€500,000 set aside to tackle bullying at schools
EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn has set aside €500,000 for a campaign to beat the bullies next year.
Final details of the plan are still being worked out but the money was set aside in this week's Budget.
A national information programme to educate parents and older siblings, which will include a special website helping them to recognise and deal with cyber bullying, is likely to be key to the strategy.
While bullying is not a new problem, the growth of cyber bullying, and the damage it can cause, is a major worry.
Cyber bullying is bullying by electronic means such as social media websites, text and picture messaging, email and chatrooms. It has been linked to recent suicides of young teenagers in Ireland.
Earlier this year Mr Quinn set up a working group to make recommendations on a strategy to tackle bullying in all its forms, including homophobic bullying and cyber bullying.
The working group's focus was on the changes required to existing practices and policies that could improve how bullying is tackled and how awareness of bullying and its effects can be raised at school level.
The last formal Department of Education guidelines to counter bullying are almost 20 years old.
The working group explored the need to update the 1993 guidelines to explicitly refer to homophobic bullying, cyber bullying, and any other forms of bullying which have become more prevalent in recent years.
It heard from a range of experts, support groups and the schools sector, including parents and students.
A department spokesperson said Mr Quinn was still considering the working group's draft action plan, which would be published in coming weeks.
Schools are also stepping up their response to cyber bullying.
The Joint Managerial Body, representing the management of 400 secondary schools, recently issued updated guidelines with a range of recommendations, including a ban on students taking photos of pupils or staff members, other than for school-related projects.
The Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools has advised its 93 schools to strengthen their codes of behaviour to cover breaches of discipline arising from misuse of online data or social media, to include the possibility of student suspension or expulsion.
The Irish Vocational Education Association, representing 258 second-level schools, expects to have a set of policies and procedures for dealing with cyber bullying ready by the end of the year.