Anti-bullying guidance in Wales is changing
We used statistical data and parents’ comments to feed back to the Welsh government on this emotive and important issue as part of our work in championing and supporting ‘parent voice’ to be heard at local and national levels.
What was the government consulting on?
The Welsh government has recently produced draft anti-bullying guidance and a toolkit for school children, staff and parents, which is aimed at preventing and challenging bullying in schools. They publically consulted on their proposals, and Parentkind responded after asking parents in Wales for their views.
What did parents tell us?
Research from our recent survey and Annual Parent Survey 2018, found that:
- There was a lot of uncertainty about the new guidance. 82% of parents had not read it, and only 5% thought that their child had seen the relevant government-produced documents.
- Most parents had not been consulted on bullying. 90% said that they had never been consulted by their child’s school on this issue.
- Parents wish to be consulted on bullying. 49% selected it for their top three issues in our Annual Parent Survey 2018. A consultative parent body in every school, such as a parent council, is well-placed to present parent views to school leadership.
- Bullying is among the top concerns for parents. Our Annual Parent Survey 2018 also revealed that well over half of parents (59%) are somewhat or very concerned about bullying, rising to 60% for cyberbullying.
Parents must be consulted on bullying
Trust is crucial in this area. Although more than three quarters (77%) of parents told us that they would be happy to discuss the anti-bullying policy with staff, and 63% said that the school’s anti-bullying policy would benefit from being reviewed, only a third (33%) felt that their feedback would be listened to and acted upon. Out of the comments that parents added, many concerned fears that policies were not being properly or fairly implemented, and it seems that this leads to a breakdown of confidence where parents feel schools should be more accountable to them on this issue than they currently are. Policies such as anti-bullying must be made available to parents on the school’s website, or in printed form from the school office by request, especially where parents may not have internet access at home.
The Welsh government’s proposals
The draft Respecting Others guidance is aimed at younger school children, teenagers and staff/parents.
There are sections in the guidance which may address some parental concerns:
- The need to train staff in both awareness and handling of bullying is mentioned many times throughout the toolkit.
- Engagement with the parent community and consultation with parents to ensure anti-bullying strategies are working are written into specific sections.
- It is recognised that, “Partnership working between the school and parents/carers to maintain high standards of behaviour and to encourage respect and kindness towards other people is vital.”
- The section, “Next steps – understanding parents’/carers’ right to escalate the matter to the school’s governing body” is an important one for parents. Almost three in ten (29%) were not aware that they may make a formal complaint to the school’s board of governors if they are unsatisfied with how the school handles a bullying issue.
- The toolkit recognises the importance of parents being informed and kept in partnership: “Are parents/carers aware of the new or existing strategy? Do they know how the school would like them to report any concerns and how to appropriately escalate matters should they not be satisfied with the outcome of their initial concern? Do parents/carers know who to speak to when raising a concern about bullying and what evidence to provide?”
Parents want to be and must be part of a consultation process on anti-bullying strategies in school, ideally facilitated through a consultative parent body where discussions can take place between school leaders, parents and the wider school community. Schools must fulfil their duty to ensure parents know where they can find the information they need. Parents must be able to trust that anti-bullying strategies will be applied, implemented fairly, and adhered to. Until then, bullying will remain high on the list of parental concerns.
We all know that children do best and enjoy their school experience most when homes and schools work closely together, so a solution to bullying (and any other issue) is most likely to be arrived at through a healthy partnership between homes and schools, supported by government policy, rather than parents, schools and government working independently from one another. Partnership will ensure parents have peace of mind to know that a strategy will be properly implemented and enforced, with the option to review it (and for parents to be consulted again during this process) after a period of time.