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29 January, 2013 - Ministers Quinn and Fitzgerald launch Action Plan on Bullying

A new Action Plan on Bullying is being launched today by the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D. and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald T.D.   

The Plan sets out twelve actions to help prevent and tackle bullying in primary and second level schools. These proposed actions build on the excellent work that is already underway in many schools to prevent and tackle bullying.

The report makes it clear that preventing and tackling bullying requires support from parents and wider society and is not a problem schools can solve alone.

At the launch of the Action Plan in Dublin, Minister Quinn said he broadly accepted the proposed actions in the report and has requested his officials to ensure that work on implementation begins immediately in consultation with teachers, parents and management bodies at first and second-level.

He has ring-fenced €500,000 to support the implementation of the Action Plan on Bullying in 2013. 

Among the twelve actions recommended by the working group are proposals to:

  • Support a media campaign focused on cyber bullying specifically targeted at young people as part of Safer Internet Day 2013;
  • Establish a new national anti-bullying website;
  • Begin development immediately of new national anti-bullying procedures for all schools. These will include an anti-bullying policy template and a template for recording incidents of bullying in schools.  These should be in place by the start of the next school year;
  • Devise a co-ordinated plan of training for parents and for school boards of management;
  • Provide Department of Education and Skills support for the Stand Up! Awareness Week Against Homophobic Bullying organised by BeLonG To Youth Services;
  • Review current Teacher Education Support Service provision to identify what training and Continuous Professional Development teachers may need to help them effectively tackle bullying;

As well as implementing the Action Plan, Minister Quinn announced that the Department of Education & Skills will be supporting a revision of the Stay Safe Programme for primary schools. The revised programme will address new forms of risk, including cyber bullying, and incorporate new research and best practice in the area of safeguarding children as well as changes and developments in the educational context in terms of policies, provision and curriculum. 

The Action Plan on Bullying contains a number of other recommendations for further consideration by Ministers, agencies and other bodies.  These include:

  • A proposal to establish an Anti-Bullying Implementation Group;
  • The Department of Education and Skills to engage with book publishers who produce materials for schools to address the issue of stereotyping;
  • Development of a new National Framework for Anti-Bullying which would set out the Government’s commitment to preventing and tackling bullying for children and young people from early childhood through to adulthood;
  • Research into how other countries investigate procedures in other jurisdictions to see if these could be used to improve the Irish system;
  • Encourage social media and telecommunications companies and internet service providers to continue to work with State Agencies, NGOs, parents and young people to raise awareness of cyber bullying and how it can be dealt with.

The Action Plan follows the Anti-Bullying Forum jointly held  by Ministers Quinn and Fitzgerald in May 2012. As part of that Forum Minister Quinn sought submissions from interested parties and established a working group to prepare an action plan on preventing and tackling bullying in schools.

At the launch of the Action Plan, Minister Quinn said, “Bullying can have a devastating effect on our children and young people that can sometimes end in tragedy.  That is why this Action Plan is so important.  I broadly accept the proposed actions and now want to see implementation begin immediately, alongside other related initiatives, including the new Well-Being in Post-Primary Schools: Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention (2013) which I will launch later this week.”

Minister Fitzgerald said, “Today is a significant step in the Government’s absolute commitment to address the serious impact which bullying continues to have on our children. This Action Plan on Bullying is the first of its kind in Ireland and highlights the critical role of schools in dealing with bullying. Bullying is not limited to classrooms, so we must have a broader approach. That means making sure that wherever young people are, they are protected by strong anti-bullying guidelines and strong practice.  

“Bullying must be named and it must and will be challenged, and when it expresses itself in newer forms, it must and will be challenged there, too.”

The Plan is available to download at www.education.ie

ENDS

Notes for Editors

The twelve actions proposed by the working group in the Action Plan on Bullying are:

  • Immediately begin development of new national anti-bullying procedures for primary and post-primary schools to include an anti-bullying policy template and a template for recording incidents of bullying in schools.  The working group have suggested that these new procedures be developed in consultation with the Education Partners and be ready by September 2013.  These would replace the existing 1993 guidelines and 2006 policy template issued by the Department of Education and Skills;
  • A review of Teacher Education Support Service provision  to identify training needs and to support the provision of an appropriate Continuous Professional Development (CPD) response;
  • Coordinated training and resource development for boards of management and parents;
  • Existing models for evaluating SPHE and for whole school evaluations (WSEs) should be adapted by amending questionnaires and by other means to include more evidence gathering concerning the effectiveness of the school’s actions to create a positive school culture and to prevent and tackle bullying;
  • A thematic Evaluation of Bullying in Schools to be carried out by the Schools Inspectorate;
  • As part of School Self Evaluation, schools should be supported in self-evaluating their effectiveness in creating a positive school culture and in preventing and tackling bullying;
  • Establishment of a new national anti-bullying website;
  • Department of Education and Skills to support the BeLong To Stand Up Awareness Week Against Homophobic Bullying;
  • Support for a media campaign focused on cyber bullying and specifically targeted at young people as part of Safer Internet Day 2013;
  • Research on effective supports for children with special educational needs to be conducted by the National Disability Authority;
  • Research on prevalence and impact of bullying linked to social media on the mental health and suicidal behaviour among young people to be facilitated by the National Suicide Prevention Office;
  • Awareness raising measures, including guidelines on all types and forms of bullying, for policy makers and other staff in state agencies who work in the schools sector.

The working group also outlines a number of recommendations for further consideration:

  • The establishment of an Anti-Bullying Implementation Group;
  • A review of protocols between state agencies providing services to schools for the sharing of information about schools and the children and young people in those schools;
  • The inclusion of a reference to bullying in the Criteria and Guidelines for Programme Providers which set out the mandatory elements to be contained in programmes of Initial Teacher Education and the learning outcomes;
  • The DES, NCCA and other bodies involved in curriculum development and implementation should consider the findings and recommendations particularly in the context of the development of new curricula;
  • Consideration should be given to placing a requirement on schools to provide SPHE at senior cycle;
  • DES to engage with book publishers who produce materials for schools in relation to stereotyping;
  • Development of a new National Framework for Anti-Bullying which would set out the Government’s commitment to preventing and tackling bullying for children and young people from early childhood through to adulthood;
  • Research into investigative procedures in other jurisdictions and development of proposals for change to the Irish system if real value can be added;
  • Further research, monitoring and evaluation on bullying issues including monitoring and evaluation of initiatives in schools and other sectors in order to support the dissemination of good practice and provide evidence for further policy development and decision making;
  • It is recommended that more detailed guidance should be provided by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs for schools and others as to what constitutes “serious bullying” under Children First and when referrals to the HSE should be made;
  • Within the context of the findings and recommendations in the action plan, consideration could be given to reviewing Principle 9 in the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines which relates to Children and specifically consider adding a reference to the handling of media stories relating to bullying and suicide;
  • The group recommends that schools should continue to strengthen collaboration and interaction with youth services and promote the active participation by pupils in youth focused services within their local communities;
  • The group strongly encourages youth services, groups and organisations to develop and implement anti-bullying policies in the context of their work with young people and to avail of the range of training and supports available through the NYCI, BeLonGTo Youth Services and other national youth organisations in this regard.
  • The working group acknowledges the intention of the GAA to roll out a series of workshops for clubs entitled GAA Tackling Bullying from March 2013.  The working group recommends that GAA clubs, along with other sporting organisations, work with schools to ensure a shared understanding of bullying in our communities, along with shared approaches to tackling bullying.
  • It is clear that social media and telecommunications companies and internet service providers have an important role to play in developing measures to prevent cyber bullying and to provide reporting mechanisms for those affected by cyber bullying.   The working group encourages industry to continue to work with Irish State agencies and services, NGOs, parents and young people to raise awareness of cyber bullying and how it can be dealt with.

Anti-Bullying Working Group

The Anti-Bullying Working Group was tasked with developing a plan to identify the priorities that need to be addressed to combat bullying in schools.  In accordance with the Programme for Government, the group was specifically tasked to “identify priority actions that can encourage schools to develop anti bullying policies and in particular strategies to combat homophobic bullying to support students”

The Anti-Bullying Working Group considered 68 submissions and consultation with government departments and agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academics and researchers, colleagues from England and Scotland and individuals who had experience of bullying.   The Working Group also considered national and international literature on the topic including research on approaches and interventions that have been tried over recent decades.  The impact of bullying and the very serious consequences for individuals and families was also considered.

The Working Group was also conscious of the need to hear what children and young people had to say about bullying and how it impacts on their lives.  The Ombudsman for Children’s Report which was produced during the course of the work of the Group was very helpful as were the various recent surveys and reports which consulted young people. 

While the Working Group’s terms of reference specifically related to bullying in schools, we recognise that here is potential for bullying wherever children, young people and adults gather.  We were also crucially aware of the role of parents and the wider community in creating a climate that does not tolerate or foster bullying and in helping young people to build resilience.    The group have highlighted the role of parents and the wider community in the report and have made a number of recommendations for consideration which go further than the school environment.

Stay Safe Programme

The Stay Safe programme was introduced to primary schools in 1991 with the aim of providing a comprehensive school-based child protection programme, which focused on (a) providing teachers and parents with the knowledge, skills and understanding necessary to help protect children in their care, and (b) equipping children with practical knowledge and skills to keep safe and seek help from a trusted adult about any worries they might have. While these same aims remain relevant, the changing risks that children face require changes in the Stay Safe programme to ensure its continued relevance and efficacy.