Leading article: It's time to take on the bullies

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The Independent Online

Much bullying arises as a result of prejudice. Children may be tormented because of their race, religion, sexuality, weight and hair colour - or for no reason at all. The fact is that bullying is a continuing problem in schools and will always be so - as we are being reminded in advance of National Bullying Week, which takes place next week. But schools can keep it to a minimum by confronting the problem and pointing out to bullies the consequences of their behaviour.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers held a conference about bullying earlier this week. According to Chris Keates, the general secretary, Islamophobic bullying is on the rise and the debate about the wearing of a niqab by Muslim women has only made the situation worse, by fanning the flames of prejudice. It has made some people believe they now have "permission to bully".

Keates went further and blamed aggressive TV celebrities such as Gordon Ramsay and Sir Alan Sugar for teaching children that the way to fame and fortune was to "shout and swear and humiliate others". She also criticised Jamie Oliver's healthy eating campaign for sparking a spate of simplistic TV programmes about overweight children

While we don't endorse all that Chris Keates said, we applaud her desire to provoke a debate on the subject.

The extent of bullying in schools is not known, but Childline reports more than 20,000 calls a year from victims, making it the biggest single problem reported to them. Any school that says it does not have a problem with bullying has its head in the sand. The Government is right to advocate "zero tolerance" of bullying, with expulsion as the ultimate sanction. And schools need to consider using schemes such as peer mentoring, where victims of bullying receive counselling and support from volunteer students. Alternatively they could look at projects that put bully and victim together so that the bully understands the damage they have caused.

It is no good hoping that we will stop bullying by changing society - as Chris Keates suggests. We have to get young people to reflect on their behaviour and prejudices.

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