Victim support in the playground

Anti-bullying schemes are succeeding, says Catherine Nixey
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The Independent Online

"You're a bitch and I hate you"; "I'm gonna get you!" These text messages, sent to a 12-year-old girl and reported to an anti-bullying charity, show how bullying has moved with the technological times. But if the bullies have been honing their weapons, the schools have been keeping their end up in the arms race.

"It's so exciting when you look at the work that is being done in schools at the moment," says Gill Frances, programme manager of the charity Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA). "Four or five years ago, schools would often deny that they had a problem. What's so good now is that we have a real acceptance from almost all schools that bullying goes on, and that it has to be stopped."

There are no shortage of strategies to choose from to try to stop it. Indeed often the problem can be that there are too many, which is where the ABA comes in. Last month the Government announced that it was giving the ABA £470,000 for its first major programme of work. Nine anti-bullying advisers across the country will act as consultants to schools and other organisations in their area. The ABA doesn't actually produce any material of its own, but it will disseminate the material of the 50 or so bullying charities who are members of it.

The ABA was created because it was felt that while the armies of anti-bullying charities that existed were excellent, they tended not to communicate with each other and not co-ordinate their work - and as a result not being as successful as they might. They were also extremely confusing to the outsider.

"Two years ago I spent a morning hitting the websites of the various bullying charities," says Frances. "By lunchtime I was completely exhausted. I felt furious with myself that there was no one who summarised all that information. A busy teacher wouldn't have the time or energy to find out what they needed."

There are indeed many schemes for schools to choose from. Many are highly practical - such as setting up rooms that children can go to during the traditional bullying hotspots of breaktimes - and many put the onus firmly on the children rather than the teachers. "It's fabulous," says Frances. "I've seen children as young as four or five sitting on school councils, making suggestions. If they make their own rules to combat bullying, then they will keep them. It's about making children into citizens."

However many forms of bullying, such as anonymous text messages or exclusion of friends from a group, are often too subtle to target directly. However, many mobile phone companies have nuisance call hotlines, to which you can report a bully's phone number.

Frances believes the bullies can be stopped. "Much of bullying is very insidious," she says. "So it is not about just saying 'Oh, this is an example of bullying which we will deal with in this way'. Rather it is about creating a culture where bullying is simply not acceptable."