The schools ethical and legal obligations

Schools need to view bullying as an abuse of the human rights of the target, bully, onlookers, parents and teachers. They have a responsibility to handle all forms of violence as it is dealt with in their community. Ideally, schools need to regard bullying as a symptom of dysfunction, a relationship breakdown that requires respectful resolution (i.e. a win-win situation). Unfortunately, many schools reflect the broader society in adopting an adversarial approach whereby someone wins and someone loses.

Although human rights and ethical values could guide schools in establishing anti-bullying policies, in reality many schools are influenced by risk management issues, legal perspectives, police action or the media attention attached to suicides, murders and successful legal outcomes. These factors have, however, led to the establishment ofstate and national anti-bullying legislation or legal guidelines.

The predicament for every school is how to balance its cultural beliefs, ethical and legal responsibility towards eliminating bullying with its financial and staffing resources and the priority it allocates to a bully-free environment.

However, when schools are run effectively and each member of the school community is respected, involved and validated, bullying will reduce.

Schools can create safe, empowering environments for all children to learn and staff to work, including those who are different. The key messages are commitment, collaboration and consequences. Success depends upon a whole-school approach, mutual respect and a willingness to work together over a long period of time to obtain positive results. The major pitfalls are denial, inaction, injustice and a magical belief in the latest anti-bullying trend without an effective support framework.

This chapter provides a brief simple overview of how schools can deal with bullying. There are some excellent school-based programmes for those who require greater detail (see the 'Resources' section). Many individual schools have success stories. I would recommend that every teacher reading this book do further research.

It was not one, single, ingenious thing that made the great difference, but the sum of many small moves. (The principal, Gran School, Norway)

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