Bullying in Schools

Together member: respectme

UNCRC Article 2 (non-discrimination)  

Children and young people have the right to be treated fairly and equally. They must not be discriminated against on the basis of their sex, race, religion, sexuality, gender identity, disability or any other reason.

“Young people have the right to be safe at school and free from discrimination. It should not be the case that children and young people are put in a position where they feel scared, isolated or different at school. We must tackle bullying in general so people aren’t put in such vulnerability or feel like they are being punished for something that isn’t their fault.”

Robbie Burgess MSYP (SYP Rights Review, April 2018)

Around 30% of children and young people living in Scotland directly experience bullying, but this figure is far higher for certain groups of children and young people. 71% of LGBT young people report having experienced bullying, and 56% of Scottish teachers surveyed in 2015 said they were aware of pupils bullied on the basis of race or ethnicity at their school. The effects of bullying can be significant and varied, impacting on the enjoyment of rights relating to mental health, wellbeing, and education.

Young people are concerned by the nature of targeting and prejudice, as well as the management of bullying incidents and the impact of these on their mental health. Responses to a recent respectme survey suggest that young people want to see more effective management of bullying incidents in schools as well as recognition of, and support for, its mental health impacts. These calls add to those from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which urged the UK to “intensify its efforts to tackle bullying and violence in schools” in 2016.

“[I’m] trying to get over the social anxiety which bullying has caused me…” 

(respectme survey respondent)

Recent moves have been made to try and improve the situation for children and young people living in Scotland. In 2017, an inquiry into bullying and harassment in schools was led by the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee. The inquiry report recommended a focus on prevention, and called for improved data collection and monitoring of bullying incidents to assist with creating effective and responsive future policies. The Committee’s findings helped inform Scottish Government’s refreshed national approach to anti-bullying in Scotland – Respect for All – which contains an explicit commitment to addressing all types of bullying, including prejudice-based bullying. The guidance sets out the context and ambitions for anti-bullying approaches in Scotland and was supplemented in 2018 by further guidance on recording and monitoring bullying incidents in Scottish schools.

This strengthened national policy context has placed a focus on local action in local authorities and youth work organisations. A number of youth-led initiatives have been taken forward in schools with the aim of putting policy into practice, and ensuring that children and young people’s voices are central to decision-making and strategy development in line with Article 12 UNCRC (right to be heard). For example, at Holy Cross High School in South Lanarkshire, an Anti-Bullying Committee established in 2016 has since conducted a wide consultation across the school community, supported a review of the school’s anti-bullying policy, launched a ‘Sit with Us’ inclusive lunchtime group, introduced new, more discrete, ways to report bullying incidents including an online form, and conducted whole school assemblies and poster campaigns. Feedback from pupils and parents/carers suggests that the Committee’s work has helped strengthen recording and monitoring of bullying incidents in accordance with national and local guidance.

The UNCRC is clear that children and young people have a right to be heard in the decisions affecting them. Involving children and young people in the development and delivery of anti-bullying strategies in schools is essential to bring policy into practice in a meaningful and effective way. Incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law would help to create the space, structure and appropriate supports to ensure that children and young people can play a leading role in creating real impact and achieving positive outcomes. Existing positive developments would be strengthened through incorporation, ensuring that good practice becomes widespread, and that there is more consistent recognition of children’s rights to be free from discrimination and violence across legislation, policy and practice.

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