Half of all parents complain of school bullying
BULLYING in schools has become so widespread that half of all parents have made complaints to their child's primary school.
When they did make a complaint, one third were not happy with the way it was handled, a survey by the National Parents Council-Primary shows.
The cost of school bullying could be running at over €100m a year, the National Anti-Bullying Coalition calculates.
This is made up of a €30m cost to the justice system for school bullies who continue to offend as young adults; a €16m health cost for the 9,600 cases of self-harm each year caused by bullying and a €40m cost for substitution for teachers on leave from bullying.
Both groups were speaking at the Department of Education anti-bullying forum, which will inform a departmental working group set up to review bullying guidelines.
Aine Lynch, chief executive of the National Parents Council-Primary, described the results of their survey of almost 1,000 parents as worrying. "Nearly 30pc said the procedure wasn't followed, 36pc said the procedure wasn't right and 26pc weren't happy with the outcome", she said.
She stressed the "major need" to train teachers as undergraduates and throughout their working careers in how to handle bullying complaints.
Mark Caffrey, equality officer with the Irish Second Level Students Union, described a system adopted in New Jersey where it is mandatory to report all incidents of bullying within a day to school authorities.
An investigation must them be set up within 10 days.
Mr Caffrey wanted Ireland to go a step further and make it mandatory for students to report bullying of their fellow students, with a punishment of a short suspension in some rare cases where this ruling was breached.
Tim Geraghty, of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said although a range of pastoral supports had been put in place by many schools, they were being undermined by staff cuts.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation agreed, citing class sizes, outdated guidelines and the cutback of management posts as hampering the fight against bullies.
Monica Monaghan, of the Anti-Bullying coalition, set up last year by parents, teachers and other concerned people, said "bullying is a social plague that is incubating in our schools and leaking out into society and our workplaces".
"We can no longer be a nation of bystanders while our children struggle to endure the unendurable," she said.
One in four school children are bullied, according to estimates. Education Minister Ruari Quinn said the revision of guidelines was needed because of rapidly changing methods of bullying, influenced by technology and social networking.