Investigate the bullying

Ideally, a target should feel safe and secure to report the bullying and relate her story, without fear of repercussions. Targets should expect a fair investigation followed by some form of resolution. Unfortunately, many children are too scared to report bullying, or they deny its impact once discovered. And its prevalence can vary from year to year. Schools need to realise that a child's perception of a single bullying incident may be as traumatic as it would be for many incidents, regardless of it being a minor tease or a vicious assault. The child who has one bully may require a different approach to the child confronting a gang. The school cannot plan, educate, initiate action or monitor programmes to reduce bullying without this information. Schools need to:

• investigate all types of bullying, both subtle and obvious, to assess the extent of the problem

• discover the game players, the patterns, types, frequency, severity and location of the bullying

• assess whether any action taken is successful or not and why

• establish who needs to be involved, e.g. parents, other students, staff, principal

• find the underlying dysfunctions within the school system that foster bullying

• choose and implement a validated school survey or design their own. Some may suit the school better than others. Surveys increase general awareness about bullying. See the 'Resources' section for some suggestions

• investigate other means of reporting bullying which guarantee confidentiality, e.g. random secret ballots conducted in class, a bully box where students can post a note, a phone/email connection in the library to a neutral source such as a designated staff member

• beware of bully surveys or other methods which students can manipulate to wrongly accuse someone, and

• maintain accurate records of detentions, suspensions, absenteeism, bullying incidents, sickness, children leaving school, lower academic results and other events which indicate bullying.

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