HL Deb 06 October 1998 vol 593 cc322-36

7.32 p.m.

Lord Tope rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to address the problem of bullying of pupils in secondary schools.

The noble Lord said: My Lords. I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, on his promotion to the Front Bench and welcome what I think I am right in saying will be his first speech from the Dispatch Box. I have certainly enjoyed many of his speeches when he spoke from the Back Benches and I am sure that this evening I shall enjoy his speech from the Front Bench even more. I am sure I speak for all your Lordships when I say we are also looking forward very much to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie. I know he has great experience to bring to your Lordships' House. I am sure we shall all hear his speech with great pleasure tonight.

My Question this evening is an open one which refers generally to bullying in secondary schools. I know this issue is of great concern to your Lordships and is one we discussed a number of times during the passage of the school standards Bill. This evening I intend to use all my allotted time to draw attention to why a small but significant group of pupils in all our secondary schools do not achieve as they might. They are not drug takers or from run-down council estates or are taught in large classes or are from broken homes, but the boys are gay and the girls are lesbian. Day after day and term after term they are taunted and humiliated. Some have their clothing or equipment ruined and some are beaten up and in some cases badly hurt. The tragic irony in all this is that many of them have yet to have sex with anyone, let alone a relationship. It has been said often in your Lordships' House that schoolchildren are too young to know their own sexuality. The reality in today's secondary schools is that streetwise teenagers spot "something different" all too readily and then the victimisation begins.

I became aware that there was a significant problem for pupils such as these from the study carried out in 1996 by Stonewall and the Terrence Higgins Trust. Of the respondents under 18 in that survey, 48 per cent. had experienced violent attack and 39 per cent. of those attacked had been attacked by four or more attackers. Most alarmingly for our education service, 40 per cent. of these attacks happened in school. Since then I have had access to much research, including that by Ian Rivers of the University of Luton, work done by the Health and Education Research Unit at the London University's Institute of Education, the London survey published this year by the organisation GALOP, and consultations with schools carried out in Leicester and Lancaster. Research is ongoing at Manchester Metropolitan University. All this work confirms that we have in our schools a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

Throughout the summer I have received a steady stream of letters from young people who are suffering from homophobic bullying and the letters are still arriving. I intend to spend some time tonight quoting from these letters because although I knew about this issue I was still surprised by the volume and the frankly heartrending content of many of the letters. Several spoke in their letters of their suicide attempts. One letter stated, I felt so distressed: alone and very depressed. One time I wrote all over my bedroom walls that I hated everyone and myself. I tried to take an overdose of pills four times, and tried to slit my wrists one time". That letter was from Tom from the Midlands who is now 18. He was looking back at what some would say were the best days of his life. Michael, just 15, from Hertfordshire is still at school. He wrote, I don't care about exams or jobs and I definitely hate school, and take every chance to be sick and miss lessons. If it wasn't for the support group, it's very likely that I would end my life. Sorry". A constant theme throughout the letters is isolation and loneliness. One asked why it is better to be black than gay. The answer, You don't have to tell your mum you're black". Many of these boys and girls cannot turn to their parents. There are mums who tell them they are unnatural and who can no longer bring themselves even to touch their children. There are dads who beat them up and throw them out. The law about the age of consent, which some claim is there to protect youngsters, appears sometimes to do exactly the reverse. Stuart from Haringey wrote, During this period, I was raped by a man. But because I was under the age of consent, at the age of sixteen, I thought that if I told anyone, I would be arrested and put into prison. And so I did nothing". The letters from girls were, if anything, even more distressing. Debbie from Lancashire was not untypical. She describes in detail how she was ambushed by a group of lads on the way home from school who beat her up amidst a torrent of filthy abuse. She wrote, I managed to get home and I was bleeding from the back of my head, and bruised and bleeding on my legs. I could hardly walk because of the bruising in my groin". Of course not all the bullying is quite so violent or extreme.

The Government constantly and rightly want pupils and teachers to raise standards. But imagine trying to gain good academic results against a background such as the following. I quote again from another letter which stated, my books being defaced with filthy wording, or my file, folders and the contents of my bag being emptied out of a first-floor window as a punishment for being gay". That letter was sent by Paul who wrote to me from Nottinghamshire. A steady drip-feed of insult gradually erodes all one's self-esteem. As Tony from Oxfordshire put it, I suppose I was lucky that I was never physically attacked. But going into school every day knowing that you were likely to be insulted or humiliated was like walking on a tightrope". Your Lordships may ask where the teachers are in all this. A sad pattern has continued to emerge in the correspondence as the summer went on. Either teachers told these pupils to keep their heads down and avoid attention or they remonstrated ineffectively with the bullies and made the situation worse. Some took refuge behind a misinterpretation of Section 28 of the Local Government Act and said that they were legally forbidden to talk about homosexuality. I am afraid I have to report that some teachers—I am sure it is a small minority—even joined in the persecution. We heard of a deputy head in the north of England who, seeing an effeminate 16 year-old pupil standing by the school's Christmas tree, called out, Robert, shouldn't you be on the top of the tree"? An RE teacher in Scotland required by his enlightened school to discuss homosexuality in his classes told the whole class: "I'm sure nobody wants to know about the poofs apart from Ben", and told the boy he would have to read the chapter on his own.

This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I re-read it recently and was struck by how many of the articles apply directly to the situations I have described. Perhaps I may refer to Article 26, which states: Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality, and to the strengthening of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship.". We have a long way to go before some of our secondary school pupils and teachers understand what those words mean.

An important first step towards that understanding would be for Her Majesty's Government to repeal Section 28 of the Local Government Act. I hope that tonight the Minister will be able to tell us what the Government's timescale is for fulfilling that manifesto commitment. In the meantime, perhaps the Minister will confirm that there is no legal bar to schools educating their pupils about the problems that homosexuals face. That would be helpful.

The recurring theme in our research has been the need for youngsters to have a teacher to whom they can turn for advice and support in their distress. We were told of a system operated in German schools where pupils elect "teachers of trust", who are then protected in offering confidentiality to pupils. I hope the Government will look into that since it apparently works well in Germany. In that connection will the Minister look into withdrawing paragraph 40 of Circular 5/94, which appears to advise teachers not to offer confidentiality to pupils?

It is time for sex education to deal properly with relationships and to face the problems of gay and lesbian pupils honestly. Teachers need appropriate training for that. Both in-service training and programmes appropriate to B.Ed and PGCE students need to be developed. Above all, the DfEE needs to tell governors and head teachers that their anti-bullying policies must include specific plans to stand up to homophobic bullying. I understand that the Government will issue a circular later this year on the subject of bullying. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is so and, if it is, that the circular will deal specifically with homophobic bullying. We cannot leave these vulnerable youngsters out in the open and under attack.

Needless to say, this speech has not been vetted by the Prime Minister's Office. However, I wish to conclude, perhaps for the first and last time in my life, with a quote from the Prime Minister's speech at the conference last week. He said: Children with talent they will never use. Ability they'll never develop. Achievements within them that the world will never see. Leave injustice or discrimination unchecked and we lay waste the genius of the nation". My Lords, I agree.

7.43 p.m.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, it is with some humility and not a little trepidation that I rise to address your Lordships' House for the first time. Perhaps all I can hope for is to emulate the performance of the one-eyed javelin thrower at the last Olympics in as much as I shall probably not win any prizes but at least retain your Lordships' attention.

Having spent some 35 years in the Police Service, I can safely say that I have some little experience of giving evidence in a range of tribunals, from magistrates' courts and coroners' courts to Crown courts and appeal courts, but never did I dream that I should one day address this House.

Having entered this place in July, just before the Recess, I thought that one blessing about retiring from the Police Service would be that the annual leave, which as a policeman was constantly interrupted, would at last be undisturbed. It used to be continually interrupted, particularly in the CID, in order to give evidence in court or for serious investigations. Then, lo and behold, at the beginning of September the Prime Minister asked for a recall of Parliament. So nothing changes!

The question of bullying, graphically described by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is an important one. Although in the Question it is confined to pupils in secondary schools, it is a problem with far wider ramifications and should be treated extremely seriously. It causes misery in the workplace, and in the Armed Services it can destroy careers. The noble Lord explained the problems that it can cause in schools. It can, of course, ultimately lead to murder.

In my experience as a police commander I have known of situations where I have had to "rescue" police officers by transferring them to different stations to avoid the intimidating and dominating influence of those in positions of power over them because for some reason they did not fit, or there was a clash of personalities. However it is described, it amounted to bullying by those in power.

One of the difficulties of those in command, whether it be school teachers or supervisors, is finding out that bullying is taking place. There is a fear, which I have experienced during my 35 years in the force, of being labelled as a "grass" or a "snitch". People are frightened of being intimidated because they have told the authorities what is going on. It needs to be made much easier to "whistle-blow", anonymously if necessary, and such information needs to be taken seriously by those in authority.

My experience both as a child and as a police officer is that those who bully prey on the weak and have to be stood up to. Appeasement, as with blackmail demands, does not work with bullies. As a policeman I found that in dealing with an incident the one thing you never did was bark unless you were prepared to bite. If there was the glimmer of a suggestion that you were not going to carry out what you had suggested if the person did not desist from what they were doing, then you had lost the game. If you said to somebody, "If you don't stop doing that you'll be arrested", make no mistake, if they did not stop doing it, they had to be arrested. That is a rule that policemen learn very early on. In the same context bullying has to be confronted. Of that I have little doubt.

In this country we pride ourselves on the rule of law. If that phrase means anything, it means equality under the law. It means the protection of the weak from the strong, the protection of the frail from the powerful and the protection of the individual from the large organisation. Those are the values on which the British nation was built. What better place to start instilling those values than in our schools? In a civilised society the rule of law should run alongside our children in the playground.

To conclude on a lighter note, I recently opened a nursery school in my area and was asked by a youngster what it was like to be a Lord. I am proud of the answer I gave. I said that although it is nice to be important it is far more important to be nice. If we can get that message across, we are halfway there.

It is indeed an honour and a great privilege to be a Member of this House. I read recently that in the Middle Ages many Members had to be bullied and fined to attend. I hope that has stopped!—and as I say that, I look at the Whip. I look forward to participating fully in the work of this House. Perhaps I may add that this speech was not vetted by the Prime Minister either.

7.49 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ely

My Lords, I am happy to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, on a delightful speech and to welcome him to the House. I was a resident of County Durham for 11 years and I am pleased to say that we never met! We shall want to hear frequently from the noble Lord, especially in the light of the great experience which he brings to the House.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for initiating this debate and especially for the courtesy which he extended to me and my friends on this Bench in indicating the direction of his remarks.

The letters cited by the noble Lord are surely enough evidence of the importance and seriousness of the subject. The existing research, notably that to which he referred published by the Institute of Education in the University of London entitled Playing it Safe, demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt that such bullying has to be taken seriously. On the other hand, that same report states that the needs of these students are increasingly recognised and acted on and also that HIV-related education and homophobic-related bullying have become matters of general concern, and I welcome that. But, as the evidence plainly suggests, there is much more to do. The secondary head teachers to whom I have spoken on this matter in my part of the world say that, although much of the old macho male bullying has receded through a good deal of vigilance by teachers, there is a kind of sophisticated viciousness which is much more difficult to challenge, and I think that that is what the noble Lord refers to.

The Church absolutely and unequivocally condemns all bullying, whether of the physical or verbal kind, for whatever cause, and that includes the open acknowledgment of homosexual inclinations. The root of bullying is a denial of the respect which is due to human beings. The religious root of that respect is a conviction that human beings are made in God's image and likeness; and that, as your Lordships undoubtedly recognise, binds Jews, Christians and Moslems in one single tradition. Reverence for life is the profound belief of most of the major religions of the world. It is due to human beings simply by virtue of their being members of the human race. It is due to the disabled and the deformed, to members of minorities and to anyone whose views or attitudes make them stand out or set them apart in any way from their contemporaries.

I wish to lay some emphasis on the positive side of the teaching of respect. It happened that last month I visited a church primary school in my diocese on its third day and was delighted to discover that the teachers had deliberately decided to make an issue out of the question of respect. To my astonishment, a small girl aged four or five who had been thumped the previous day during the lunch-hour was, as it were, supported publicly by a teacher who insisted, in my presence and that of the whole school, on the importance of respect for human beings. I welcome that. It is the commitment of the Church that that should happen.

The difficulty for the Churches is well known. All the recent official documents, without exception, condemn homophobic bullying: the Papal documents do so; the Church of England Bishops' Statement on Human Sexuality does so; and the resolution of the recent Lambeth Conference does so. Indeed, it goes further in making a clear statement about the status in the Church's eyes of Christians of homosexual orientation. The difficulty is that that is contained within a restatement of the traditional Christian attitude to sexuality and marriage. As your Lordships know, because it has been mentioned in this House before, on a redefinition of the word "homophobic" this traditional teaching is not infrequently represented as itself homophobic and all who maintain or teach it are said to be homophobes. I am sorry about that. I also believe that it is deeply mistaken. I think there ought now to be some convention in civilised discourse on this subject which does not involve this particular form of name-calling.

I should like to suggest that, when the Government come to reconsider Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which I understand they are committed to repealing, some thought should be given to a distinction, with which county schools have long been familiar, between promoting a religion and teaching about a religion. Religious education in our county schools is about producing children who are religiously literate and is not, and should never be, about the promotion of this or that religion. It should not be impossible to give clear information about homosexuality and clear protection against homophobic bullying, including information about what different religions and moral philosophies say about homosexuality, without—to quote the Act—promoting it, as a pretended family relationship a term which I do not much care for. We shall await the Government's proposals with great interest.

I have two remarks by way of conclusion. One head teacher of a secondary school to whom I spoke said to me, apropos the general subject of bullying, that one of the most difficult problems which he faced was the distance, in some cases amounting to lack of interest, which a significant number of parents show in the behaviour of their offspring in school. If Her Majesty's Government are, as I believe, committed to a partnership between schools and parents, everything that can be done to extend and deepen a sense of parental responsibility should be done.

My final remark is a story which I believe to be true but for which I cannot personally vouch. It is about a school student, a lad, who refused to join in the laddish culture of the break-time, boasting about sexual conquests, because he was an open and practising Christian. He finally decided that the only way to get his tormentors off his back was to tell them that he was gay. He did so, and they left him alone. So, my Lords, all is not completely lost.

7.57 p.m.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, on his excellent maiden speech.

I wish to contribute to this debate not because I have any blinding insights or foolproof answers to this most agonizing problem of bullying in secondary schools, but because in the school which I founded in Scotland it is one of the first issues which we have to address. There, all the children—whom we call "educationally fragile"—have had experience of bullying in their previous schools to a significant degree.

It is possible to argue that bullying is rather like sin—part of the human condition, something that most of us have encountered at some time or another and which we have to learn to deal with and overcome as part of the growing-up process. It can mean a multitude of things, from a casual shove or an unkind word to playground terrorism and the kind of fear and misery which lead children to take their own lives. It involves us all because the prevalence of such behaviour in any school is not only a reflection of the ethos of the school, the quality of its leadership and teachers, the children and the quality of their home lives but also of the attitudes of the wider society.

In Scotland, every school is required to have a whole-school anti-bullying policy. Much work has been done, including the appointment of an anti-bullying officer in 1993 by the Scottish Office for two years to extend and support good practice. This Government have also helped by supporting the much-needed continuance of the Bullying Helpline. There remains a long way to go.

Bullying is often at its worst among adolescents. While being rebellious, they are the most conformist group. To be outside the norm and different in any way is extremely threatening. To be fatter, thinner, to have a stammer, be of a different ethnic background or different sexual orientation is often unacceptable and is to invite the attentions of the bully. Adolescence is a time of turmoil and transition physically, emotionally and educationally when everyone is vulnerable at some level and struggling to discover who they are. The obvious vulnerable or less able ones are not only easy targets; they are the most threatening. I see many of them at my school. For them teasing and bullying had been a common experience in their previous mainstream school. It involves everything from social isolation and exclusion by their peers, to mockery because of clumsiness, slowness or being different in some slight way, to taking money or belongings, to quite severe physical attacks. These children have been identified as educationally fragile which means that because of a specific difficulty or multiple mild problems children are finding the mainstream experience overwhelming and are significantly underachieving. They are struggling, drowning quietly at the back of the class. So, on top of these difficulties they also become the target of the bully. Anyone with a child who has been the victim of such experiences will know what misery and torture this is and how it permeates every aspect of school life: the ability to learn effectively, to make friends and to cope with the demands of school. It affects home life too. I know; I have experienced it.

The bullied of today are often the bullies of tomorrow. Bullies are themselves often vulnerable, inadequate, dysfunctional children in some way. They too often have problems which need to be addressed just as those who are at the receiving end of bullying. It should follow that at my school, because of previous experiences we have a school full of bullies. The complete reverse is true. Instead, there is a remarkable level of mutual help and support between the children. The ethos of the school is based on mutual trust and respect—such easy words to use, but a different matter to put into practice. There is an understanding there that everyone has a difficulty of some kind and, crucially, that that is fine: it is absolutely great to be whoever you are, warts and all. Surely, this must be the goal of all schools.

The same principles affecting bullying apply to any school. Our children are taught that to be different is as acceptable as are the differences of others. To celebrate diversity is a hard lesson for all adolescents. In order that we can deal with the fallout from past bullying—the tears, the nightmares, the panic attacks, the refusal to try or risk failure in or out of the classroom—the children must know that they can trust the staff who are also role models; that they can talk and talk for as long as it takes; that they are believed and that they really matter as individuals. This takes time, but all schools must make time and strive to convey a belief in the worth of all their children. It also means that any sign of bullying is responded to immediately and seen to be so, and some appropriate sanction applied in action, not just words. This must always involve the parents who should be involved in the life of any school and with whom actions are agreed.

In an atmosphere where openness, acceptance and trust are the norm it is remarkable how quickly children will respond supportively to the needs of others rather than being threatened by them so the vulnerable do not become victims and bullying ceases to be a real issue.

8.4 p.m.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, on his contribution to this debate this evening. He and others have spoken graphically about the seriousness and misery of bullying in our schools. He also spoke about other areas of life in which people experienced bullying. There are very many unhappy children in our schools, and parents too. Some young people are so miserable that they attempt suicide and sometimes succeed. The lives of many of these unhappy young people may well be blighted forever, not only because they find it difficult to relate to other people in all kinds of situations but because they will probably be unable to reach their full potential at school.

I should like to refer to two matters that I believe are at the heart of this problem: first, the unwillingness of many teachers and headteachers to acknowledge that bullying goes on in their schools. By not facing up to it they fail to put in place any effective strategy to deal with bullying. This is a "chicken and egg" situation. If parents are reluctant to pursue bullying because they know that heads are unsympathetic, or because they believe that there is a danger that it will be made worse by inappropriate action, there is a real problem. Sometimes no action will be taken; sometimes heads will be afraid to take action because they believe that a reputation for bullying will stick to their schools. The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, touched upon this matter earlier in the debate.

I have come across examples in my own life. My older daughter was bullied more or less continually throughout her school life, sometimes more seriously than at others. When she went to secondary school she was put into a tutor group with the very girl who had dogged her all her life. What should be done about it? Should one talk to the headmaster? Would he be sympathetic or make such an issue of it that the situation would be worse? After much discussion we both decided to leave it. I believe that that was the wrong decision. Now that I know the school and headmaster better perhaps we could have been more successful.

Another example of which I am aware was a woman who talked to the headmaster about her child who was being bullied. The response was, "What do you expect? You are a single mother". When that is the response people are afraid to tackle the problem and to talk to head teachers.

As we have heard from the right reverend Prelate, many schools are prepared to face up to the issue. At lunchtime today I heard from one young person. She told me how her school had used the school council of which she was a member to tackle the issue. By getting the bully, the person bullied and the friends of both together they were able to talk about respect for others and in many cases the bullying stopped. If that was the norm in all schools and effective action was taken it would be the school that failed to take action that would be the odd one out. I believe that at the moment the reverse is true. It is perhaps for that reason that we are having this debate this evening. I am aware that the Government have made a start on the issue. I hope that the debate this evening will encourage them to do more.

Secondly, I should like to touch on the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Tope: bullying associated with sexuality and sexual behaviour. Bullies try to find people who for some reason do not quite fit in with the norm. But sexuality and sexual behaviour are often the area that provides an opportunity to bully others. Today young people are bombarded by sex on television and in magazines and newspapers. I believe that young people find it very bewildering to try to come to terms with their sexual awakening as their bodies mature. To want to belong and to feel normal is human. Problems arise not only for gay young people but for straight young people if they do not want to become involved in sexual activity at a very early age. My younger daughter, in part because of her Christian faith—which is rather stronger than mine—and her friends were able to club together and support one another and to say that they did not want to be part of it. By giving that support to one another they could succeed. Giving young people the support to be themselves and to be confident about their choices in life must play a major part in tackling the misery of bullying for our young people.

Good sex education is vital. Knowledge and understanding, not just of the basic facts and mechanics but, as others have said, of the complex area of emotion and relationships, particularly the unique nature of sexual relationships, are important. For too long we have shied away from that issue in schools. In particular, we have failed to give support to teachers to deal with the topic and teach it successfully.

In conclusion, I hope that the Government will reassure us that, first, they will do much more to highlight the importance of tackling the issue of bullying in schools until every school is not afraid to talk openly about and deal with the subject; and, secondly, that more resources will be made available to our schools and teachers to ensure that all our young people receive the best sex education.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, on his maiden speech, which was direct and practical as one would expect of someone from Durham. I learned both about bullying and the richness of life from Durham schools. So I realise what it is all about.

We all deplore bullying. It denies all the values which distinguish what we regard as a civilised society. In discussing the problem, we should not delude ourselves into believing that there are easy solutions. All noble Lords will be in some sense familiar with the book of William Golding, a former school teacher, called The Lord of the Flies in which he showed the darker side of human nature. He described how a group of children, young early adolescents stranded on an island, cast off all civilisation and began targeting individuals just because they were different.

Poor piggy, who was killed, was fat; he wore glasses; and he happened to be rather nice to people. That was enough to earn him death. It is from that dark side of humanity which, let us be honest, we all have within us—what we Christians call original sin—that bullying and persecution spring. It is there in us all.

It is often characteristic of persecution and bullying that it concentrates upon the person who is different—be it colour, interests or sexuality. There is misery in wide areas. It is a misery that exists not just in schools but in large parts of society. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has brought before us certain aspects of bullying as regards sexuality. We all deplore that. I want to underline what the right reverend Prelate said: that none of the Christian churches, or people of my viewpoint, being a Christian, promotes or supports homophobia. I hope that the Minister will bear in mind what the right reverend Prelate said—the moral stance that we take over this is not homophobic.

Bullying covers a great deal. That evil, and evil it is, is not solved by sections in an Act of Parliament or even—dare I say it?—debates in this House. In the end, bullying and persecution have to be dealt with by the society or group in which they occur. They carry the guilt; they must carry the solution. The society, he it a school or be it a country, has to promote a culture that sees the behaviour described by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, of which we all know, as unworthy and a breach of what constitutes true humanity.

Schools, as the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has pointed out, can, if they work hard begin—one can never perfect human nature—to achieve that end, not so much by mission statements which are often an escape, but by creating cultures—it is the culture that is so important—that promote those values. First, there must be close contact between teacher and pupil. They must know each other. Small tutorial groups with a teacher are more useful than talks in assembly. Individual teachers in informal groups achieve more than an address from the rostrum by a head teacher. In such groups bullying and persecution can be shown to be the mark of an inadequate personality and an insecure society.

The first headmaster under whom I served in England was a great man called Robert Birley. He showed how, indirectly, one can promote a culture that values true humanity. When he left Eton he went to teach in South Africa, then suffering under apartheid. He showed the sheer evil of apartheid, not by harangues, not by a political philosophy; he taught those persecuted Africans about the abolition of the slave trade. In that he showed a morality. The South African secret police sat at the back of his lectures and did not understand what he was getting at. In that way—the indirect way—one makes people realise what is true humanity.

Another way in which schools can avoid persecution of those who are different is by ensuring that all talents are catered for; that music and chess are as important as games; that handicrafts are valued; that everyone in that school is valued for achieving something.

To put it bluntly, what is seen as the object of education is to cultivate a regard for the richness of life and the value of every individual. That is the way within a culture that one begins to talk about stopping bullying. It is not easy. I share the philosophy of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater: in the end bullying and persecution spring from feelings of inadequacy and insecurity among the bullies. They feel afraid. They attack the weak and the different. Schools, educations and cultures can defeat and beat that by trying to see—every teacher must see it—that all acquire the gift of valuing themselves, of seeing that they have a value other than by kicking and banging someone else. Only if one values oneself; only if one loves oneself—self hate is a much more difficult problem than self love—for what one achieves, will one stop demeaning others.

It is an enormous task, but that is why those of us in education went into it. There is no easy answer. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for initiating the debate. I hope that something of value may emerge.

8.18 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for raising the issue and for his welcome to me this evening. The issue he raises is an important one and one with which I have a great deal of sympathy. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, in his excellent maiden speech said, bullying in the workplace; in the office; in the home; causes misery and suffering to thousands of people every day in this country, but how much more pernicious is the impact of bullying on children in schools. It puts their emotional well-being and educational achievement at risk. It is disruptive and intolerable. Bullying can lead to disaffection, and truancy, blighting a young persons' life.

The Government attach high priority to helping schools prevent and combat bullying. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, has rightly drawn attention to a form of bullying that has, until recently, gone largely unnoticed and unreported; that of homophobic bullying in schools. I am sure many noble Lords will have been moved, like me, by the personal stories of gay people who suffer from such bullying that he has told us about.

We are aware of the findings of the report Playing It Safe which, for the first time, recorded incidents of homophobic bullying. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely emphasised that point.

In June the Minister for School Standards met representatives of Stonewall and the Terrence Higgins Trust, who commissioned the report, to discuss its recommendations. At that meeting the Minister made it clear that our concern is with all forms of bullying, be they racial, because of sexual orientation, or as a result of a child's special educational needs. We will emphasise this point in new guidance which this department is currently preparing on pupil behaviour and discipline.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made his views known about the problems. He has stressed the need for schools to treat bullying very seriously and to deal with it promptly and firmly whenever and wherever it occurs.

We responded to the concerns expressed about bullying by noble Lords in June. The Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998 includes a specific duty on head teachers to determine measures to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. For these measures to be effective, the whole school community, pupils and parents, as well as teaching and non-teaching staff, should be involved in their development and application. The new duty will require all schools to draw up policies in this area.

Research undertaken for the former Department of Education by Sheffield University between 1991 and 1993 showed that 10 per cent. of primary pupils and 4 per cent. of secondary pupils were bullied at least once a week, and 27 per cent. of primary pupils and 10 per cent. of secondary pupils were bullied at least sometimes. Subsequent surveys have broadly confirmed these findings. It is clear that bullying is widespread and no school is immune from it. The increasing number of calls to ChildLine from children who are bullied bears testimony to that. Last year bullying was the most frequent reason for calls to ChildLine: more than 14,000 children rang for help.

The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, said that there are no easy solutions; there are not, but I believe there are some positive signs. Successive reports from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector for Schools have highlighted that most primary schools already have sound and sensible policies for dealing with bullying. An increasing number of schools are responding to the department's guidance, the anti-bullying pack Don't Suffer in Silence. This has had an effect. Independent research shows that schools just starting out on their anti-bullying work found the pack invaluable. Most schools thought that there had been a reduction in the number of bullying incidents since they started using the pack. We will also be producing a video later this year that will emphasise the simple but powerful message that children need not suffer in silence; they should speak out and let an adult know as soon as possible what has happened.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, underpinned that message when he said that bullying has to be confronted. We believe that confiding in someone is a vital first step in dealing with bullying at a local level. Even where a pupil knows that they have been bullied because of their sexual orientation or because other pupils say that they are somehow different, it is in their best interests to tell someone.

A great deal of good work is being done to raise awareness. My right honourable friend has lent his support to several anti-bullying campaigns. The issue of bullying will also feature in wide-ranging integrated guidance for schools and LEAs which is due to be issued for consultation later this month. This guidance will cover in one document all issues related to school attendance, discipline and behaviour, exclusion, reintegration and education out of school. It will address the issue of disaffected pupils and how their needs and the needs of other pupils can best be met by their inclusion within school, wherever possible. This is in line with our aim of ensuring that as many pupils as possible receive regular education in school, including pupils who have been bullied or have bullied others. The guidance will set out the most up-to-date legal requirements which come into effect in September 1999 and will provide case studies and examples of good practice.

In the development of anti-bullying policies it is very important that all pupils should be involved. Many schools may wish to draw up a charter of rights and responsibilities setting out a pupil's right not to be bullied and a pupil's responsibility not to put up with it but to report any bullying that is experienced or witnessed. Training of pupils in peer mediation, particularly where a pupil's difficulties are minor but could escalate if not addressed, is helpful and leaves teachers more time to deal with major issues.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, raised the issue of where head teachers refuse to see that there is a problem. I know of this from my own personal experience. At the heart of this issue is the leadership given by the head teacher and the ethos of the school in general. Schools which are successful in dealing with bullying usually have the following characteristics: they accept that there is a problem; they have a clear anti-bullying policy in place which is implemented by staff, pupils, parents and governors; they have a climate of positive relationships, care and mutual respect, which is expressed in all aspects of school life; pupils are encouraged to regard telling as acceptable and responsible, and teaching and non-teaching staff are encouraged to regard combatting bullying as a top priority.

I very much agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, about the importance of the culture in a school. What is the situation if there is not the right kind of leadership? If parents have complained to the head teacher and the chair of governors about the school's response to an incident of bullying and have exhausted all other local channels of complaint, they can then complain to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State about the case if they remain dissatisfied. His officials would contact the school and ask for details of the action taken, although his powers of direct intervention in cases of bullying are very limited.

In OFSTED's framework for inspection it requires teams to obtain views of pupils, parents and teachers on how schools deal with bullying, and their reports include the evaluation of anti-bullying policies.

While bullying occurs in primary and secondary schools, it can be more of a problem in secondary schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, shared with us her own experiences in this area. Bullying in secondary schools might be one manifestation of wider problems of disaffection and poor behaviour. In addition, the impact upon another pupil's academic progress could be more significant because of difficulties in studying.

Wherever possible it is helpful to involve pupils in efforts to prevent and expose bullying. At the same time the school's approach to the problem should be made known to parents as well as pupils.

I do not underestimate the task that falls to teachers in dealing with bullying. The teacher needs to treat the matter seriously, but also needs to establish the facts of any case beyond doubt if possible.

Schools can raise the question of bullying with pupils during lesson time, but how and when they choose to do so is a matter for them. They could cover issues such as tolerance of others in personal, social and health education lessons. I think that schools will consider very carefully our forthcoming report on PSHE when planning these lessons.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, raised the issue of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. We have made clear our opposition to this Act and intend to repeal it when the legislative opportunity arises. Section 28 prohibits local authorities from intentionally promoting homosexuality, but it never has applied to the activities of individual schools. It does not prevent teachers from teaching about homosexuality.

I very much take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, on the need for good sex education in all schools.

I have noted the comments made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely in relation to the definition of homophobia and the teaching of the Church, and the Church's input into this debate will be fully considered along with other comments.

In conclusion, I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for raising this important issue, and other noble Lords for their contribution to this debate. We may not eliminate bullying completely, but it is important that we all work together to produce and prevent it wherever possible. Only where children break their code of silence, speak to adults and explain what is happening, can we then hope to reach our common objective of tackling bullying effectively, giving our children the environment they deserve in which to learn.

It is important that we do not allow the misery and disruption that can be caused by bullying to go unchallenged in our schools. Mistakes can be too costly.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.30 to 8.35 p.m.]

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