Lydia Bracken is an advocacy volunteer with the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. She is originally from Ballinadee and is currently undertaking a PhD in children’s rights in University College Cork.
West Cork is home to some of the finest schools in the country. Our students go on to win prestigious awards and much of this success stems from the outstanding level of education which they have received. This education has allowed us to proudly maintain our mantel of an isle of saints and scholars. For some students, however, school does not provide a tranquil escape into education. Unfortunately, and despite the best efforts of schools, the educational setting remains a breeding ground for bullying behaviour. This is not a new phenomenon but rather one which has occurred for generations. The main difference nowadays is that the type of bullying experienced by children has expanded. Cyberbullying is becoming more and more prevalent. As such, although several years ago, a child experiencing bullying would be able to escape this and find respite at home and during school holidays, this is no longer the case. Internet access means that young people can experience bullying 24 hours a day. Sadly, many children are reluctant to report instances of bullying. As a result, there is often a discord between the amount of bullying experienced by children and the amount which is reported to teachers and other adults
The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) launched its Anti-Bullying Shield Campaign in March 2012 to protect children from bullying. This campaign has many different aspects which are designed to address the complex issue of bullying and to ensure that the whole community has a role in dealing with it. One aspect of the campaign is the ISPCC’s ‘Anti-Bullying Toolkit’. This is a self-assessment tool for schools and clubs to help them to identify how effective they are in dealing with and reducing the instances of bullying within the school or club and community. The toolkit consists of 10 statements, based on Irish and international research, relating to the management of bullying. Each statement is followed by a series of questions which allow the reader to assess where they are as an institution in relation to this best practice. The toolkit questions encourage the participants to reflect on their approach to bullying and to identify the areas where they are strong and those which require more attention.
The toolkit allows schools and clubs to properly assess the strengths and weaknesses of their anti-bullying policies and in meeting each statement, the body can create a safer, more bully-proof environment. I would encourage all schools (whether primary or secondary) and clubs to adopt the toolkit for this reason. The toolkit can be downloaded from the ISPCC website (www.ispcc.ie) free of charge and it only takes two hours to carry out. Those two hours can yield fantastic results in terms of lowering the instances of bullying and creating an anti-bullying culture within the community and so I would encourage as many schools and clubs, youth groups and other organisations as possible to adopt this initiative.
In addition, the ISPCC has launched its Shield Flag Award. This Award is given to schools and clubs in recognition of their efforts to combat bullying. It stands as an outward symbol to the community that the school or club is one which has made great efforts to tackle bullying and that such behaviour will not be tolerated. It shows the community that the school/club is proactive in reducing instances of bullying. In order to become eligible for the Award, the school/club must:
1. Complete the Anti-Bullying Toolkit and undertake any additional follow up work,
2. Appoint a lead person/co-ordinator who would have overall responsibility within the school/club for all anti-bullying measures and activities,
3. Hold an anti-bullying ‘Awareness Week’ or ‘Friendship Week’ at least once a year,
4. Install the ‘Stand Up’ Bullying Report Tool on the school/club website / Facebook page, and promote this facility to the community, and
5. Have to have an up to date Anti-Bullying Policy in line with Department of Education Procedures.
The ‘Stand Up’ Bullying Reporting Tool is an online reporting tool which allows a student or concerned community member to make a report to the relevant person(s) within the school/club of a bullying incident they have witnessed or indeed a bullying experience they have themselves experienced. These reports may be submitted anonymously or otherwise. As such, this tool offers young people another avenue to have their voices heard and it is designed to encourage young people to report instances of bullying in circumstances where they may otherwise have been reluctant to do so.
To see Shield Flags flying on all of the schools and clubs in West Cork would send a powerful message to the community and beyond. It would show the rest of the country that West Cork is standing up to bullying and that this practice will not be tolerated within the county bounds. As a West Cork native, I would be proud to see such a sight and I am sure that other community members would share this sentiment. It is open to debate as to whether we can ever eliminate bullying entirely but we can certainly take all efforts to reduce instances. It is to be hoped, therefore, that as many schools and clubs as possible will adopt the ISPCC’s Toolkit to help make West Cork an even better place to grow up.
For more information, please contact Sinead McKee: e: Sinead.McKee@ispcc.ie; Mobile 086 7226788 or Office 021 455 1914.