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Education | Combating school bullying

To ask the Minister for Education the procedures currently in place or envisaged to combat school bullying in its various forms at primary and second-level schools throughout the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

The Action Plan on Bullying, which was published in January 2013, sets out my Department’s approach to tackling bullying and promoting an anti-bullying culture in schools. The Action Plan contains 12 actions that focus on the provision of support for schools, teacher training, research and awareness raising and aims to ensure that all forms of bullying are addressed.  A number of these actions have been implemented in full while others, which by their nature involve continuous action, are the subject of ongoing implementation.

As part of the implementation of the Action Plan, anti-bullying procedures for all primary and post primary schools, which include a specific reference to cyberbullying, were published at the beginning of the 2013/14 school year. The procedures are designed to give direction and guidance to school authorities and school personnel in preventing and tackling school-based bullying behaviour amongst its pupils and in dealing with any negative impact within school of bullying behaviour that occurs elsewhere. They include specific requirements in relation to the use of prevention and education strategies and the consistent investigation, follow up and recording of bullying behaviour.

Support and resources in the area of online safety and digital citizenship are provided by Webwise.

Webwise promotes the autonomous, effective and safer use of the internet by young people through a sustained information and awareness strategy targeting school leaders, teachers, parents/guardians and learners themselves with consistent and relevant messages.  

Webwise and PDST Technology in Education are currently developing a new online cyberbullying course which seeks to inform teachers and school leaders about cyberbullying and outlines a school’s role in relation to creating an anti-cyberbullying culture and promoting student wellbeing including online wellbeing. This course aims to provide both primary and post-primary teachers with the knowledge, resources and confidence needed to teach about cyberbullying and deal with cyberbullying incidents as they arise.

There are also extensive training and curricular supports, including through the Social Personal Health Education (SPHE) curriculum and the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), to assist schools in the development of policies and practices on the safe use of the internet and on the prevention of bullying including cyber-bullying.

A new Digital Strategy for schools, the Digital Strategy for Schools to 2027, was published in April. The Strategy will advance the embedding of digital technologies across teaching, learning and assessment, building on the work under previous strategies. Online safety and the safe and ethical use of digital technologies is a key component of the new Strategy. The Strategy will continue to work towards ensuring that learners have the opportunity to develop their digital skills so that they can navigate the digital world in a confident and competent manner and that their voices are heard and taken into account in further developments in this area.

As the Deputy may be aware, in February of this year I established a Steering Committee to review the 2013 Action Plan on Bullying. This Steering Committee is chaired externally by Dr. Noel Purdy of Stranmillis University College in Antrim. This review involves significant consultation and collaboration across my Department, with other Government Departments and Bodies including the Ombudsman for Children, and also involves consultation with a broad range of education stakeholders, including parents and students, school management bodies and teacher and school staff unions.  The review is taking into account the significant developments and relevant research since the action plan was published in 2013. It is specifically considering cyber bullying, identity bullying and sexual harassment, among other areas. 

The review is also giving detailed consideration to the recommendations contained in the Oireachtas Joint Committee Report on School Bullying and the Impact on Mental Health which was published last August. 

The Steering Committee consists of senior officials from the Department of Education, including the Inspectorate and the National Educational Psychological Service, representatives of the National Parents’ Council Primary, National Parents’ Council Post-Primary, Irish Second Level Students’ Union (ISSU), the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, the National Anti-bullying Research Centre in DCU and other external experts and representatives of advocacy organisations which include BelongTo, Webwise, Parentline National Traveller Women’s Forum, Women’s Aid and the Independent Living Movement Ireland. The Steering Committee has held seven meetings to date.

The Anti-bullying procedures for Primary and Post Primary Schools is also being reviewed and updated in parallel with this work. A working group comprised of representatives from each of the relevant management bodies and teacher and school staff unions, along with representatives from the National Parents’ Council Primary, National Parents’ Council Post-Primary, Irish Second Level Students’ Union (ISSU) and the National Anti-bullying Research Centre in DCU has been established to review the anti-bullying procedures.

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