Mary Martin, former Deputy Headteacher of Comberton Village College blogs with us today:

The film released today is an attempt to capture, via the testimony of pupils, the impact of anti-bullying strategies in a secondary school in the UK. I believe that their combined voices help to demonstrate that a multi-faceted yet simple and coherent approach to dealing with anti-social behaviour and specifically bullying tactics can be effective.

Bullying in schools tends to begin with low-key name-calling which, if not identified and promptly dealt with, can fester and grow into insidious cruelty. The majority of pupils and educators find the notion of bullying abhorrent and have a genuine desire to work in an environment which nourishes personal development and growth. It is this desire that needs nurturing so that young people can flourish, and it is the harnessing of the creative pastoral energies of the young people themselves that lies at the heart of the success of PEOPLE people as a movement within a school.

Anti-social impulses arise from prejudice and proliferate in a climate of fear, so in order to build a tolerant inclusive culture it is important to ensure that the nature of that inclusive culture registers with pupils and is appreciated from the minute they arrive. Thoughtful and deliberate awareness raising, re social expectations and consistency of response to even minor breaching of behavioural codes, can set the tone for the future.

A policy for the people

A PEOPLE people anti-bullying policy begins with the use of clear messaging to pupils about the value of every individual, about the celebration of difference, about educational entitlement.  All pupils deserve to embark on each new phase of study with a sense of their own worth and in a spirit of hopefulness about what they might be able to achieve.

Once the messages promoting the baseline that everyone matters and has the right to become their best selves has been articulated, if it is done well, there will be a spring of enthusiasm from pupils who want to be active in establishing and maintaining a safe and enjoyable domain space for living and learning.

PEOPLE people recruits are trained to encourage respect for others in everyday situations as they go about the school, and also through interventions which are essentially about engineering dialogue that seeks to promote understanding and resolve conflict. Teachers of course need to be proactive using subject and pastoral curricula opportunities to construct frameworks for enlightening discussion of all social, moral, spiritual, gender and ethnic differences. Equally, school policies for dealing with anti-social and bullying behaviours need to be executed with integrity.  However, we are continually made aware of how often, despite practitioner best efforts, school structures fail to cope with the menace of bullying in general or in all instances.

Developing the capacity of young people to monitor and moderate peer behaviour using PEOPLE people guidelines and processes is potentially a way of bolstering existing school practice.

Working with secondary pupils in this way over 20 years has convinced me of the power they have to improve relationships, to correct imbalances, to reveal the genuine, to appreciate what is truly valuable in relationships.

To be able to support their peers, young people need confidence which comes from working with them in tricky discussions. They need to practise listening so that they can really hear where the roots of conflict reside. We usually find that the source of disagreement lies in varying layers of misunderstanding. Barnacle-like accretions of these layers accumulate over time, with bullies often never questioning the validity of their actions. PEOPLE people engagement aims to develop the individual’s capacity for behavioural self-critique so that hoped-for change comes from them and is long-lasting. As some speakers seem to suggest on the film, we are not in the business of punishment but rather transformation.  I like to take as a guiding thought for this enterprise the French proverb: “Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner”. A lifetime of teaching has taught me that young people are at heart by and large more forgiving than their elders, and therein perhaps lies the hope for humanity’s future. I think those speaking in this film offer us a glimpse of the generosity of which all young people are capable, reminding us of where to seek inspiration.

Mary Martin (November 2014)

Leave a Comment