Beat Bullying: Barry Sheerman interview

Tuesday 31st January 2012

How big a problem is bullying in schools today?
Bullying in schools is a very real problem. I have visited numerous schools where I was told that bullying did not exist there, which was, of course, nonsense and a reflection of how badly managed these schools were; there is simply no such thing as a school that does not have bullying. Bullying will take place wherever you have children, and is certainly not unheard of in pre-school and early school. Even in schools which are well-led and well-managed and where bullying as a culture is frowned upon and reduced to a low level, bullying will still occur there. Bullying is endemic.

Are you satisfied with how the Government is addressing the issue of bullying?
To be fair, I think bullying is an area that consecutive governments have found difficult to approach. However, I do believe that there should be a much firmer anti-bullying code in place for schools to sign up to, which needless to say would go very much against the current government’s philosophy. What schools need to have is good leadership–this is crucial–and a strict code of behaviour which is strictly adhered to and strictly monitored.

How should politicians keep themselves informed about bullying in schools?
Visiting schools is the single most important thing a politician can do to keep up-to-date with bullying, and I have probably visited more schools than any other MP. Schools should be visited on a regular basis and asked about bullying and what they are doing to counter it. I myself, through having done that, learnt about the technique of “social circles” in classrooms for small children, where they are encouraged to speak openly about how they are feeling, and discovered how the concept of “citizenship” is taught, which is all about empowering children to lead at school. Both initiatives are very effective in tackling bullying and go far beyond what “schools councils” traditionally do.

While bullying is taken very seriously in schools today, what else would you like to see adopted to tackle the scourge?
I was very impressed by a theatre group I saw at two schools, aimed at 12-14 year olds, which clearly emphasised the tremendously damaging effects of bullying. Role-playing is very important. In addition to that, I support the “Anti-Bullying Week” currently in schools and I believe that the Education Committee, under its new chairman, should every year report back to Parliament on bullying. What I would also like to see is Oftsed taking bullying much more seriously and, like me, if an Ofsted inspector is told by a school that it does not have a problem with bullying, serious questions should be asked about the management of this school. It should also be noted that the abolition by the government of the General Teaching Council constituted a major blow to countering bullying. That is something the government is yet to recognise.