Skip to main content

Anti-bullying Week

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 15 November 2018

I beg to move,

That this House has considered anti-bullying week 2018.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey, and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting today’s debate. I am also grateful that we are able to have this debate during Anti-bullying Week, as was made possible last year when a similar debate was secured by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands). Obviously, today is quite a busy day for many parliamentary colleagues, so I fear that some of the Members who I had expected to be with us will not be here, but it is important that we mark Anti-bullying Week in this way.

Like many constituency Members, many of my Fridays are spent visiting local schools—I should think all colleagues do that. I try to visit a school every Friday, and I find that they are all trying very hard to create an environment in which children feel safe, supported, and free from bullying. Just last week, I visited Shirley Community Primary School and had some wonderful conversations with the staff and the children, who were running around a field doing the daily mile. I have to say that they were rather better at it than I was, but it was still good to get some exercise. However, despite all the hard work that teachers are doing, it is important that we spend some time considering the challenges that we face in our schools, and particularly how we teach our children to treat each other. This week provides an opportunity for people to reflect on that question, and creates a space for staff and students to have those conversations about how we treat one another—conversations that are sometimes difficult.

Anti-bullying Week is organised by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, which is a fantastic coalition of anti-bullying charities. Anti-bullying Week reaches 75% of schools in England, touching over 6 million children and young people. It was excellent to see the splendid event organised at Speaker’s House yesterday, which a number of people came here to celebrate. Anti-bullying Week involves many charities, youth organisations and schools, and is used to provide the resources and tools to raise awareness. This year, there have been specific events on particular days, and today is “Stop Speak Support”—cyber-bullying day.

As we all know, sadly, with the rise of social media and technology, a whole range of new challenges has come along. The playground no longer stops when the bell goes. Whereas these issues could once have been dealt with in class, they now extend well beyond the playground, often on the way home and outside school. Sadly, one in five teenagers has experienced cyber-bullying in just the past two months, and children who have been cyber-bullied are more likely than their peers to be lonely, anxious or depressed. I think we are all aware of the rising numbers of young people who are presenting with mental health issues. It is right that the Government are tackling that problem, but of course, it is not just the Government who should respond to it. Social media companies must also take some responsibility and create the kinds of environments in which respectful conduct is required, especially for children.

Section 103 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 requires the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to publish a code of practice for providers of online social media platforms. That is good, but we also have to make sure that that code of practice is enforced, and sadly, it seems at times that it is not being enforced sufficiently well. Facebook, for example, has faced criticism in recent months for pushing back its targets for tackling cyber-bullying. I believe that those mega-corporations can be a power for good, but they also have to take responsibility for maintaining acceptable practices on their platforms.

The Diana Award, which is an anti-bullying charity, runs the Be Strong Online ambassador programme, which empowers students and staff to take a peer-led approach to digital resilience and helps teach young people to explore the digital world safely. It is good to hear that since 2016, over 1,200 young people and staff members have been trained as Be Strong Online ambassadors. That is an example of how we can help improve schools across the board and work with social media companies to improve the quality of our online interactions.

My interest in and awareness of this topic came not just from having been a school governor and chair of governors in a past life—like, I suspect, many of my colleagues—but from a strong constituency link with Red Balloon, one of the most highly respected charities working in this field. That charity runs learning centres and schools for bullied children. It was created 22 years ago by a constituent of mine, Dr Carrie Herbert, who is a real force of nature and a force for change. She started that charity—in her own kitchen—when she saw some of the problems that children were facing, and the charity’s story featured in national newspapers over the weekend.

I will say a little about the report that was in The Guardian on Saturday. One particular young person was prepared to tell her story, and in many ways it probably speaks for many others. Hannah Letters, who is 17, explained:

“I struggled with the transition to secondary school”—

we are all aware that that is a problem in many cases—

“and found it hard to make friends.”

This is very sad to read, but:

“She was sent messages on social media, telling her that no one liked her. ‘One of the girls turned and said to me, “If you had looked after your mother better, she wouldn’t have got cancer.”’”

That is an awful thing to say to any child. She said:

“I had such low self-esteem by then, anything she said I believed. I started to blame myself.”

By the time she was 13, she was self-harming. The article states:

“The bullies were constantly on her mind and she would wake up screaming from nightmares.”

That is a terrible story, but sadly it is not unique.

Hannah was not particularly happy with the response she got from her school. In a familiar cycle, each time she or her mother complained, the bullying got worse. The article continues:

“When the bullies physically attacked her, it was the last straw for Letters’ mother. She took her off the school roll. That meant her school was absolved of its legal responsibility to provide her with an education. She became yet another statistic: one of the 16,000 children aged 11 to 15 who…‘self-exclude’ from school due to bullying.”

That is where Red Balloon came in.

Hannah joined Red Balloon three years ago, and enrolled in its education programmes and received help with wellbeing support. She is planning on studying medicine at university. That is a huge turnaround from the situation she found herself in a few years ago, and it is not a unique story: Red Balloon turns around the lives of students every year, but it is almost a unique service, and here is the rub. The evidence from such institutions as Red Balloon shows that intervention works—it really does—but the truth is that it is also very expensive.

Although intervention looks expensive up front, in the long term it is almost certainly cheaper to intervene and make the difference that Red Balloon can make. For most local authorities, the amounts of money required to put in that intervention would be unthinkable in the current context. In fact, they do not release the money they would have been spending on that education. That is perhaps understandable, given that many find themselves in dire straits. While I suspect we will hear some warm words this afternoon, the real truth is that, although we can see what works, our choice as a society is not to do it, and that should weigh heavily on us. In the meantime, until we can do better, we must support schools to tackle bullying on a daily basis.

Mainstream education must be able to teach children how to treat each other with respect, not just how to pass exams. I suspect there might not be complete agreement with what I am about to say, but my sense is that many schools are increasingly pressured to focus on exams. Many are forced to limit the subjects they offer due to funding pressures. It has been controversial over recent years, but schools have been able to give less attention to some subjects because of the English baccalaureate. In some cases, the decline of the opportunity to take part in arts education can have possibly unintended consequences.

In recent weeks, teachers and academics have written to me with their concerns about their students’ opportunities to develop creative skills and self-expression, which are vital for getting them into work and university, for being part of the community and for expressing themselves. I suspect that taking arts education out of school education can reduce the opportunity for the discussions that arise around the arts, such as how we relate to each other and the kind of society we want to live in.

Returning to the positive, Anti-bullying Week offers schools the opportunity to engage in those discussions and provides the kind of platform on which children can think further about those very important questions, which do not always appear on exam papers.

This year, Anti-bullying Week has the theme “Choose Respect”. It encourages us to own our behaviour and to remember that we all have a choice in how we behave and that respecting each other is an active choice. In school, we should learn how to relate to those who agree with us and those who do not, and to those from different backgrounds and those with different interests. We take those skills with us into our futures and use them for the rest of our lives.

Elizabeth Nassem, a researcher at Birmingham City University, wrote in The Guardian a few months ago:

“Any school trying to tackle bullying needs to look beyond the ‘bully’ and ‘victim’ labels. Instead, it’s helpful to consider bullying as a spectrum of negative interactions that range from mild to severe, such as name-calling and hitting. Ask the children in your school about their experiences of bullying, why children might bully others, and how they think bullying should be addressed…Teachers should consistently speak to children respectfully, listen to children, respond to their views and take time to understand their perspectives. Pupils are then more likely to then do the same with their peers.”

That fits in very well with this year’s Anti-bullying Week theme of “Choose Respect”.

There is also a need to look at the disproportionate amount of bullying that some particular groups experience, including disabled children and those with special educational needs, as well as those who experience bullying based on race and faith. Looked-after children and young carers also suffer disproportionately. By having discussions at school about bullying, and how children can work to choose respect, I hope that can be addressed.

One section of society that is sadly all too often the victim of bullying is people with disabilities. According to the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, 30% of disabled adults in the UK say they have experienced hostile behaviour motivated by their disability. That is three in 10. That is a distressing statistic and the impact can be chilling, with concern about hostile behaviour reportedly preventing one disabled adult in three from going out in their local area. That makes loneliness and isolation even worse.

There are things that can be done. Since 2014, Leonard Cheshire has run a successful scheme in Northern Ireland with the police to support disability hate crime survivors. It is called, “Be Safe Stay Safe”, and it provides independent advocacy support from qualified, experienced advocates to victims and witnesses of disability hate crime to ensure accessibility to the police and the wider criminal justice system. Will the Minister look at how that experience could be transferred to the rest of the United Kingdom?

Others who also suffer include those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender; ethnic or faith minorities; young carers; and looked-after children. The Anti-Bullying Alliance found that one child in four aged from seven to 15 reports being frequently bullied, while more than a third of disabled children and those with special educational needs are victims of regular bullying. Nearly half of school pupils say that their friends use discriminatory language towards LGBT people. Last year, a poll by the Diana Award found that 61% of school staff had witnessed racism-driven bullying. That is totally unacceptable, and it shows that even in 2018 we have a long way to go to stamp out racism entirely in our schools.

The Anti-Bullying Alliance is calling for urgent action to protect children at higher risk of bullying, and for mental health and wellbeing leads in each school, as proposed in the Green Paper on mental health, so as to have a responsibility to prevent bullying. The alliance thinks, and I agree, that that should be part of a co-ordinated, whole-school approach. While today’s debate is not party political, I gently make the point that these things all require resourcing. The relatively paltry amounts made available in the Budget are unlikely to stretch across all the existing pressures that schools face alongside such new initiatives. If we are going to do it, it has to be funded properly; otherwise, it will fall on already very stretched teachers.

The issue has been addressed by Government and Opposition MPs. By law, all state schools must have a behaviour policy in place that includes measures to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. That policy is, of course, decided by the school, and all teachers, pupils and parents should be told about it. The Government have said that the Department for Education is working with schools to help them to create an atmosphere of respect that will reduce bullying behaviour both offline and online. I understand that the Minister has written in the Telegraph on the need for effective anti-bullying policies both online and offline. There is clearly widespread understanding of the issues.

I hope that we hear from the Minister that he will seek extra funding from his colleagues to support schools in their attempts to tackle these deep-seated and important issues. We will have a spending review next year, and it is hard to imagine a more important issue that could be addressed to tackle long-term societal problems. I welcome the opportunity to hear from the Minister so that, on what has been a complicated day in this place, he can give some good news to bring us to the end of Anti-bullying Week.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on securing this important debate, raising awareness and championing the cause of eradicating bullying.

It is Anti-bullying Week, and the theme is to choose respect. As the hon. Gentleman rightly outlined, the prevalence of bullying is increasing, including online and cyber-bullying where the bullying never ends. It does not end when children leave the playground or leave school; it continues. The devastating impact that that has on the mental health of young people should not be forgotten. He also rightly spoke of the tragic experience of one of his young constituents, and I am sure that many more people could speak to that experience.

Although today much of the debate and news coverage will be about Brexit and the next Cabinet Minister to resign, someone, somewhere, is experiencing bullying right now. Whether in the playground or the workplace, bullying affects people from all different backgrounds, and those at different stages and ages in life. On behalf of the Scottish National party, I fully support today’s debate. Brexit reigns strong, but we must continue to use this House to discuss important issues that affect people every day.

The SNP takes bullying very seriously, and believes that there is no place in Scotland for prejudice or discrimination. Core to that is the belief that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and that bullying of any kind is therefore unacceptable. Where it occurs it must be addressed quickly and effectively. In schools, it often falls on headteachers, teachers and local authorities to decide how bullying is tackled.

The Scottish Government expect all schools to develop and implement an anti-bullying policy, which should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. The hon. Member for Cambridge spoke about the experience in England. I can speak only of the Scottish Government’s experience and responsibilities. They have ensured that schools have an anti-bullying policy, which should be at the heart of every whole-school approach to create a positive and welcoming ethos. We want all young people to learn tolerance, respect, equality and good citizenship to address and prevent prejudice, as well as to build healthy relationships.

Bullying can take many forms, and can be based on prejudices. That is why the Scottish Government have been working with the campaign Time for Inclusive Education. I give credit to Jordan and Liam, who have worked tirelessly with the Scottish Government to push forward on the campaign to ensure that schools deal with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex bullying, discrimination and prejudice. That is why the SNP Scottish Government will now include LGBT rights in the Scottish curriculum, which will send a strong message throughout the world that Scotland is a progressive country and that bullying will not be tolerated.

In November 2017, the Scottish Government published their anti-bullying guidance: “Respect for All: The National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland’s Children and Young People”. The guidance provides a holistic approach to anti-bullying that makes it clear that all types of bullying are unacceptable, and that adults involved in young people’s lives have a role to play in preventing and responding to bullying. It includes guidance on prejudice-based bullying, recording and monitoring of online and offline bullying, labelling, and the impact and outcomes of bullying.

We believe that the focus must be on prevention and early intervention, and I echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Cambridge: that requires resources and funding, and cannot be achieved otherwise. It must also be reflected in anti-bullying policies. However, it is one thing to have a policy; ensuring that it is implemented in practice is very different.

The most successful interventions are embedded within a positive ethos and inclusive culture. Such interventions are more likely to achieve positive outcomes and destinations for young people. I am hopeful that with anti-bullying guidance and LGBT-inclusive education in Scotland we will begin to shape the attitudes of young people in Scotland, encouraging them to celebrate their differences. Inclusive education is essential to all young people, and it is high time that we created the conditions for a culture of inclusion and understanding of the impact of prejudice and discrimination. Implementing such policies will go some way to securing that.

We also see bullying in workplaces, including this one. It would be remiss of me not to mention the Dame Laura Cox report, which was a damning indictment of the culture of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in Parliament. With the report, and the working group led by the Leader of the House, we have seen just how pervasive the toxic culture of bullying and harassment is within Parliament and politics more widely. It is important that we recognise that not only MPs’ staff, but many staff who work in various capacities across the House and across Parliament, are on the receiving end of such behaviour.

The SNP fully accepts and supports the need for urgent change in this place, because ultimately, people should practise what they preach. We must set a gold standard for workplaces, and ensure that other businesses and sectors across the country can emulate and follow the guidance and practices that we implement here. In that regard, Parliament has lately let people down, but that can be rectified by challenging any form of workplace bullying and harassment, particularly in Parliament. Until we get that right, we are not in a position to preach or to tell anyone else how they should manage their workplace. By ensuring that everyone here works together with dignity and respect, we can start to change the workplace culture in this place, and we can start truly to lead by example.

As the hon. Member for Cambridge rightly highlighted, this subject touches on the lives of all people, whether they are LGBT, disabled, from faith backgrounds, of different races, young carers or looked-after children. It affects a wide variety of young people from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, but I wanted to touch on a particular case, because when bullying is not tackled effectively there are tragic consequences.

That is what happened in the case of 12-year-old Rachel Steven from Burnbank in Hamilton, who attended St John Ogilvie High School, which happens to be my old high school. Although the school lies outside my constituency —in that of the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen)—I am sure he would support me in saying that I am particularly invested in this case.

St John Ogilvie High School was the school I grew up in, and I would like to think that any young person could aspire to come to this place too. Sadly, Rachel, who was described as a “lively, bright young girl” by her headteacher, took her own life in September this year. It is alleged that Rachel had been taunted by bullies for years, and for her to have taken such extreme action to escape the bullies shows just how difficult life can be for such victims. It is incumbent on us all to do our part to try to eradicate bullying, take seriously any reports of bullying that come to us and remember how deeply bullies can affect their victims.

No one should be made to feel like that and no young person should take their own life to escape that experience. In an ideal world, no one would experience bullying. Let us seek to make that ideal a reality. In Parliament, we are responsible for implementing policy and legislation, and for leading by example. More could always be done to eradicate bullying, and we have more to do in this place. I hope that the Minister, in responding to this debate on Anti-bullying Week, will commit to what more he can do to ensure that bullying in schools and workplaces is eradicated, and that workplace culture is changed.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey, on quite a momentous day in Parliament. If I may tease the Minister gently, let me say that it is great to see at least one Minister left in place. When I came in today, I saw on social media the headline “May resigns”, but then I realised that it was about Paul May, chief executive of Patisserie Valerie—so the Minister can rest easy for a few more minutes.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who is passionate about the subject and is a great representative for his university town. This is a timely debate; as the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) said, online bullying is a horrible thing. Holding public office in Parliament, which she spoke about, is a real gift.

There are two types of power: power over people and power with people. Power over people is the worst form of coercion that can be exercised by anyone, especially when it comes from elected officials. It has all the elements of bullying: it is aggressive, belittling and coercive. I am sure that the Minister agrees—as you do, Mr Bailey—that in this place we have to do more to root it out, because people should be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace.

To give an example, we display Parliament’s new anti-bullying policy in my constituency office in Manchester. It occasionally forms part of our team meeting, so that we can make sure that we treat one another and our constituents with respect and dignity, and that they treat us in the same way. We will neither kowtow to people who bully us, nor bully them. Poor behaviours should be pointed out. Many staff in this place have suffered horrendously over the past few years, and I look forward to the day when we take a more collegiate approach. It is not just about how we stop bullying, but about how we deal with it when it happens. How this mother of Parliaments cleans up its own act will be key.

The theme of this year’s Anti-bullying Week is “Choose Respect”. It is centred around the fact that bullying is a behaviour choice, and that children and young people can set a positive example by opting to respect each other at school, in their homes and communities and online. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) for coming forward and sharing his own personal experience of bullying—seven years of being punched in the face, kicked down the stairs and mentally tortured so badly that he had three breakdowns. It was not until he was assaulted so badly that the police were called that he felt able, as a vulnerable teenager, to speak up.

As my hon. Friend’s personal story so eloquently portrays, bullying can be devastating for the victim. It permeates every minute of every single day, even when the victim is not in the presence of those who are causing them harm. Bullying is intensified when it happens in a school environment, because in any given school day there will be times when no teacher or staff member is present to spot it and stop it. Nor is it confined to physical space, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge points out: an estimated 5.43 million young people in the UK have experienced cyber-bullying, with 1.26 million subjected daily to extreme cyber-bullying.

The Department for Education’s guidance for schools, headteachers, staff and governing bodies on preventing and tackling bullying states:

“Every school must have measures in place to prevent all forms of bullying.”

However, does the Minister really think that schools can invest in strategies to prevent bullying, when across the country—including in the Prime Minister’s constituency—they are having to write to parents to ask for resources? As a result of cuts, they have fewer adults in the classroom to provide essential teaching support. Larger class sizes mean that children do not get as much attention as they used to.

I suspect that the Government do not have a statistical database, but statistics suggest that more than 16,000 young people are absent from school because of bullying. Bullying has a huge impact on young people’s self-esteem, and 30% of young people have gone on to self-harm as a result. Perhaps most devastatingly of all, 10% of young people have attempted to commit suicide as a result of bullying. The impacts of bullying continue to ripple out long after young people have escaped their tormentors; those who have been bullied are more than twice as likely to have difficulty in keeping a job or in committing to saving.

The sad reality is that some children who need mental health support as a result of bullying will leave school and move into adulthood without ever getting it, because our mental health services are also in a funding crisis. Looked-after children are reported to experience bullying at a much higher rate than their peers. Almost every single looked- after child has already endured some form of trauma, and at least 45% enter care with a diagnosable mental health condition. As the Government are now presiding over the largest number of children in care since the 1980s—in March 2017 it reached 72,670—can the Minister explain what the Department for Education is doing to provide specialist support for them when they are subjected to bullying?

Children with disabilities or special educational needs also experience bullying at a higher rate than others, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge pointed out. The long-held view, which dates right back to the Education Act 1981 and is supported by Ofsted, is that well-resourced mainstream schools are best placed to improve the learning and social environment for disabled and non-disabled learners alike. Children with special educational needs are increasingly being pushed out of mainstream schools; recent figures suggest that 19,000 children were off-rolled between years 10 and 11, and the Government do not know where 10,000 of them went on to. In this day and age, when we are much more aware of child sexual exploitation and child criminal exploitation, those figures are very worrying indeed.

In 2016, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child examined the Government’s compliance with the UN convention on the rights of the child and found that they were failing in 150 areas across the board. What has the Minister done to address that since the committee’s report?

It is estimated that one child in every single class experiences severe bullying. I know that the Minister agrees that that is one child too many. Speaking as a former primary school teacher, I know that children will have woken up this morning feeling sick at the thought of going to school because of the fear of the damage that their bullies will wreak on them throughout the day. Some will never have made it to school at all, while others will have spent the whole day anxious and unable to concentrate in class.

We go into teaching because we believe in the value of education and in its power to create social mobility and ambition for all. I hope that the Minister will share with us how he intends to ensure that no child has to experience bullying, and that all children can reap the full benefits that a good education can provide. I hope that he will share in the theme of Anti-bullying Week by choosing to respect our schools and teachers and giving them the resource and support that they need to beat the bullies.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on securing this debate. As he and all hon. Members present know, and as we have heard today, particularly from the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), bullying can have a devastating effect on children and their families.

I offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Rachel Steven. Every death of a child is a tragedy. I cannot comment on Scottish procedure, but in England all child deaths, including suicides, will be reviewed by the local authority and the clinical commissioning group, which will analyse what has happened and ensure that any necessary recommendations or changes are made as a consequence of the tragedy.

We must not let up on our efforts to eradicate bullying. Anti-bullying Week gives us an opportunity to maintain focus on this important issue and highlight the positive things that we can all do to help stamp out bullying. Every child’s experience at school should be a happy one. We want schools to be safe, calm places in which teachers can teach uninterrupted and pupils can succeed.

The Government have sent a clear message to schools that bullying—for whatever reason—is unacceptable, and that they need the right tools to tackle it. As the hon. Member for Cambridge said in his opening remarks, all schools are legally required to have a behaviour policy with measures to prevent all forms of bullying. We have ensured that schools have a range of powers and support to help them respond effectively when bullying takes place.

We know that bullying still happens, and that it can have serious and long-lasting effects on children’s education and mental health. Tackling bullying means creating a culture where difference is respected and bullying behaviour is not tolerated by staff, pupils and parents. That is why the theme of this Anti-bullying Week—“Choose Respect”—is so important. There are pupils who are more likely to be targeted because of some young people’s attitudes towards those who are different from themselves, which is not the way it should be. That is why, earlier this year, the Department for Education announced an additional £1 million investment to extend projects led by several anti-bullying organisations until March 2020—the end of the spending review period. That work will support schools to stamp out prejudice and discrimination.

That investment will enable the Anti-Bullying Alliance, which does a phenomenal job, to extend its All Together programme, which focuses on reducing bullying of children with special educational needs and disabilities. It will support a further 300 schools to gain All Together status and provide certified online training for 10,000 professionals. The Anne Frank Trust will further develop its Free to Be debate programme, which encourages young people to think about the importance of tackling prejudice, discrimination and bullying. Over the 18-month extension, it will reach an additional 825 ambassadors and more than 8,000 workshop participants. The Diana Award will extend its peer-to-peer anti-bullying ambassadors programme, training an additional 2,750 young people from a further 270 schools in England over 18 months. As ambassadors, these young people will lead campaigns to empower their student body to have mutual respect for each other and to engage in good, anti-bullying practice.

Earlier this year we also extended the Internet Matters project, which will now run its Make a Noise programme until January 2019. That project supports the reporting of bullying to schools via the tootoot online platform. All four of our grant-funded projects include cyber-bullying as an integral element, and last week the Minister for Women and Equalities announced a further £1 million to extend the anti-homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying programme, which has reached 1,200 schools since 2016.

I had the pleasure of attending the Anti-Bullying Alliance’s parliamentary reception in Speaker’s House yesterday, which I think the hon. Member for Cambridge also attended. That event celebrated Anti-bullying Week and inspired an audience—including fellow Members of Parliament, policy makers, teachers and young people —to take action and unite against bullying. I was proud to present the Anti-Bullying Alliance school staff awards to two remarkable individuals who have gone above and beyond in their school to tackle and stop bullying: Mrs Watkiss from Blue Coat Church of England Academy, and Miss Durrant, a learning mentor from Emerson Valley School.

We know that schools that excel at tackling bullying have created an ethos of good behaviour, where pupils treat each other and staff with respect because they know that it is the right way to behave. This week, the Department for Education published a tool to support schools to develop whole-school approaches that promote respect and discipline. By providing practical advice, guidance and good practice examples of how schools can develop and implement an approach that is shared by the whole school community, the tool builds on the recommendations in Tom Bennett’s independent review of behaviour in schools, “Creating a culture: how school leaders can optimise behaviour”.

A good school culture that sets a clear structure and clear expectations for pupils can go hand in hand with acknowledging differences. A school where good behaviour and respect is the norm can help teachers to identify and support pupils who might have underlying problems, so alongside the tool we have published an update to our advice on mental health and behaviour in schools. This will help schools to identify pupils whose behaviour might result from an underlying mental health difficulty, and to direct schools towards information about how they can adapt their approaches to support those pupils’ individual needs within the context of an approach that is based on clear expectations of behaviour.

It is important also that a respectful school culture permeates every aspect of school life, including what is taught in the classroom. The new mandatory subjects of relationships education, relationships and sex education, and health education will enable schools to deliver high-quality teaching, including on acceptable ways to behave, both online and off, as part of their whole-school approach. The consultation on the draft guidance and regulations closed last week, and we are currently considering the responses; we plan to lay the regulations next year. Under the content for respectful relationships, the draft guidance sets out that pupils should know about the different types of bullying, the impact that it has, the responsibility of bystanders, and how to get help.

As the hon. Member for Cambridge said, today is the first time that Anti-bullying Week has featured a dedicated anti-cyber-bullying day, which is supported by the Royal Foundation’s taskforce on the prevention of cyber-bullying. The aim of Stop Speak Support Day is to highlight the issue of cyber-bullying, which we know affects so many children in our schools, as the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) said. Cyber-bullying is not just a way to bully others anonymously; it can be a means by which face-to-face bullying between pupils at the same school is extended beyond the school day.

Bullying can also start online and follow a child into school. In these circumstances, the effects of cyber-bullying can be felt within the school. Just like face-to-face bullying, it can have repercussions on behaviour during lessons and throughout the school day. For that reason, the Department for Education has already put in place a number of powers and a range of support to enable schools to prevent and tackle cyber-bullying. Teachers have the power to discipline pupils for poor behaviour that takes place outside the school gates, and we have extended teachers’ searching powers so that they can search for and, in certain circumstances, delete inappropriate images or files on electronic devices.

Through the new mandatory subjects of relationships education and relationships and sex education, pupils will be taught about internet safety and harm, including the effects of their online actions on others and knowing how to recognise and display respectful behaviour online. This will complement the computing curriculum, which covers the principles of e-safety at all key stages. The content progresses to reflect the different and escalating risks that young people face, including how to use technology safely, responsibly, respectfully and securely, and where to go for help and support when students have concerns about content or contact on the internet or other online technologies.

We are committed to strengthening the teaching of computing and computer science in schools, so we have launched a new, comprehensive programme to improve the teaching of computing and to drive up participation in computer science, particularly amongst girls. This includes a new national centre for computing and a network of at least 40 hubs throughout the country to support schools to provide resources and training—including elements of e-safety—to primary and secondary schools. The centre will start working with schools this year, and it is backed by £84 million of new funding, which was announced in November 2017.

Children’s online life goes beyond what schools can control and influence. Their efforts need to be backed up by a responsible approach from those who provide social media, taking responsibility for what happens when children use their services. There is a range of other work taking place across Government to help tackle cyber-bullying, including the forthcoming joint White Paper from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office, which sits at the heart of the Government’s response to tackling online harm. The White Paper will be published in the winter and sets out a range of legislative and non-legislative measures that detail how we will tackle online harms.

The hon. Member for Cambridge raised the issue of social media companies and the social media code of practice. As he knows, we published the draft code of practice in May and are continuing to engage with social media providers and others to refine the statutory practice with clear, overarching principles and separate best-practice guidance. Another key message of this year’s Anti-bullying Week is that bullying is a behaviour choice, as the hon. Member for Cambridge also mentioned. We want to ensure that all teachers are equipped with the skills to tackle the serious behaviour issues that compromise the safety and wellbeing of pupils, as well as the low-level disruption that too often gets in the way of effective teaching. We are reforming training so that all teachers will be shown in their first two years in the profession how to manage behaviour effectively. Last month, we announced a £10 million programme to support schools to share best practice and knowledge on behaviour management and classroom management.

We know that bullying can have a serious effect on mental health. Children who suffer bullying can face higher rates of anxiety, depression and self-harm in adulthood. The Department has committed to supporting schools and colleges to promote good mental wellbeing in children, providing a supportive environment for those experiencing problems and securing access to more specialist help for those who need it. The Government’s response to the consultation on our green paper, “Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision”, confirmed our commitment to provide significant further support linked to schools. We will incentivise and support all schools and colleges to identify and train a designated senior lead for mental health, to deliver whole-school approaches to promoting better mental health. The Government will also fund new mental health support teams, or units, which will improve collaboration between schools and specialist services, providing a wider range of support and interventions in or near schools and colleges. These teams will be linked to groups of schools and colleges, and will work closely with other mental health professionals to assess and refer children for other specialist treatments if necessary.

I am grateful for the support that the hon. Member for Cambridge has given to this issue this year. The Government are committed to preventing and tackling bullying, but we know we cannot do that alone. We continue to work with schools and partner organisations to ensure that schools are a safe place for all. I am proud to be a supporter of Anti-bullying Week. I pledge to always choose respect, and I encourage other hon. Members to do the same.

I thank colleagues for the positive, constructive tone of the debate and for the very thoughtful contributions. The contribution of the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) widened the issue to workplace bullying. The all-party parliamentary group on bullying, which I chair, concentrates very much on bullying in schools, but there is of course no doubt that what is learned at school will hopefully go forward in future and help us to do better, whether here or in other workplaces. I absolutely agree with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane). The cases he raised should give us all pause for thought.

Most of all I congratulate the Anti-Bullying Alliance, led by Martha Evans and her colleagues at the National Children’s Bureau. This has become a major event each year for schools and is a fantastic opportunity, as I said in my opening comments, for constructive conversations of the kind that may not always be possible throughout the rest of the year. Today, given the discussions we are having about wider issues and the place of our country in the world, “Choose Respect” could not be a better way of promoting dialogue and constructive conversation. I am sure that on a cross-party basis we can agree to congratulate all those involved, to wish everyone well who has been involved in the campaign during the week, and to make sure that we do everything we can to eliminate bullying in schools and workplaces in the future.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Anti-Bullying Week 2018.

Sitting adjourned.