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Children and Young People: Bullying

Volume 687: debated on Monday 27 November 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How they will implement their policies on combating bullying with regard to young people.

My Lords, the Government fund the Anti-Bullying Alliance to help teachers and schools to tackle bullying, such as through the annual anti-bullying week, last week. Other initiatives to tackle bullying include our widely used anti-bullying guidance, Don’t Suffer in Silence, which we are supplementing with new guidance on prejudice-driven bullying, and the new Education and Inspections Act which imposes new requirements on schools, when framing their behaviour policies, to consult all pupils and parents.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that comprehensive reply. I am pleased that he mentioned anti-bullying week when a number of issues were raised about what was being done to and by young people to make them unhappy. What is being done about helping parents understand and tackle bullying in schools? Parents are often the last people to know, which causes much unhappiness for their children.

My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. It is vital that schools engage fully with parents on all incidents of bullying. My department, the DfES, provides £200,000 a year to fund Parentline Plus, a telephone advice line offering guidance for parents on a range of subjects, including bullying. As well as the advice line itself, that money funds the Be Someone to Tell information campaign and booklet, aimed at parents whose children are bullies or are being bullied. I am told that schools and parents have been made aware of the campaign and associated resources via the PLP website. At first, I thought that that was a new function for the Parliamentary Labour Party, but I discovered that although that would be an important function for it, the initials stand for the Parentline Plus website, www.parentlineplus.org.uk. We urge all parents whose children are bullied to use the website and to take full advantage of the advice and guidance that is offered there.

My Lords, does the Minister accept the recent findings of the Children’s Commissioner for England, Professor Aynsley-Green, that children or young people with disabilities are twice as likely to be bullied as their peers and that those with learning disabilities are bullied even more? If so, what do he and the Government propose to do about them?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point and he will be aware that, under the Disability Discrimination Act, from December all schools must have in place disability equality plans. The tackling of prejudice against disabled children, including bullying, is one of the features that schools will have to cover in those plans.

My Lords, I was delighted to see that Bolton Wanderers and celebrities such as Sara Cox led initiatives last week to highlight the problems of bullying. However, how we can avoid our children getting mixed messages, when many reality TV programmes that are widely watched depend on ritual humiliation and when a video game about bullying is just about to go on sale in our shops?

My Lords, first, I welcome the noble Baroness to her new duties on the Front Bench and I send the best wishes of the House to her predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, who we congratulate on her appointment as chief executive of the Advertising Association.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, raises an important issue. We expect parents, who should be in the front line of tackling these issues, to exercise proper care and discretion over the activities engaged in by their children, including participation in those sorts of games and the high risks that they carry, as set out by the noble Baroness.

My Lords, how are the Government working with the various faith and cultural groups to ensure that bullying policies take into account and celebrate the differences between all children who attend our schools?

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important issue. One of the announcements made last week during anti-bullying week was an important project to examine faith-based and other prejudice-driven bullying in schools, in association with the Beatbullying group. This will cover issues such as Islamophobia and problems faced by pupils with disabilities. I shall certainly let the noble Baroness know when we have the results of that.

My Lords, on Islamophobia, is my noble friend aware that a recent survey by the Mayor of London showed that since the “veil debate” there has been a huge increase in the bullying of Muslim children? What instructions to deal with that, if any, have the Government given to school governing bodies or head teachers?

My Lords, we could not be clearer in the guidance and advice we give to schools on bullying. We have also issued guidance on tackling bullying specifically in relation to race, religion and culture, and next year we will publish guidance responding to homophobia and homophobic bullying. So we take all these areas of bullying very seriously indeed and we make advice available to schools. However, ultimately, schools have a duty to take this issue sufficiently seriously, and we rely on them to engage fully with parents and staff to see that that is so. We believe that the new powers in the Education and Inspections Act—particularly the much stronger powers that schools now have in respect of discipline and behaviour—will make it easier to enforce the policies that they have in place.

My Lords, everyone will be concerned to see that parents are thoroughly involved in the procedures, but do the Government think that the special arrangements in place are appropriate for young carers, whose parents are perhaps not as actively involved? For example, mentoring by older pupils of new pupils at a school might very well help in this respect.

My Lords, mentoring plays an important role in tackling bullying, not least in respect of young carers—a very important group mentioned by the noble Baroness. Last week, we set out plans to extend the successful peer mentoring scheme by adding nearly £500,000 extra to the Childline in Partnership with Schools scheme to expand the training programmes to cover more than 60,000 young people a year. So we are giving additional support in that area.