Student-led approach to bullying prevention getting results internationally

Issue: Volume 97, Number 19

Posted: 29 October 2018
Reference #: 1H9n8y

The head of a successful anti-bullying campaign in British schools recently visited Auckland to talk about the key strategy behind the campaign and how it is turning the tide.

The Diana Award is a UK charity that runs anti-bullying and mentoring programmes. Chief Executive Tessy Ojo was in New Zealand recently to talk at a symposium on online safety.  She says its anti-bullying campaign in schools is helping to reduce bullying, increase achievement, and make schools happier places.

The student-led programme has resulted in a 69 per cent reduction in reported bullying incidents. It aims to equip students and staff with a holistic and peer-led approach to address bullying by giving them skills and tools for early intervention, empowerment and prevention. The aim is for total engagement of school communities to help change attitudes and to encourage acceptance of difference.

The programme is running in 4,000 schools, primarily in the UK, but also in Greece, United Arab Emirates, and the Channel Islands. In the next few years, the aim is to extend that to a further 5,000 schools.

Over 28,000 students have been trained as anti-bullying ambassadors in schools since 2011.

Tessy says, “In every school the programme is led by the ambassadors because young people – not adults – are at the centre of the experience, and they understand the vernacular and the dynamics. Through the training, we show them how to challenge the behaviour as well as engage right across the spectrum: students (including the bullies and the bullied), parents, teachers and the wider school community.”

She says that in the past, for a young person being targeted, the end of the school day meant an escape from the perpetrators, with home being a safe place. But with the rise in technology and use of social media, what happens in the playground, if not dealt with, finds its way online, producing increased cyberbullying. So the training includes a digital programme, Be Strong Online, which covers everything from gaming and selfies to privacy, apps and social networking, and promoting positive digital behaviour. Vodafone is a partner in this part of the programme.

Youth ambassadors

Each school has between five and 10 ambassadors, and the training they receive sets the scene, but is not prescriptive. The student ambassadors themselves choose how to implement it at their individual school.

The aim is to prevent bullying before it happens, rather than solely dealing with its consequences. The tools used include mailboxes for easy reporting and requests for help, Kindness Days, drop-in rooms, and lunchtime clubs where the ambassadors are available for support. “It’s important for a person being bullied to be able to download,” she says.

Tessy says every school must achieve buy-in from senior management, support from parents and families, and also have a designated Lead Teacher to whom the ambassadors can go if an issue needs to be escalated.

It’s not just banter

But although the initiative is achieving a change in behaviour and in school culture, she believes change throughout society is needed, because the mentality that permits bullying is widespread, including in workplaces and in the public domain.

She says that bullying is often dismissed as just banter, and adults are often not good role models for young people, with the lines of acceptable behaviour being unclear in areas such as politics and the media.

Despite the progress in education so far, there is still a way to go, she says. A survey carried out in August, just weeks before the new school term was to start, revealed that bullying was the number one concern for half of British students heading back to class.

Recently, British media reported on a private school ‘initiation ceremony’ involving abusive treatment of newly arrived students.

“We still have a lot of archaic culture which is bullying, such as initiations with unacceptable and cruel practices in schools,” Tessy says.

“Making a change on bullying is similar to improving negative attitudes towards mental health issues. First we need to talk about it, and then find ways to treat it.”

Princess Diana’s legacy lives on

The Diana Award recognises young people who demonstrate kindness, compassion and a desire to help others. Since the Diana Award was established by the UK Government, over 45,000 young people (within the UK and internationally) have been recognised for the difference they have made.

New Zealanders are amongst the recent winners. Two members of Sticks ‘n Stones, a youth-led bullying prevention organisation, won a Diana Award in 2017. Max Hall, a Year 12 student from Mt Aspiring College, and Courtney Smith, a Year 13 student from Maniototo Area School, won for their work in bullying prevention and mental health awareness.

For further information about The Diana Award link)

Be Strong Online(external link) 

Twitter feeds:

@DianaAward(external link)

@Ttall(external link) and

@AntibullyingPro(external link)

In New Zealand, bullying prevention and response resources are available at link).

Online safety advice, including help with online bullying and abuse, is available from Netsafe(external link)

Finding out how students at your school really feel is one of the first steps in ensuring you have a safe physical and emotional environment that deters bullying. It also provides a means of capturing student voice to inform the development of a school’s 2019 Charter.

An anonymous student survey is part of the Wellbeing@School(external link) website-based tools that are designed to help schools identify what they are doing well and what they could do better to promote a safe and inclusive environment. 

Find out more about Stick ‘n Stones(external link) ‘by young people for young people.’ 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:40 am, 29 October 2018

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