Deputy Chair of the Oireachtas Education meeting Senator Fiona O`Loughlin welcomes the report on School Bullying and the Impact on Mental Health published today. The report makes a number recommendations which can be implemented without delay and could have a transformative impact on the whole school community. The Committee sought and received written submissions from a wide range of stakeholders and then met with key stakeholders, including clinical psychologists and child and adolescent mental health experts; relevant unions; school patrons, parent and management bodies; the Ombudsman for Children; the Department of Education; organisations dealing with cyber safety for children and young people; and, most importantly, young people themselves.
Senator O`Loughlin says that there is no doubt that some young people have endured great suffering because of school bullying with short term and long-term consequences of a very serious nature. Bullying can affect a person’s ability to lead a full and positive life as they struggle to deal with the impact. Undoubtedly cyberbullying has increased significantly as an unintended consequence of advances in digital technology. Research shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated this insidious form of bullying. A sustainable resolution will only be found by developing an inclusive and kind culture in school communities that moves beyond intolerance of bullying to a place where positive mental health and student support is an integral part of the ethos of the school.
Recommendations include the urgent updating of the Department of Education’s Action Plan on Bullying and related Anti-Bullying Procedures for Schools to take account of bullying issues such as racism, homophobia, body image and cyberbullying; a national monitoring system for the reporting of data on individual bullying cases, their causes, the steps taken to address them, and the outcomes of these interventions; the provision of Emotional Counselling and Therapeutic Supports in all primary and post primary schools through a reconstituted and expanded National Educational Psychological and Counselling Service (NEPCS); the appointment of An Online Safety Commissioner, with both investigative powers and an educational mandate, including the power to receive and investigate complaints from individuals; the provision of a mandatory Cyber Bullying and Internet Safety Training Programme should be provided for all teaching staff and those studying teacher Education.
We need to have a school environment where students feel accepted, safe, and respected. Difference should not only be accepted but welcomed and celebrated. School communities should foster a spirit of kindness and friendship that sees positive mental health as paramount and as the foundation stone upon which all students can learn and develop to reach their full potential.
Bullying in schools is a very serious problem. We need to take a whole school community approach between parents, students and school staff, including what happens outside of school hours if there is a relationship between the bullying activity and the school. The importance of respect and kindness in interaction with others must always be paramount. Every school should have an independent therapist or counsellor available to students which would complement the Wellbeing Policy. It would afford extra supports to teachers who know they have somewhere to send their pupils who may be impacted by bereavement, separation, divorce, alcohol or addiction issues or domestic violence.