SCHOOL inspectors are sharpening their focus in efforts to identify and tackle bullying among pupils.
They have rewritten a questionnaire they circulate to parents and pupils while conducting routine school evaluations. The questionnaire includes a number of statements that seek to elicit the views of parents and pupils on aspects of the school that contribute to a positive school culture.
Until December, the statements included only one that referenced bullying. For instance, parents were asked to what extent they agreed with the statement: "The school deals well with bullying." But since January, the questionnaire has been beefed up with a view to getting a clearer picture.
Now, parents are asked whether they have been informed of the school's anti-bullying policy, whether they know who to approach in the school if their child experiences bullying, and how confident they are that bullying will be dealt with promptly and effectively.
Similarly, pupils get an opportunity to comment on the clarity of school rules in relation to bullying, whether they have learned about different kinds of bullying and, if they are being bullied, whether they know they can seek help from a teacher or other adult in the school.
Chief Inspector, Dr Harold Hislop, said the Department of Education was committed to tackling bullying in all its forms, and, last year, updated its anti-bullying strategy to include issues such as cyberbullying and racist bullying.
In September, the department also issued guidelines to schools on how to implement their own anti-bullying strategies and advised that all schools should have such strategies in place by this Easter. He said inspectors were keen to capture the views of how schools were dealing with the issue of bullying and as part of the whole-school inspection process, they surveyed parents and students.
"Since January, we have amended the questions relating to bullying which we ask students and parents in order to get a clearer picture of how they perceive their school deals with the problem".
According to Mr Hislop, the majority of schools are doing good work in making sure children feel safe and secure, "but part of our reasoning behind changing the questionnaire is to further examine students' and parents' knowledge of anti-bullying strategies and procedures in schools".
He said surveys that they completed before the publication of the anti-bullying strategy showed that as many as one in four parents was unsure or unaware of the schools' anti-bullying procedures, which clearly pointed to the need for better communication between schools and parents.