Forum to hear ideas on better ways to tackle school bullying

Measures to improve how schools tackle bullying will be proposed at a Government-organised forum on the issue today.

The ideas to emerge from the event will help set the agenda for a working group set up by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to examine bullying.

While the initial focus of the group will be on homophobic bullying, issues such as racism and cyber-bullying are also likely to form part of its work.

The forum will include speakers from groups representing parents, principals, and second-level students, as well as experts dealing with problems around bullying.

The opening address will be given by Mr Quinn and it will be closed this afternoon by Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald, with officials from both ministers’ departments likely to lead the working group.

Among the likely outcomes of its work should be updated guidelines for schools, in an effort to keep up with the technological developments that have significantly changed the way bullying takes place and how it can affect young people.

Sandra Gowran, director of education policy change at Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, said it is hoped the good work being done in many schools can be replicated nationally.

“There is a rising number of young people coming out about their sexual orientation in school, so something positive must be happening in those schools for them to feel safe to do that. What we need is for the Department of Education to be better at measuring the climate in schools around such issues,” Ms Gowran said.

“In the UK, inspectors ask questions about homophobic bullying in primary and post-primary schools and there’s no reason that can’t become part of the inspection process here.”

A department spokesperson said the compliance of school policies with guidelines on behaviour and bullying already from part of the whole school evaluation process.

A regular complaint of parents whose children are victims of bullying at school or outside of school is that they have no formal proced-ure for pursuing complaints.

While the Department of Education usually says it can not intervene in individual bullying cases, senior officials indicated recently that legal measures governing grievance procedures in schools could be introduced by Mr Quinn soon.

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