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Mike Wilter believes every pupil, parent and teacher has a role to play in curbing bullying in our schools.
A pupil is forced to change schools due to repeated racial bullying at a high school in Vanderbijlpark.
A teacher is violently assaulted by a Grade 8 child at a high school in Joburg South. A boy at a Durban high school is receiving death threats from fellow students after recovering from a bullying incident that nearly left him paralysed.
These incidents have all been reported in the media over the past month. They do not nearly reflect the full extent of bullying in our schools. It is time to take a critical look at what can be done practically and proactively to stop bullying in its tracks.
From physical assaults and being threatened with weapons at school to being the subject of verbal insults and hurtful gossip on social media networks, many pupils and teachers across the country face a real risk of being bullied by other students at their schools.
At the end of last year, a survey conducted by customer insights company Pondering Panda found that the majority of respondents considered bullying to be one of the most significant problems that they experienced at school.
Every school should, therefore, have a strategy for preventing and addressing bullying. But how should the strategy be structured and who should drive its implementation?
A school’s anti-bullying strategy should be grounded in its code of conduct for pupils and supported by a clear disciplinary framework that is fair and corrective.
A school’s code of conduct, if tailored to suit the unique needs of that school, can provide a solid foundation on which to build and maintain a bully-free environment.
The law requires:
* The governing body of every public school to adopt a code of conduct for pupils.
* Every pupil attending a public school to comply with their school’s code of conduct.
The law is clear on what the purpose of a school’s code of conduct should be and how it should be drawn up.
A school’s code of conduct must be aimed at establishing a disciplined and purposeful environment.
More often than not, bullying undermines the learning process, particularly where pupils and teachers fear attending school and where children are reluctant to participate in classes.
A school’s code of conduct should be clear on what behaviour is expected of pupils, what behaviour will not be tolerated and what steps will be taken by the school when a pupil breaks the code of conduct.
Every pupil, parent and teacher has a role to play in curbing bullying in our schools. A school’s code of conduct must, therefore, be drawn up after consultation with the pupils, parents and teachers concerned.
An inclusive process of consultation will assist a school to achieve a common understanding between its pupils, parents and teachers of what kinds of bullying need to be curbed and what kind of school environment they want to build.
Interactive workshops can be a fun but effective way of consulting pupils, parents and teachers in that regard.
Workshop participants can learn more about bullying in its various forms, share their concerns and develop workable solutions for curbing bullying in their school. These concerns and solutions can then be appropriately addressed in the code of conduct.
If a school’s code of conduct is to be effective, it needs to be a living document.
It should be reviewed annually and be responsive to the changing needs of the school. It should be applied consistently and fairly, and it should provide the basis for all anti-bullying strategies that the school develops and implements.
While parents should be strongly encouraged to support schools in the implementation of their anti-bullying strategies, provincial education authorities should provide support to school staff on how to improve discipline in the classroom and in the playground.
Finally, a school’s code of conduct needs to be supported by a clear disciplinary process that is procedurally and substantively fair.
Where the code is broken, the school’s management and teachers need to know what steps to take to address and correct any misconduct on the part of a pupil (both inside and outside of the classroom).
Schools have a legal duty to protect and promote the best interests of all children in their care.
Developing and adopting a code of conduct supported by a clear, school-based disciplinary framework that is mindful of what is in the best interests of pupils is a sensible first step that should be taken by all schools in their efforts to build bully-free environments.
* Mike Wilter was admitted as an attorney in 2009 after completing articles at Bowman Gilfillan. He advanced to the position of senior associate in Bowman Gilfillan’s corporate department before leaving to take up a position as head of the education ministry in the Western Cape government. This year, he left government to establish a consulting practice specialising in education law.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers
The Star Africa Edition