MP calls for action on 170,000 school absences a day due to bullying

July 13, 2009 at 12:48 pm 1 comment


An MP has called on the government to do more to help children being bullied at school.

David Howarth said during a Westminster Hall debate on the issue that the Government should be “counteracting some of the tendencies in school funding that might act against the interests of bullied children.”

He told MPs there is uncertainty about how many children are affected by bullying to the extent that they miss school.

“The official returns concerning school absences do not include bullying as an official category, so we have to rely on unofficial research,” he said.

“Research by Beatbullying has estimated that 170,000 absences a day are caused by bullying, which amounts to about 20 daily absences in a school of 1,000 pupils.

“I do not know whether that is correct, but even a tenth of that number would be something to worry about.

“Red Balloon believes that anything up to 6,000 young people nationally could be in need of the sort of service that it provides, but we do not know for certain.

“That is worrying because of the way in which provision for children not in school is funded.

“The Government intend that, by September this year, all secondary schools will be part of school behaviour partnerships, which will deal, among other things, with the question of absences from school and the commissioning of services to deal with them.

“In addition, encouraged by the Government, local authorities are increasingly devolving spending decisions on what services to provide for children not in school to those partnerships, via the devolution of funding to schools.”

Mr Howarth said he is concerned that schools and partnerships could have an incentive in the system as it has been set up to deny the extent of the problem of bullying, especially given the lack of official information.

“I do not want to make accusations against specific local authorities or imply that some councils are more prone to that behaviour than others, but my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) was told by her local authority that there were no known cases of pupils dropping out of school because of bullying,” he said.

“I cannot see how that contention is believable.”

He paid tribute to the work of charities such as Beatbullying, Red Balloon and Stonewall that work to reduce bullying in schools.

Vernon Coaker, Minister for Schools and Learners, told MPs he is a former deputy head teacher.

“I was not the most brilliant history teacher in the world; others were good at that. I was much better at dealing with the difficult disciplinary and behaviour situations that others would rather somebody else dealt with. I enjoyed it.”

Mr Coaker said a challenge for the education system and the government is how to distinguish between all the different reasons why individuals present problems in schools.

“If alternative provision is required, as it sometimes is, we must find a way to determine the most appropriate provision for the individual,” he said.

“Of course a child being bullied has different needs from a child excluded for other reasons. He is right to make that point.

“I would extend it, and he can probably think of other examples where that is the case.

“In the best alternative provision, many local authorities take that into consideration. I cannot say that the situation will change overnight, but it is something of which I am acutely aware.

“When talking to pupil referral units and alternative provision with local authorities and others, I will make the point that they should not tar everyone with the same brush.

“The fundamental aim must be to get such children back into mainstream education. That is not always possible, but it should always be the aim. Such places should have a revolving door, as far as is possible.

“I am not stupid about these matters and understand that that is not always possible, but we must ensure that people who have had problems because they have been bullied are not simply left somewhere.

“They must be monitored, worked with and given the education that they deserve, with the objective of bringing them back into mainstream education. I hope that those opening remarks are helpful in responding directly to the hon. Gentleman’s points.

“I assure the hon. Gentleman that I take bullying seriously and I am grateful to him for raising the subject.

“Like him, the Government recognise that bullying is a corrosive problem that can steal years from a young person’s life if it is not acted against quickly.

“That is why we have made it clear and I repeat today that bullying is not and never will be acceptable in the classroom.

“As he knows, we are working closely through the national strategies and the Anti-Bullying Alliance to equip local authorities, schools and teachers with the information they need to deal with the problem.

“We are also giving staff the practical skills they need to challenge physical and verbal abuse through guidance such as “Safe to Learn”. All such support is aimed at preventing bullying from taking place.”


Entry filed under: Commons, Westminster Hall. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Chris Watkins  |  November 25, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    This would be more credible if the government would stop bullying schools. Making Ofsted return to its original purposes would be a good start


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