Western Mail Profiles: Vikki Butler

‘Bullying is not just something that goes on in the school yard’

Vikki Butler is Senior Research and Policy Officer within the Research and Policy unit at Barnardo’s Cymru. She leads in the policy areas of education and diversities and her current research includes anti-bullying practice and bullying experiences in Wales.

NOVEMBER 19 marks the start of anti-bullying week in Wales. Many schools will be undertaking assemblies and classroom activities to support their anti-bullying policies and curriculum teaching.

But what do children and young people say about bullying and what do they think can really help them to stand up to bullying? Barnardo’s Cymru research involves talking to children and young people about the complex nature of bullying.

Children and young people have described how being bullied affects their confidence, ability to learn and friendships. Bullying has other devastating impacts, such as influencing decisions regarding what subjects to study, causing young people to avoid certain areas at weekends and stopping children and young people from going out to play or taking part in leisure activities.

Technology can add to this relentlessness, with constant texting and messaging making the child or young person feel attacked within their own home. Young people rely on phones and social media to arrange their socialising with friends and to avoid using them is to face complete social isolation.

Children and young people talk about the helplessness and guilt they feel when witnessing bullying. They face the difficulty of not joining in with bullying behaviours, of not wanting to walk by, but not knowing how to speak out. There is also the sometimes uncomfortable fact that bullies also need support – some will describe how they were joking and did not realise that the joke had become sinister.

Some talk of a sense of instant power followed by guilt. Often, young people who bully have also been bullied themselves and so the dynamics of bullying are not straightforward and it is an issue that needs a whole school, or dare I say it, a whole community approach.

We know that bullying is endemic in the UK. It was the second most regular concern children reported to Childline between 2010 and 2011. In Wales, it is a key issue which has been identified by the Children’s Commissioner and schools counselling services.

If we are to reduce bullying and tackle it effectively, we need to believe the accounts of children and young people and free schools from the stigma that comes with acknowledging bullying.

Rather than looking at how often bullying occurs, a focus upon the methods schools use to tackle it would be a more productive way forward. But schools also deserve more support in this role.

Children and young people talk about how bullying affects all of their lives, not just at school, so organisations based in communities also have a responsibility to tackle this most pernicious of issues.

The Welsh Government produced anti-bullying guidance for schools in 2011 and hopefully this could be the first step to developing a National Anti-Bullying action plan with accompanying monitoring and targets across education, play and leisure.

Only when we fully acknowledge the impact bullying is having on our children and young people will we truly start to tackle the issue.

To contact Vikki please email vikki.butler@ barnardos.org.uk

This article first  appeared in the Western Mail‘s Health Wales supplement on 19th November 2012, as part of the Welsh Crucible series of research profiles.