SCHOOLS have until next Easter to introduce mandatory anti-bullying procedures which, for the first time, must address cyber-bullying and homophobic bullying.
Following a spate of tragic suicides of cyber-bullying victims, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn ordered the country's 4,000 primary and secondary schools to address the issue head on.
He warned that, under the new procedures, the prevention of bullying must be an integral part of a school's anti-bullying policy, rather than "only responding to incidents of bullying as they arise".
He conceded that some schools were failing to adequately tackle bullying and that the new procedures would provide them with a policy template. "The key is to get the basics right across all of our schools," he said.
For the first time, schools will be required to record their responses to reports of bullying, and will be held accountable, with principals required to report regularly to the board of management.
The board, in turn, will carry out an annual review of the school's anti-bullying policy and its implementation.
In order to boost transparency for pupils and parents, school's must publish their anti-bullying policy on their website.
When a teacher has determined that bullying has occurred, parents of both the victim and bully must be informed at an early stage and school must explain what actions it is taking.
Teachers will also be required to keep a written record using a standardised template. In cases where he or she feels that the bullying behaviour has not been adequately addressed within 20 school days, they must hand over their report to the principal.
Principals must update their board of management at least once every term on the number of bullying cases reported and what has been done in response.
Meanwhile, the board must carry out an annual review of the school's anti-bullying policy and its implementation and publish this on the school's website.
Announcing the new measures yesterday, Mr Quinn said we had seen too many stories in recent years of the appalling impact that bullying can have on young people.
"Bullying can ruin a young person's enjoyment of some of the most important years of their life.
"In extreme situations it can also, tragically, be a factor in a young person taking his or her own life," he added.
He said the procedures were the first time in 20 years that there had been a significant update of the approach that schools were required to take in relation to bullying and cyberbullying.
He added that many schools were already tackling bullying well and the new procedures would underpin and improve what they already did.
"For those schools that are not as good at dealing with bullying, the new procedures provide a bullying-policy template and practical guidance and tips so that they are clear on what they have to do."
The new procedures have been welcomed by anti-bullying campaigners, with Monica Monahan, director of the National Anti-Bullying Coalition, saying they provided "great hope".
"This a huge step forward and deserves recognition...The annual review and climate-testing surveys within the school setting will be crucial in evaluating whether or not their chosen prevention and awareness strategies are effective in reducing these levels. Data collection is central to all of this."
Michael Barron, director of BeLonGTo, said the fact that schools were required to address homophobic and transphobic bullying was "a major breakthrough".
"Every class in every school in Ireland has LGBT students. Many schools are already working to create a climate that is safe and supportive of these students. Many other schools, however, are not working to support LGBT young people and these procedures provide much needed support and direction for those schools."