one school at a time. There is no evidence to suggest this is an effective way to improve practice across the country, instead we get very patchy and inconsistent anti-bullying practice.  At respectme we help develop policies at an organisational level, these are then cascaded locally to ensure a more consistent picture and a greater reach.

In Scotland we have a National Approach to Anti-Bullying, which sets out the Government’s expectations. A revised version of this will be launched  this year and it will be called ‘Respect for All’. respectme has influenced this a great deal and our experience of developing and implementing policy has been central to this. I will describe the rationale for the process first rather than just what you need to put in a policy.

Our approach is to support organisations and local authorities to develop anti-bullying polices that are in step with the National Approach. This means they are underpinned by the same values of fairness, inclusion and equality, and there is a consistent definition of bullying and consistent guidance on what to do when bullying happens. It means that your local authority, school and sports club should have the same definition and use the same language when talking about and when you are challenging bullying.

The 2011 evaluation of respectme highlighted that adults and young people having a shared language and understanding on bullying was critical to success and in creating environments where bullying cannot thrive. respectme  helps an organisation or a local authority to develop a strategic overarching anti-bullying policy that is cascaded to each individual service, club or school within it.

We advise on and support a process of collaboration; getting the views of children and young people, parents, adult’s, staff and volunteers. This way the policy does not just appear out of the blue and it can be launched in the knowledge that the right people were asked and included.

Experience has also shown that the most effective way to integrate this into local practice, the most effective way to ensure individual schools, clubs or service have a good and well understood policy, is for them to take the organisational one and develop their own one locally.

This policy will be underpinned by the same values, definition and crucially it will mirror the process of collaborating with children and young people, parents and staff. This should lead to a shorter local policy that starts by referencing the organisational or local authority policy. This allows schools to say, ‘Glasgow City Council states.. and at Bellahouston Academy we do this…’ or ‘Aberdeen City Council sates… and at St Mary’s our pupil council said … about bullying.’ This is taking national policy and making it relevant locally. If every school just put a copy of the local authority policy on the shelf, there would be no ownership of it, no journey embarked upon where local issues and local parents got involved and this approach is far less likely to be successful.

This is not about doubling the workload but ensuring a very robust policy framework is in place to help those being bullied and to support those who are dealing with it. So in Scotland we would expect to see an individual school, service or club with an anti-bullying policy that is developed to reflect the organisational or local authority one. respectme will help ensure the local authority or organisational policy reflects the National Approach.

This means that in practice an individual badminton club, primary school or football club can have a policy that shares the values and principles of the organisation they are part of or that governs them. That organisation should have a policy that reflects the National Approach. This consistent language and framework should benefit children and young people, their parents and cares and those who work with them. Everyone gets the same message.

So when a parent asks for the schools policy, they should get the individual school policy but also see the local authority one, as this will give greater detail on what they can expect and what routes to take. It isn’t one or the other, best practice is both. If you are a local club not part of an organisation, you governing body, such a Sport Scotland will have a policy to reference, if you are even more local and not part of this set up, you should still use the National Approach as a guide for your policy – this will ensure it is in step with the policies the same children and young people will experience at school or other places.

All of this is designed to ensure that policy is more consistent at every level, local, organisational and strategic.

There are some things you need to put in you policy whether you are an organisation, a youth club  or a school and one of these is a commitment to challenging prejudice-based bullying. Every single policy must be explicit about the Equality Act 2010 and each of the protected characteristics.  This has been covered in other blogs on this site. We know from the research we did for the EHRC that where policies explicitly mention things like homophobia biphobia and transphobia, racism, gender-based prejudice etc.  staff feel more confident to respond to this type of behaviour when they see it. The policy gives them permission to challenge and discuss these issues and crucially, raises an expectation that they will challenge prejudice-based bullying.

There was also evidence to suggest that establishments where their policy does not mention specific types of prejudice-based bullying ,  practice is not as good and both staff and children and young people felt less confidence about dealing with this kind of bullying.

Policy is a journey, a values based journey to share understanding of what bullying is and what is expected of everyone involved what behaviour you can expect and how you can expect people to respond. It gives us a framework for anti-bullying practice and something we can and should be held accountable to.

So don’t be put off, get it right, make it inclusive and that in iself is a big part of developing environments where bullying cannot thrive, why would we not do that?

For more information on what goes in your policy, visits www.respectme.org.uk

This is designed to illustrate the process and context for anti-bullying policies at every level and how we can ensure consistency in overarching values and principles from a Government level to an individual school or youth club level.

 

Brian

 
 

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