The forum will help set the agenda for a working group to consider how to tackle the issue, including specific areas of homophobic and racist bullying, as well as cyber-bullying using social networks and modern technology.
Set up by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, the forum will take place on May 17 at the department’s offices in Dublin to which experts, support groups and representatives of parents, students and others in the school system will be invited.
Mr Quinn said he takes the problem very seriously and hopes the forum will provide an opportunity to set out a roadmap on how best to tackle all forms of bullying in schools.
“Bullying in school can ruin a young person’s enjoyment of some of the most important years of their life. In extreme situations, it can also, tragically, lead to a young person taking their own life,” he said.
The working group will focus on homophobic bullying in the first phase of its considerations but it will take on board the outcomes and recommendations of next month’s forum in all its deliberations.
A department spokesperson said the forum will consider what changes to existing practices and policies in schools may be needed in order effectively to tackle bullying. It will identify practical steps and recommendations that could be taken in the short term to improve how schools approach and tackle bullying.
“A key element in dealing with this problem is the ongoing development of a school culture of awareness of the seriousness of the issue and having in place a whole-school approach to dealing with it,” Mr Quinn said.
The forum and working group are in keeping with a commitment in the Programme for Government of just over a year ago, to encourage schools to develop anti-bullying policies, particularly strategies to combat homophobic bullying.
The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), BeLonGTo — a youth service for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) people — and the National Anti-Bullying Coalition, along with experts in the field of bullying, are among the speakers being invited to the forum. It takes place on International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, for which this year’s theme is homophobic bullying.
GLEN and BeLonGTo said the issue needs to be addressed urgently as research has shown that young students perceived to be LGBT experience very significant levels of homophobic abuse in schools, with a direct link to serious mental health risk, including self-harm and attempted suicide. A 2009 study for the HSE found that half of LGBT people have seriously thought about ending their lives, one-in-five have attempted suicide, andmore than a quarter have self-harmed.
“The working group provides the unique opportunity to ensure previous initiatives and other national and international innovative approaches are actually implemented in all schools,” said BeLonGTo executive director Michael Barron.