Bullying at school, according to a new report, is rampant. In findings to be presented before its conference this week, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers has found out that a third of all children had been victimised in the past year and a quarter went in fear every time they did the journey to and from school.
Whether there really is more bullying today or whether it is just that children, parents and teachers are more prepared to talk about it is another question, but either way we don't appear to be dealing with the problem very effectively.
"What's the matter, why are you crying?" I asked my son when he came out of the school yard at 3.45pm. He must have been around eight at the time. "Jake hit me," he said, rubbing the side of his head, which was bleeding. "Why did Jake hit you?" I asked. "Because he hits everyone," said my son as if I'd asked a stupid question. "Where is Jake?" I said. He pointed to a well-built boy heading towards the sweet shop.
I confronted Jake, and asked him why he had hit James and in reply I got a stream of abuse, which coming from an eight-year-old could only be described as impressive. At the sweet shop Jake ran into his mum, apprised her of the situation whereupon she, too, abused me. When I spoke to the headmistress about it later she merely said that since the incident had taken place after school hours and off the school premises it was not her concern.
Some months back I read about a schoolgirl who has been issued with a mobile phone so that whenever she is bullied she can call a teacher for assistance. This strikes me as being the wrong way round. Surely it is the aggressors who should be identified, not the victims.
I have personal experience of naming and shaming which may prove helpful to all those child psychologists trying to get to the bottom of the business of victimisation. I was bullied at school so mercilessly that 30 years later, as much to my surprise as everyone else's, I stood up at one of those self-awareness courses from California and told 350 other seekers after truth in the ballroom of the Kensington Hotel that the worst thing that had ever happened in my life was being bullied at school.
"Tell us about it, Sue, don't hold anything back. Let it all flow out," said our guru encouragingly. And, stifling sobs, I blurted how every afternoon after school I would be ambushed by boys with stinging nettles to beat my bare legs. My only hope was to latch on to a passing adult and beg them to walk me to the bus-stop.
But before you too waste your sympathy, let me tell you that three years later at a posh girl's boarding school I was initiated into a gang whose sole purpose was to terrorise new pupils.
At 10 I was canny enough to realise that if you can't beat them, your only hope is to join them - hence my membership of the bully gang. One morning at assembly the headmistress talked about the outbreak of bullying, identified the culprits and made us all stand on the platform while she berated us. I was wrong about the stinging nettles. The worst thing that ever happened in my schooldays was being named and shamed in front of the whole school.
Things are different now. You're not allowed to humiliate children, even bullies like Jake, in front of their peers. There is also the possibility that Jake, far from being ashamed of being identified as the school bully, would be flattered that his tough-guy tactics were now the talk of the whole school.
Last week my 10-year-old said the head teacher had spoken all about bullying at assembly. Several members of staff, she said, had complained that they were being bullied by children who persistently answered back and refused to do their homework. She was very concerned by this turn of events. So am I. Who, for heaven's sake, is teaching what to whom these days?Reuse content