HL Deb 29 April 1994 vol 554 cc924-6

11.22 a.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they propose to take to resolve the problem of bullying in schools.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the Government are naturally extremely concerned at any occurrences of bullying. Available statistics suggest that there is a significant problem. A survey undertaken in Sheffield in late 1990 suggested that a quarter of primary pupils and one in 10 of secondary pupils had experienced bullying. The Government are determined to help schools to tackle the problem. Action Against Bullying guidance was issued to all schools in England in July 1992. New advice leaflets for pupils and parents have recently been prepared by the Department for Education. Further guidance for schools in England based on government-funded research at Sheffield University will shortly be available.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I welcome that response. Is the Minister aware that when Childline and the BBC established a special bullying line, a staggering 18,995 calls were made. Many parents were desperate because they could not get schools to investigate complaints about bullying. Will the Government support a change in the Parent's Charter which guarantees that after complaints of bullying schools investigate the complaints and take any necessary action?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the department is aware of programmes, and comments in the newspapers, on statistics on bullying. I shall certainly bring the second part of the noble Lord's question to the notice of my right honourable friend.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, is it not incumbent on all schools, by government circulars through local authorities, and, in the case of grant-maintained schools, directly, to have a policy on bullying? If I am wrong, is it not about time that there was a policy on the subject of bullying for every school?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, my right honourable friend has asked Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools to ensure that inspection teams look at the action that schools take to prevent and eliminate bullying. Inspectors will seek the views of pupils, parents and teachers on the incidence of bullying and the schools' response.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, will the Minister say whether any study on bullying is taking place in the public school sector as well as in the state sector?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I am not aware of any such studies.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, is it not the case that bullying is a social ill which is not confined to education? It appears in the penal system, in the Armed Forces, and, if I may say so following an interjection from my left, sometimes in Parliament, probably not in this House and certainly not by Whips on these Benches.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I do not think that the Department for Education has any responsibility for bullying in your Lordships' House.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that whether in the so-called public schools or in the state schools one way to reduce bullying is to appoint responsible senior pupils as prefects and to give them the responsibility of detecting bullying and reporting it to the head teacher?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I call my noble friend's attention to the bulletin published by the Department for Education entitled Action Against Bullying, copies of which are in your Lordships' Library.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister accept that on this side of the House we regard this subject, as do the Government, as a very serious issue? It is not simply the bullying but the evidence that many sensitive youngsters of real ability do not fulfil their potential or complete their studies because of experiences of bullying at a young and tender age. That is potentially a national disaster. Firm action must be taken. Do the Government accept that in taking firm action the general context of values in society as a point of reference is crucial. If we are building a caring, responsible society with an emphasis on community responsibility, it is a good point of reference from which to deal firmly with the bullying when it occurs.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, we in this House, and all outside it, have an interest in seeking to solve the problem. It involves the minds of the young people who will be the next generation.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, following the intervention of the noble Viscount on the Liberal Benches, does the noble Viscount agree that the Government should set some example in this matter? Is the Minister aware that during the Maastricht debate in another place, many of the sensitive souls in this House were extremely distressed at the tactics adopted by the Government Whips towards long-serving and very sensitive Conservative Members of Parliament?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, during the Maastricht debate, I believe that it would be difficult to decide who was doing the bullying to whom.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, following the last question, perhaps I may say this. It should not be a matter of blaming the people who try their arm; you should blame the people for letting them get away with it.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, to return to the subject of the Maastricht debate, I do not know who got away with what.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I greatly appreciate the Minister's constructive response. Will he ensure that he is not diverted by quite irrelevant points raised by other noble Lords? If there is bullying in the Army, it should be tackled. But that is no reason for not tackling bullying in schools. I am glad that the Minister is responding so constructively. However, is he aware of an article in the Daily Telegraph about school bullying, which stated: School inspectors are to pay extra attention to the efforts of teachers to combat bullying … All inspection teams will be required specifically to report to parents on schools' individual arrangements … Special guidance aimed at reducing the incidence of bullying in boarding schools will be issued by the Department for Education today … Advice will be sent to State schools next year". The article was based on remarks by Mr. Eric Forth, the Minister's colleague. Unfortunately, the date of the article is 19th May 1992. There are now 18,000 children telephoning about bullying. Does the noble Viscount agree that a great deal remains to be done?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that the Department for Education will maintain its robust policy to counter bullying in our schools.