HL Deb 25 October 1994 vol 558 cc439-41

3.1 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further steps they have taken to reduce school bullying.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, the Government continue to give priority to action against bullying. In July we released a public information film on the theme "Don't Suffer in Silence", which has been shown extensively on television. On 29th September we published an anti-bullying pack which makes clear the importance of the "whole school" approach to bullying. I am pleased to say that demand for the pack has been high: over 17,000 schools in England have already applied for a copy, and we expect many more to do so.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the 6,000 schools that have not applied for this excellent advice pack are probably the schools that are failing to tackle the very serious problem of bullying? Will the Government ensure that every school receives a copy of the pack; and will they use their powers to issue a directive to all schools to set up an anti-bullying policy and investigate all complaints?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, the essence of the "whole school" approach is that it is a policy adopted by every part of the school by consent because it wishes to do so. It would not be in line with that approach—which has been shown by research to be the best approach—if we were to force the advice pack on schools. Schools have to want it. Ofsted has clear instructions to monitor the ways in which schools are acting to prevent bullying. I am sure that that incentive will be enough to make sure that schools take the issue seriously.

Lord Morris

My Lords, I admire Her Majesty's Government's initiative in this area. However, is my noble friend aware that, in my day, victims of bullying were identified and strategic alliances were formed; they then, in concert, knocked seven bells out of the bulliers, and the whole problem of bullying mysteriously disappeared?

Lord Lucas

No, my Lords, I am not aware of any such thing. Certainly my experience and that of many others is that bullying was rampant in our day and was not dealt with at all successfully.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, has one of the anti-bullying packs been sent to Gordonstoun School?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, all independent schools have been informed that the pack has been issued; and it is open to them to buy it.

Lord Judd

My Lords, will the Minister agree that local education authorities can play a very important part in supporting state schools in overcoming the problem? Can he assure the House that adequate resources are made available for this vital task? Can he tell the House how many local authorities have applied for such assistance and how many grants for it have been made?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, dealing with bullying is not primarily a question of resources. It is mostly a question of attitudes. There may be occasions when additional resources are required. If a school has put in place an all-school anti-bullying policy and needs further resources, and makes the reasons clear in its application, I am sure that it will be considered sympathetically.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, will the Minister agree that the problem that one has to get over is somehow to encourage those who are bullied either to let their parents know and then for the parents to have the courage to go to the school and see the head; or else for that boy or girl to have the courage to go to a member of staff to say that he or she is being bullied? Is that not one of the great hurdles besides anything else in tackling this problem?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. In order for it to be worth while for a child to complain to anyone about bullying, that child has to know that his complaint will be taken seriously and will be dealt with properly.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is it not the case that a bully is essentially a coward? And would it not be wise for the Government to give that aspect of the matter some attention with a view to creating a climate of opinion which discourages bullying by pointing out how cowardly it is?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, quoting Nigel Molesworth: "Everyone says stand up to bulies and they will run away but do not believe them. A lot of them stand still and then where are you eh? i will tell you you are in the duck pond and it is joly freezing"!

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have no real quarrel with the Government, and that I think they have handled the issue rather well? Some people take bullying rather frivolously. The Minister does not. It is a very serious problem, causes very deep unhappiness, and in some cases suicide. That cannot be solved by clever comments about "knocking seven bells" out of people. The Minister is quite right to take this matter very seriously. But is he aware that it is wrong to wait for the consent of all schools, because those schools which neglect bullying and allow it to flourish are the very schools upon which the Government should lean and bring pressure to bear to do something about the problem?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I am very grateful for the noble Lord's support, and to the many other people in organisations who help to deal with bullying in schools. But to deal with bad schools by trying to compel them to have anti-bullying policies would be to go down a road that is contrary to best practice. We shall do our best to make sure that they do so through the Ofsted system of inspections. We believe that to be the best way of approaching the matter.