Dáil Éireann - Volume 421 - 25 June, 1992

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - School Bullying.

2. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Education if his attention has been drawn to the increasing incidence of bullying in schools; if he will outline the measures, if any, he proposes to take to deal with the problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

50. Mr. S. Barrett asked the Minister for Education if he will outline the steps he intends to take to deal with the increasing problem of bullying in schools; if there is any special training available to teachers to deal with this problem; and if he will provide advice for parents, teachers and students on how to deal with the problem.

Mr. S. Brennan: I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 50 together.

My Department issued a circular to the authorities of primary and post-primary schools containing guidelines towards a positive policy for school behaviour and discipline for primary and post-primary schools.

School authorities were reminded in that circular that the managerial authority of each school is responsible for ensuring that a fair and effective code of behaviour, encompassing rules, sanctions and procedures, is drawn up and applied in the school.

[1429] It is a matter for school management to ensure that the behaviour of pupils in their care is monitored and they should be sensitive to any incidents of bullying.

Parents should make known to school management the existence of cases of bullying so that the school management can investigate them and take the necessary steps to eradicate them or apply sanctions to the culprits.

My Department are anxious to ensure that school management authorities fully accept their responsibilities in his area and will bring to the attention of the relevant school management authority any complaint received with a view to having appropriate action taken by the school management to deal with the matter.

I have sanctioned the secondment of ten teachers during the 1992-93 school year to allow for the national implementation of the child abuse prevention programme. These teachers, in conjunction with social workers from the health boards, will organise and provide training for all teachers who have not already received such training.

The programme was specifically designed for use in primary schools and covers all forms of child abuse including bullying. Its aim is to prevent child abuse by equipping parents and teachers with the knowledge and skills necessary to protect the children in their care. Children are then taught safety skills in the normal classroom context and these skills are reinforced through discussion with their parents.

I am satisfied that this programme will prove very beneficial to teachers in this difficult area.

In the pre-service training of teachers the subject of bullying and how to deal with it is addressed as part of the primary teacher training course and in the courses leading to the Higher Diploma in Education.

Mr. J. Higgins: Does the Minister not accept that there is a major crisis, that there is an absolute dread on the part of hundreds of children, particularly at primary level, of fellow pupil tyranny, [1430] that some children are almost suicidal, that there is a massive cult of abuse and that there is an urgent need to establish a helpline similar to the childline service, in order to establish the degree of the problem?

Mr. S. Brennan: There is not a crisis, but I am concerned about increasing reports of bullying at schools. I am sure the Deputy also saw a recent very distressing UK case which received much publicity. That is the type of thing we want to try to avoid. I will consider the Deputy's helpline suggestion to see whether the logistics of that are practical. We have introduced the “stay safe” programme in schools and there are three teams operating at the moment in the Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare areas. I have now agreed to increase the number of teachers involved in that from three to 13 and while it is not enough, it will help to improve the situation. The Deputy knows my determination to make sure that each board of management run their own show. In the case of bullying I will be reminding boards of management that they must take effective action on a school by school basis. I share the Deputy's concern about the increasing incidences of bullying. We have taken some action and I will keep an eye on it.

Mr. J. Higgins: Does the Minister see any role for the Garda Síochána, particularly in relation to liaison in countering this problem?

Mr. S. Brennan: The Garda are available on a school by school basis for consultation and to give any advice required by the boards of management.