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					Speech to the Anti Bullying Alliance conference
Monday 19th November 2007
Draft date: 15.11.07
Word count: 2,052


CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY


Thank you very much.


I‟m extremely grateful for the opportunity to help to launch anti-bullying week.


It‟s a chance first of all to express my thanks to the many people in this room who
have worked with us on the various anti-bullying strategies, Amy in particular, we‟ve
introduced this year and to the many people here today who are making them a reality
on the ground. It‟s been a busy and productive year.


Since 1999 we have regarded bullying in schools as a key priority. We‟ve made it
clear that all forms of bullying, including those motivated by prejudice, must not be
tolerated.


[The changing nature of bullying]


I think we can all agree that we‟ve made progress in recent years – thanks in large
part to the great efforts of the people in this room.


But there is still much more we need to do in the future to make sure no child in the
future suffers the pain and the indignity that bullying can cause.


The legacy of bullying can last longer than the incidents themselves. In the worst
cases, it can start to define the victim by damaging their self-confidence or plunging
them into depression.




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Equally, I think all of us in the room appreciate that the nature and focus of bullying
changes with society. And we must respond swiftly to the different scope and impact
that these new forms of bullying have on the victim.


The need – to be alert and responsive to new kinds of bullying, and sympathetic to the
needs of the person being bullied – is one of the reasons why we have just launched
our new guidance for schools.


Replacing the old Don’t Suffer in Silence guidelines, it brings bullying policy up to
date with the changing context of modern bullying.


The intention of it is to give school staff practical advice on developing strong anti-
bullying policies.


Provides information on how to get the whole school community involved in
challenging bullying and addressing the culture that breeds it.


And offers advise on how to support those who have suffered from bullying – how to
rebuild their confidence and stop them living in fear.


In addition the guidance, for the first time, includes specific advice on homophobic
bullying and cyber bullying.


It also links to pre-existing guidance on bullying related to race, religion and culture
issued last year, and will be followed up by guidance on bullying related to special
educational needs and disabilities next year. MENCAP came to see me last week and
the latter is something we are determined to do a lot more to address in the coming
year.


But for today, I want to put the spotlight on homophobic and cyber bullying – which
are two “new” forms of bullying that we need to stamp out in our schools and across
our society.


[Homophobic bullying]


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If we look at homophobic bullying first, there‟s a lot of disturbing research from
Stonewall – whose chief executive Ben Summerskill will be speaking to you later –
and other charities such as ChildLine, showing the scale of the problem, and the
impact it can have on young people‟s lives.


We‟re alarmed by the prevalence of homophobic bullying and want schools to take
urgent action to deal with it..


But we know addressing instances of homophobic bullying is a sensitive issue for
teachers and young people alike.


    -   Many pupils feel uncomfortable admitting they are being homophobically
        bullied as they feel it may lead to them being “outed” or confirm the suspicion
        that they‟re gay.
    -   Many teachers, meanwhile, have told us they feel ill-equipped to address the
        issue.


The new guidance aims to put this right by giving schools realistic, practical scenarios
that show how to address often quite tricky situations effectively.


Effective intervention is one thing. But there is a wider cultural point for schools to
address too.


Because we‟re also concerned about the casual homophobic language, bandied around
in playgrounds or changing rooms, can create a culture that isolates many pupils,
leaving them exposed to more serious bullying as a result.


Teachers need to take a hard line on this too.


Calling somebody „gay‟ should be treated just as seriously as a racist slur. Both
compound prejudice and fuel bullying, and then should be sanctioned.




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But beyond disciplinary measures schools have an important job to do in building
tolerance, inclusivity and respect for all social groups through the everyday lessons
they carry out.


It may be as simple as talking to primary school children in an age appropriate way
about how families differ – why some children may have foster mums or same sex
parents.


Or for older children, it may involve exploring how gay people are portrayed in the
media, or what protections they have from harassment in the workplace.


This isn‟t all about political correctness. It‟s about reflecting the realities of the
modern world for our children and young people in order to keep them safe. And it‟s
about building a culture within the school that prevents any form of prejudice-based
bullying from taking root.


I accept, however, that behaviour in schools often reflects the climate and conduct of
wider society.


We still live in a world, sadly in my view, where prominent entertainers can get away
with making homophobic slurs.


And we need to clamp down on this casual, permissive attitude to homophobia across
society. We need to reach a point where homophobia is every bit as unacceptable as
racism.


Because what children see on TV or hear from a family member – even said in jest –
often gets repeated a thousand-fold and with venom in the playground.


By setting out how schools can build a more tolerant ethos and understanding from an
early age, the homophobic bullying guidance can be an important starting point in this
process, and I‟d like to pay tribute to Stonewall and EACH for their expert advice and
assistance in developing it.



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[Cyberbullying]


If the rise of homophobic bullying is partly explained by cultural factors within our
society, the growth in cyber-bullying demonstrates how technological change can
create new ways to bully and torment others.


I want to start by saying that we shouldn‟t be anti-technology. Technology offers so
much to young people: the Internet, mobile phones, MP3 players, portable games
consoles all offer possibilities for entertainment and learning that we couldn‟t have
imagined a generation ago.


But like every new technology it does have a darker side too. A third of youngsters
say they‟ve been taunted online, received nasty texts or e-mails, or experienced so-
called „happy slapping‟ or other video bullying.


Cyberbullying is particularly insidious and particularly distressing because there is no
refuge. Even at home, kids can be tormented by text, e-mail or online – often in ways
that are very sinister and frightening. Sometimes they don‟t know who is bullying
them, and the message or the picture can be forwarded to hundreds or even thousands
of people


It has to stop. We need to make sure children experience the positives, and work
together to eliminate the negatives.


The dedicated guidance on cyberbullying will help schools crack down on it, giving
them an appreciation of what forms it can take, how to spot it and what to do to put an
end to it.


But because cyberbullying operates beyond the school gates, it needs a wider
response than just schools.


Children, young people and parents must take responsibility too – learning how to
protect themselves from cyberbullying and learning what to do if they are a victim.



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I must say thanks here to Childnet, who are also speaking later. As well as developing
the guidance, they produced a superb film that shows how cyberbullying starts, what
impact it has and how to prevent it.


I am delighted to say that Childnet will also be producing resources for schools staff
to help them tackle cyberbullying.


And my own Department has run a very successful online campaign, you may have
seen it, targeted at young people to make them think about how they may unwittingly
be involved in cyberbullying by passing on abusive e-mails, for instance. If you pass
it on you‟re part of the problem too. Already, over 100,000 young people have visited
our website.


We also need technology providers to lead the way. Many of the UK‟s biggest
companies are on our cyberbullying taskforce and are actively exploring how they can
put in place stronger safeguards against this form of bullying. I applaud the action
many of these companies have taken to tackle this problem.


It does remain the case that too many major organisations are still providing a
platform for cyberbullies. The simple fact is, if we can deny them this platform, we
can dent the appeal to cyberbullies – so I‟m calling on these companies to make a
renewed effort to make child safety their top priority.


Finally – and this is actually the case for all types of bullying – schools should also be
liaising with Youth Offending Teams and even the police where cyberbullying threats
become extreme and safe guarding becomes an issue.


[A community response to bullying]


We all know that there is no magic bullet to end all forms of bullying in our schools.
What we can do, though, is make sure every person with the potential to prevent
bullying from occurring or escalating has the awareness and the capacity to take swift
and decisive action.



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The new guidance provides a comprehensive range of resources for schools. They sit
alongside the strengthened disciplinary powers that we introduced last April to make
clear once and for all the “You can‟t do anything to me” ethos that frustrated teachers
and head teachers for so long.


With these new powers they can discipline pupils, confiscate mobile phones and use
physical force to break up fights, with the confidence that if they‟ve acted reasonably
then the law is absolutely on their side.


Many of the most horrifying cases of bullying happen when menacing activity
continues after the school bell, meaning that there is no respite or refuge for the
bullied child.


Where this happens – where bullying extends beyond the school gates into the wider
community – we do need a community response.


But schools now have the power to discipline pupils who are guilty of bullying on the
school bus to and from school, or on the internet, as a result of the new discipline
provision I referred to a moment ago.


We need to make sure however there is a united front against bullying across the
whole community. I‟ve already referred to the support youth offending teams and the
police can do in conjunction with schools.


There‟s an important job that pupils themselves can do – to support each other and
root out the seeds of bullying before it becomes a problem. And that‟s why we‟ve
become convinced by peer mentoring. Last week we announced a £3m pilot of peer
mentoring techniques that will harness the power that children themselves have to
stop bullying.


Finally, we need to make sure parents are helping us build a united front against
bullying. I accept in some cases parents may be unaware that their children are
bullying others.



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But where they can make a difference but are either unable or unwilling to do so,
local authorities and schools have a clear process they can work through. From
informal discussions through to voluntary parenting contracts that may ask parents to
attend parenting classes.


And in serious cases, local authorities schools can apply for a parenting order from
magistrates courts, which force them to take an agreed action or face a hefty fine.


We‟re not suggesting parents are punished where they are genuinely powerless to stop
their child‟s or young person‟s bad behaviour. That‟s where youth support and
intervention programmes come into play.


But where there is evidence that some parents are facilitating bullying beyond the
school gates, then there are options schools and local authorities can access to try and
put this right.


[Conclusion]


I started by saying I felt we have made progress on bullying. We can point to the new
guidance, peer mentoring schemes, the online campaign and the video on
cyberbullying to demonstrate we‟re focusing on the issue.


But ultimately, real progress on bullying will have to come out there from the
community.


From schools embedding an anti-bullying ethos at the heart of daily life.


From excellent teachers who are alert to cases of bullying and decisive in their action
to clamp down on it.


It will come from a whole community working together to make bullying an
unacceptable and undesirable activity.




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So I thank everyone in the room for their efforts to date. But I repeat, we all need to
do more to make sure no child has to suffer from bullying within the school gates and
beyond. We‟re determined to make more progress in the year to come. I look forward
to working together. Thank you.




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