Education Quandary

'There is bullying at my son's new secondary school, especially on the bus. Should I drive him to school and back?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Of course not. That would be a problem avoided, not solved. In fact, if the bullies were to sense weakness or fear around your son, it could be a problem made worse, not better.

But you are right to be worried, especially as you say your son is small and easily led. There is no getting away from the fact that bullying remains a big and nasty problem in schools, despite the fancy anti-bullying policies that most now have in place.

About half all pupils say they experience it, and a new kind of bullying by text message and e-mail is also on the rise. So talk openly with your son about your worries. Talk about how bullying exists at all schools, and about how it can sometimes be difficult to be a new kid, in the first term, at the bottom of a big secondary school. Tell him, tactfully, that you've heard there can be trouble on the school bus and advise him that, if he ever feels worried, to sit near the driver, and to walk home with, or near, other children.

Also try to give him some basic tricks for pre-empting bullies, like using humour to deflect taunting, keeping out of the way of trouble-makers, and walking and talking confidently even when he doesn't feel very brave inside.

Charities such as Parentline Plus and ChildLine have a lot of information on this to help parents and children. Also tell him how important it is to always report bullying to an adult, if only to prevent other children from suffering.

Readers' advice

After six years of catching school buses I can confirm that they often occupy a sort of limbo between the twin authorities of school and parents, with neither able to intervene when something goes wrong. It can help if there are prefects present, especially if they are imposing enough to keep order.

If any one person is persistently causing trouble, it is sometimes possible, as a last resort, to amend the contract with the bus company to exclude them from using the service. But catching the bus rather than being ferried by my parents increased my sense of independence, not to mention my punctuality!
Richard Miller, By e-mail

My son suffered nightmares taking the school bus and complaints to the school and to the bus company did nothing to improve matters. The trouble would die down for a week, then start up again.

Things got easier as he got older, but there was still always smoking and things being thrown about in the bus.

My son always hated it. If it is as bad as this in your son's bus, I think you should keep him away from it if you can.
Elise Discoll, Cardiff

Being small is not the problem. It is if the bullies sense your son is weak, or has no friends. I'm a teacher and teachers know which children are the most likely ones for bullying. You need to make sure he knows how to stand up for himself. My son was the smallest child in Year Seven, but he never had any problem.
Lee Rodmer, Essex

Next Quandary

Dear Hilary,

As a school governor, am I alone in having doubts about this move to make pupils have cooking lessons at school? I can see it is important that children learn about food, but won't doing it as a school subject just turn them off more? And what dishes should we teach them that they will want to make for themselves later?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday Monday 18 September to Education Desk, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax to 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser.

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