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Education | School bullying prevention programmes

To ask the Minister for Education the extent to which procedures are in place to prevent school bullying; the number of reported incidents in all schools throughout the country in recent times; 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.

The procedures recognise that a positive school culture and climate is key and set out a very practical way on what schools must do to both prevent bullying and to deal with bullying when it occurs.
In accordance with the Anti-Bullying Procedures, where a parent is not satisfied that a school has dealt with a bullying case in accordance with the procedures the parents must be referred, as appropriate to the school’s complaints procedures.

All Boards of Management are required to adopt and implement an anti-bullying policy that fully complies with the requirements of these procedures. A template policy is provided in the procedures to help facilitate schools in this regard.

The Board of Management must ensure that the school has clear procedures for the formal noting and reporting of bullying behaviour, and these must be documented in the schools’ anti-bullying policy.
The procedures for schools include important oversight arrangements that involve the school principal reporting regularly to the Board of Management and a requirement for the Board to undertake an annual review of the school’s anti-bullying policy and its implementation. Confirmation that the annual review has been completed must be provided to the Parents’ Association and published on the school website.

As the Deputy may be aware, I established a Steering Committee to review the 2013 Action Plan on Bullying in February of this year. 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 account of the significant developments and relevant research since the action plan was published in 2013. It is specifically considering cyber bullying, identity based 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 in August 2021. 

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 and two anti-racism advocates. The Steering Committee has held ten meetings to date.

A number of consultation strands have been conducted over the past few months including focus groups with children and young people, focus groups with school staff and members of the school community and a public consultation process. This extensive consultation process will ensure that my Department captures as many voices as possible to inform the development of an inclusive and comprehensive Action Plan on Bullying.

A Working Group has been established to review and update the Anti-bullying procedures for Primary and Post Primary Schools in parallel with this work. The working group is 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.

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