Who Cares About Education? ... going in the wrong direction
Bullying: a practical guide to coping for schools
Michele Elliott 1992
182pp., £11.95. ISBN 0 58208024 X
Review by Derek Gillard
© copyright Derek Gillard 1994
Considering that bullying seems always to have been a feature of British society and still is, from the government downwards, it is quite remarkable that, apart from the very occasional study such as Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's Schooldays, so little was written about it and so little research undertaken for so long. (Or, at least, that so little notice was taken of what was written).
This situation began to change about ten years ago, when evidence from other parts of the world, notably Norway, encouraged a number of educationists and others to begin taking the problem seriously here. In the past few years important research on the extent, nature, causes and effects of bullying has been done by Peter Smith at Sheffield University and others, and a plethora of books, newspaper articles and papers on the subject has been published. Bullying has been a theme in a number of recent children's novels. Media interest has been raised by a number of cases where pupils have committed suicide apparently as a result of being persistently bullied and a number of organisations have sprung up to try to help the victims of bullying, notably the Anti-Bullying Campaign and Kidscape.
Kidscape was founded by Michele Elliott, an American teacher working in London, and seeks to offer children support in cases of bullying and physical and sexual abuse. It publishes a range of books and papers, some for adults, some for the children themselves.
Michele Elliott has drawn together papers from a number of respected authorities on the subject and produced an invaluable book.
Contributors include Rex Stainton Rogers, whose opening chapter Now you see it, now you don't explores the social context of bullying and suggests that 'We will need to clean up our act in terms of the adult-adult and adult-child dealings we place before the young, for that is a precondition of altering the cultural resources the young themselves draw upon to construct their own dealings with each other.'
This theme is taken up by Eric Jones, deputy head of an inner-city comprehensive school, in his chapter on Practical considerations in dealing with bullying in the secondary school. 'Many of these parents and children have been bullied already, by the society in which they find themselves, by the demands made of them, and the restrictions placed upon them ... There is a lot of bullying going on by officials enforcing regulations, by the comfortably-off towards the hard-up, by those in employment towards those who seek to work, by the literate towards those who find it hard to learn, and by whites who were born in Britain towards young blacks who were also born in Britain.' He goes on to discuss a definition of bullying and outlines some practical strategies.
Linda Frost surveys the problem from a primary perspective. She suggests, among other things, that the words 'just' and 'only' should be excluded from discussions of bullying incidents: 'I was just playing with her ... I only tapped his ear with my foot'. These phrases will strike a chord with many teachers.
Valerie Besag contributes chapters on The playground, in which she suggests that we need to recognise 'the opportunity for young people to develop socially, and to learn from each other ... This being so, it is essential to ensure the highest quality of supervision, support and guidance, by qualified and committed staff, is available to them at these times', and Parents and teachers working together, in which she asserts that 'It is every child's democratic right to attend school in safety'.
Michele Elliott herself provides three chapters: Bullies, victims, signs, solutions, in which she provides a useful list of tell-tale signs of bullying and suggests that there are two types of bully - the 'spoilt brat' who is completely selfish and hits out if anyone gets in his way, and the 'victim of some sort of abuse or neglect. He had been made to feel inadequate, stupid and humiliated'.
In her chapter on Bully Courts, she rehearses some of the arguments for and against and again provides helpful advice.
In the final chapter, A whole school approach to bullying, Michele Elliott summarises the steps a school should take in agreeing a policy on bullying. She deals with the thorny problem of continuing to implement the policy once it has been written and ends with some advice on breaking up bully gangs. The chapter includes a specimen questionnaire, letter to parents and ideas for personal and social education. This one chapter alone makes it worth buying the book.
The book is readable, informative and comprehensive. It is full of both sound theory and good practical advice and I hope it will find its way into staff rooms everywhere and be read!