Bullying ‘costs over €100m every year’

The cost of bullying in schools could be over €100m a year, a campaign group believes.

The National Anti-Bullying Coalition, set up last year by parents, teachers, and other concerned people, said its free programme for second-level schools had a 90% success rate in resolving bullying cases.

Founder Monica Monahan said the costs to the justice system of unreformed bullying students were about €30m a year, as 60% have a criminal conviction by age 24 and almost one third have three convictions.

She said the health-sector costs of 9,600 cases of self-harm due to bullying every year are €16m, based on an average three-night hospital stay in each case.

Adding at least €40m for substitution costs to cover teachers absent because of bullying, increased demand on education and health services because of students absent from school, and the costs for parents through lost time at work or moving schools, Ms Monahan said the total cost to society exceeded €100m a year.

“Bullying is a social plague that is incubating in our schools and leaking out into society and our workplaces. We can no longer be a nation of bystanders while our children or our friends struggle to endure the unendurable,” she said.

The group’s policy is for reform rather than blame and Sean Fallon, who runs its anti-bullying campaign for schools, said it had a 90% success rate in resolving bullying cases. He said when students saw the fairness of reform instead of blame and punishment, they were more likely to reject bullying and to report it.

He said the only cost was initial training for teachers but after that it just required inclusion in school timetables for modules that taught peer meditation, conflict resolution strategies, positive parenting training by schools, and other measures.

The forum heard 140 that second-level schools have undergone a one-day support programme since 2007 for the social, personal, and health education (SPHE) curriculum which covers the problem of bullying. Pat Courtney, the anti-bullying co-ordinator in the Department of Education SPHE support service, said these and other schools which adopted a systemic approach were usually best equipped to deal with bullying.

The working group of officials from the Department of Education and Department of Children and Youth Affairs will focus initially on strategies and guidelines for schools around homophobic bullying. It is also likely to examine racist bullying, cyber bullying, and bullying of students with disabilities.

* Submissions for consideration can be made up to June 29 by the working group, along with the forum inputs yesterday. For more, see the Department of Education website: www.education.ie

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