Violent behaviour on the increase in primary schools, survey reveals
Published 15/05/2010 | 05:00
VIOLENT behaviour is on the increase in primary schools, a shocking new study reveals.
The survey of 1,000 principals, or one in three in the country, also found increasing levels of anxiety among children and soaring levels of attention disorders. And half said depression among their pupils was on the rise.
In at least three cases, primary schools reported pupils took their own lives over the past year.
Since 1990, nearly 60 children aged between five and 14 have committed suicide.
Up to 1,050 people took part in the study by the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN).
Asked whether there had been an increase in violent behaviour among children enrolling in primary schools, 410 said yes, 336 said no, and 182 did not reply.
The principals were asked about factors that impact most negatively on children's welfare. Those who responded identified neglect in particular as the greatest challenge, followed by bullying.
IPPN national director Sean Cottrell said bullying was almost reaching epidemic proportions.
"But it's not the bullying of old when they ganged up on an individual. It's more insidious and mainly takes the form of cyber-bullying," he told the Irish Independent.
He said schools and society had to take a more pro-active approach to avoid a tragedy such as that in the US where months of bullying led to the suicide in January of Phoebe Prince, whose family had moved there from Co Clare.
Mr Cottrell said schools should hold an annual audit of their anti-bullying policies and allow space for pupils to come and speak in confidence if they are being bullied.
The survey shows that one in six principals (16.8pc) reported that their school had not updated its anti-bullying policy and procedures since 2006.
Family trauma emerged as a major factor increasingly affecting children in primary schools, although it was left to the principals to define what they understood as family trauma.
Mr Cottrell said the term included everything from a death in the family to marital breakdown or serious illness.
More than 670 principals said there was evidence of an increase in family trauma, 87 saw no such increase and 182 did not answer the question.
At present, 30 minutes a week are allocated to social, personal and health education, which is designed to assist pupils to come to terms with some of the issues they are confronting in their lives.
Asked if this was sufficient time, 426 said no, 328 said yes and 207 did not answer.
Mr Cottrell said the reality of children's lives today was much different than in the past.
The challenges that previously were only experienced at second level were becoming real in primary schools.
"Many children, girls in particular, are becoming anxious and unhappy about their weight and self-image," he said.
"Some of these children can be as young as eight.
In addition, the deliberate sexualisation of children in music, film, TV and magazines will have devastating consequences."
He added that children had to contend with peer pressure in relation to alcohol, drugs and personal appearance as well as bullying, neglect, homophobia and racism.
He argued that the primary school curriculum would do little to reverse these disturbing trends confirmed in the survey.
"Of course, schools are not the panacea to solve all the social ills of our time but now, more than ever before, they have a vital role to play in the physical, social, emotional and psychological development of the child. What children learn today must be relevant to their future.
"We urgently need to examine how our primary education system can best equip children with a broader range of inter- and intra-personal skills that will be vital for their lives."