See the Equality Commission's policy recommendations: Tackling bullying and challenge stereotypes in education (pdf)
The Department of Education should undertake comprehensive research to establish, and track over time, the prevalence and nature of prejudice-based bullying, and to assess school compliance with the Addressing Bullying in Schools Act.
Records of incidents of prejudice-based bullying, as required by the Addressing Bullying in Schools Act, are currently retained at school level and are not collated or analysed by the Department of Education (DE). In this context, it is essential that data is collected now (at the commencement of the legislation) and thereafter on a rolling basis, potentially via an all-pupil Northern Ireland level survey, to track the prevalence of bullying. The findings must be disaggregated by equality categories. This will allow the Department and wider stakeholder groups, including the Education Authority, management bodies and representative groups, to gauge the effectiveness of current interventions and focus attention on areas of concern. Consideration should also be given as to how best to gather data on the prevalence, nature and any specific impacts of cyber-bullying.
Linked to this is the need to establish levels of compliance by schools and Boards of Governors with their duties under the Addressing Bullying in Schools Act. This would allow analysis of practice generally, and specifically in relation to areas where the legislation is not prescriptive. Schools have discretion within the legislation to collect and monitor one-off incidents of bullying and cyber-bullying. Data could be gathered via qualitative and quantitative surveys in addition to routine Education and Training Inspectorate inspections. This analysis would highlight any inconsistencies across schools and allow training needs to be identified. It would also provide information on the extent to which particular bullying motivations are recorded and may demonstrate a requirement, as permitted under the legislation, for the list of motivations to be amended.
The Department of Education and Education Authority should ensure their guidance on complying with the requirements of the Addressing Bullying in Schools Act, and on responding to and preventing incidents of bullying behaviour, is comprehensively implemented and updated as required.
We welcome the comprehensive guidance developed by DE, EA and the NI Anti-Bullying Forum – Effective Responses to Bullying Behaviour, and recommend that it is promoted within schools to ensure consistency of approaches in recording, responding to and preventing incidents of bullying behaviour. It is essential that pupils are encouraged to be open about reporting incidents of bullying. Implementation of this guidance can contribute to such openness.
The Commission welcomes the duty on boards of governors to secure measures to prevent prejudice-based bullying. We welcome the guidance and training materials provided to assist schools, including the senior management team and Governors, on their specific remit and role(s). We recommend that this should also be incorporated within initial teacher education. Regularly updated in-service training for staff on the impact of prejudice-based bullying and on the strategies to tackle and prevent it is also necessary. A review of the effectiveness of the guidance and training materials is recommended in the fifth year of its operation.
The Department of Education should ensure actions to tackle unintentional acts of prejudice-based bullying, which are not covered by the statutory definition of bullying, are adequately dealt with in guidance.
The common definition of bullying included in the 2016 Act contributes to ensuring a consistent approach is taken across schools to tackling prejudice-based bullying.
However, we consider that guidance for schools to support the implementation of the legislation should also encourage schools to address unintentional acts by pupils that can cause harm, fear or distress to pupils for reasons associated with their equality characteristics. Training for teachers, within initial teacher education and continuing professional development, should include guidance on dealing with such acts.
We reiterate our recommendation that any duty placed on schools should include appropriate safeguards to encourage them to be open about reporting incidents of prejudice-based bullying.
Strong and visible leadership from the school principal, senior management team and board of governors is needed to promote an anti-bullying culture within every school.
High-level leadership is essential to ensure the consistent and robust implementation of policies and practices designed to address bullying, including bullying experienced by Section 75 groups.
We also consider that schools should proactively promote awareness of the existence, content and intent of the anti-bullying policy and procedure within the school and respective roles, responsibilities and expected behaviours. This awareness raising should extend to the families of pupils, and include signposting to relevant guidance.
The Effective Responses to Bullying Behaviour guidance provides a range of whole school interventions which can be used to establish and maintain an anti-bullying culture. Interventions include improving school ethos by assessing how safe, happy and welcome pupils feel; integrating anti-bullying measures across the curriculum; and considering thematic responses should a particular form of prejudice-based bullying (e.g. racist, sectarian) occur. The recommendations made by Estyn, the Welsh schools’ inspectorate, in relation to effective actions to address bullying should be adopted.
The Department and other stakeholders should ensure that support materials and opportunities within the curriculum comprehensively address prejudice-based bullying.
We have impressed upon the Department the need to ensure that equality and good relations are embedded within the curriculum, and that opportunities within it are used to draw attention to prejudice-based bullying and to encourage a greater understanding of and respect for pupils covered by the Section 75 grounds . This includes, for example, gender identity; ethnicity; and sexual orientation.
a. Gender identity
The 2013 Grasping the Nettle report highlighted that ‘[t]he exclusion of trans issues from the school curriculum reduces trans equality and inhibits good relations from developing.’ The report acknowledged that while the DE is undertaking work to address this problem, ‘much more needs to be done to increase awareness, understanding and knowledge of trans issues in educational settings.’ We recommend that steps are taken to increase awareness, understanding and knowledge of trans issues in educational settings.
We reiterate our recommendation that the Department should seek to ensure that ethnic minority children see their culture and language reflected in the classroom and school curriculum; disseminate best practice procedures around induction and admissions; and provide guidance on promoting the participation of newly-arrived children in the wider life of the school.
We note the proposed action in the Racial Equality Strategy, the Executive Office (TEO) to work with DE to identify ways to tackle racist bullying in schools. We understand that inter-Departmental discussions have taken place with regard to the action, and we call on the TEO to set out, as a matter of urgency, how it intends to implement this 2015 proposal.
c. Sexual orientation
A 2011 Cara-Friend/Rainbow Project report conveyed that there were ample opportunities within the statutory curriculum to challenge negative stereotypes and present the diversity of sexual orientation to children and young people, but that the experience of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) young people is that these opportunities are not taken up by teachers in schools. 2013 research by Rainbow on the emotional health and well-being of young LGBT people found that 88.1% reported that teachers never or rarely talked about LGBT issues.
Measures to tackle bullying should include challenging gender roles to further the broader societal aim of preventing gender-based violence.
In support of actions to aid the prevention of domestic and sexual abuse, the Commission has recommended specific action to institute coordinated, comprehensive and coherent measures to counter gender-based stereotypes and prejudicial attitudes from an early age and across all areas of life, including in all stages of education. It is essential to challenge gender stereotypes and prejudicial attitudes from an early age, as gender-based stereotyping can begin in childhood and continue throughout life stages.
In addition, we note that the Gillen Review recommended that ‘The Department of Education should strongly encourage school boards of governors to introduce awareness sessions to ensure students understand the consequences of posting on social media’.
Legislative protection from disability-based harassment should be extended to schools.
The Commission continues to call for reform to Northern Ireland’s disability discrimination laws.
Currently, under disability discrimination legislation in Northern Ireland, there is no freestanding protection for disabled people against harassment related to their disability outside employment and further and higher education.
This contrasts with protection which exists within legislation in Great Britain and under Northern Ireland equality law on other equality grounds, for example there is a freestanding right giving protection against harassment under the race equality legislation across both employment and non-employment areas (on the grounds of race, ethnic origin, and national origin only).
Budget allocations for identified groups should be monitored to assess how they improve outcomes for pupils.
The common funding formula provides schools with a per capita payment, calculated on an annual basis for Traveller, Roma and Newcomer pupils. This payment is not ring fenced and can be spent at the school's discretion.
In 2016, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) noted that there does not appear to be a clear system for monitoring how schools are spending funding received in terms of whether it is being used for evidence-based interventions that will raise the attainment of children from low-income backgrounds.
Barriers faced by BME groups such as a lack of English proficiency; stereotyping and low expectations; inability of mainstream schools to meet the needs of individual pupils could be tackled by ensuring and monitoring the targeted spend of this additional resource.
The Department of Education should put in place measures to support the education of Traveller and Roma children, particularly in relation to: data collection and analysis; admissions and registration processes; planning transitions; and examining segregated provision.
The Intercultural Education Service (IES) should publish, and take account of, key outcomes arising from its delivery plan.
In 2008 the Commission highlighted that there was a need for more comprehensive data on attendance, participation, transitions and performance levels of Travellers at key stages so that comparisons could be made with non-Traveller children . Such data could likely be collected by the DE C2K system, enabling the impact of policy interventions to be more effectively measured.
The Commission continues to recommend flexibility in schools' admissions and enrolment processes as regards registration dates and bureaucracy required for both Traveller and Roma communities. Admissions processes should allow joint and temporary registration.
We reiterate our 2008 recommendation that schools should set up processes to ensure that transitions from primary to post-primary schools are carefully planned. We also call for the issue of segregated education provision for Travellers and Roma to be examined. We reiterate our recommendation that the Department examines the issue of segregated provision for Traveller and Roma children. We would distinguish between targeted provision to groups such as Travellers and Roma in a mainstream setting to address known inequalities and separate or segregated provision per se.
The regional Traveller Education Support Service (TESS) was set up in 2013 to progress the Traveller Education Taskforce recommendations. It has since merged with the Inclusion and Diversity Service to form the Intercultural Education Service (IES).
The key priority areas in the 2014 TESS annual delivery plan were to: improve attendance levels of Travellers in targeted areas; enhance Traveller pupil attainment in target groups; and have Traveller parents more engaged and supported (including through home school communication).
Both prior to, and since, the merger into IES, the Commission has not been able to identify the reporting of any related outcomes achieved to date. It is important that a focus on the issues associated with Traveller disadvantage in education is maintained.
More transparent monitoring and review of the Traveller Child in Education Action Framework is needed.
To progress the recommendations of the Taskforce on Traveller Education (2008), the Department of Education launched the Traveller Child in Education Action Framework.
This Framework was to be monitored and reviewed biannually by a small monitoring and review group made up of representatives from the DE, the Education and Training Inspectorate, NGOs and Traveller support groups with progress reported biannually to the Minister of Education . This monitoring / review group was never established.
We reiterate the recommendation from our 2013 Racial Equality position paper that the Action Framework and TESS's (now IES) Traveller delivery plan should be subject to ongoing monitoring and evaluation with progress reported at the Traveller subgroup (currently being set up by the TEO) of the Racial Equality Panel.
Involving Traveller children and parents in the different processes (as reflected in the task force report) is required, to ensure the delivery of tangible outcomes.
The Department of Education should assist schools in making effective use of dual language resources to help Newcomer learners access the curriculum.
Newcomer children face a number of barriers to educational achievement, including limited English language ability, lack of knowledge of the education system, racist bullying and social exclusion.
Barnardo’s 2015 research Feels Like Home explores the experiences of Newcomer pupils and school staff in primary schools across Northern Ireland. The findings from the research show there are a number of factors which impact on Newcomer children’s experiences in the classroom including the language barrier, an unfamiliar education system and a feeling of isolation. Teachers also highlighted a number of challenges including low school readiness and difficulties in identifying a potential learning problem or special educational needs because of the language barrier.
The research also pointed to a number of areas of good practice including after school clubs, translated newsletters and a growing use of technology to communicate with parents. Such good practice should be disseminated.
The DE is currently reviewing the Supporting Newcomer policy. It is important that the outcomes from this review address the issues of dual language resources.
The Department of Education should identify and address the complex emotional, educational and social needs of asylum seeking and refugee children; and ensure that adequate funding is available to meet the needs of those who arrive during the year.
By working in collaboration, the Education and Health Departments could better identify carers; raise awareness among young carers of supports potentially available; provide signposting to relevant DE and DoH services; and improve monitoring and data collection.
We welcome the ‘Supporting Young Carers in School: An Introduction for Primary and Secondary School Staff’ guidance produced by the Education Authority and the Health and Social Care Board. The guidance seeks to make young carers more visible to teachers and to assist teachers in supporting their needs. We recommend that the mainstreaming of the guidance within schools is monitored and reviewed.
We consider it important to seek to ensure progress on a number of the recommendations ‘of benefit to all children’ which we consider have the potential to deliver benefits to children and young people from across the equality categories, including those also entitled to free school meals (and specific groups therein - for example, boys, including those from Protestant backgrounds). In particular, we call for prompt action to advance childcare and early-years provision to meet the diverse needs of all children; to drive attainment via collaborative approaches involving family and the wider community; and to put in place a system for learning from successful interventions.
Provide, and monitor uptake of, appropriate, accessible and affordable childcare and early-years provision more generally to meet the diverse needs of all children.
We reiterate our 2013 policy position on Childcare, which calls for appropriate, accessible and affordable childcare provision to meet the diverse needs of all children, including children with disabilities, those from BME communities and new residents.
The Department of Education has recognised the importance of early-years’ provision. We recommend the monitoring of uptake by those equality groups experiencing educational underachievement, with action taken to address any shortfalls.
Promote collaborative approaches to drive attainment, involving engagement with parents / families / carers and the wider communities of key equality groups.
The Chief Inspector's Report 2012-2014 highlighted the benefits of broader family / community involvement in education noting: “It is clear that schools alone cannot break the cycle of low outcomes; there is a need for greater coherence and connection between the learners, their families, their communities, their schools and the wide range of agencies and health support service providers that play a significant part in their lives.” These linkages were also among the common factors identified in the Executive Office’s 2017 ILiAD research as contributing to the enhancement of educational achievement across the seven wards included in the study. Lack of parental engagement has also been linked to poorer educational outcomes for those entitled to free school meals, particularly boys, including Protestant working class boys.
Feedback on the progress of two local partnership programmes involving children, parents, teachers and the wider community has been very positive with successful outcomes such as improved attendance and attainment recorded. The programmes highlighted appear to be effective in addressing attainment and broader educational issues by involving those outside the immediate school. It is recommended that consideration of how those, such as BME groups and children with disabilities who may not live within socially deprived areas, could access such schemes, should they become more widespread.
The Education Authority should put in place a system for learning from successful interventions, and disseminate and share these lessons with other schools.
Currently, there does not appear to be any formal mechanism or procedure in place for schools to share their learning, both positive and negative, from different interventions or initiatives undertaken to raise attainment. The Commission has sought to highlight successful interventions through a number of video case studies.
JRF recommends developing a ‘what works’ centre to compile and promote high-quality evidence of ways schools can improve attainment for low income pupils and evaluate how successful these are. This type of approach could be extended to include pupils from the different equality groups with organisations such as the IES feeding in.
The Education Authority, through its regional role, has the potential to provide and oversee a formal mechanism to make possible the sharing, across schools in Northern Ireland, of successful interventions.