Sunday, January 22, 2006

El acoso escolar


I've been unable to post for the past few days due to:-

  1. being busy at work (makes a change)
  2. writing an article for the Parents Association (AMPA) for the local primary school, and
  3. finally getting my ADSL connection set up at home.
The first AMPA meeting was an eye-opener. We had intended to raise the subject of bullying (our son suffers quite a bit). We were beaten to the post by other parents. Of the nine families represented, five complained of bullying and violence and one other clearly had problems but said nothing. Bullying is a hot issue in Spain. There have been a number of high profile cases, especially that of Jokin, English versions are included here and here. What really gets my goat is the teachers continued denial that there is any problem, in fact referring my son (the victim) to the school psychiatrist!

The only action taken which seems to have had some effect (at least temporarily) has been to make a denuncia against the bullies. This is because, if made against the child, the denuncia is heard before the judge in 24 hours. If the parents cannot successfully defend the case, their children are taken into care. We had the parents round our house double-quick begging us to retract the denuncia. We eventually did this after getting solemn promises from the parents, but made it clear that any repetition would see a repeat performance and no retraction.

What is required now is action by the school to control the problem. This will mean a transformation in attitude by the school staff (not just teachers).


Grumpy Goat said...

The denuncia appears to be a positive way forward. As a former victim of school bullies, I am sick to the eye-teeth of being told that the victim is at fault (for being unable to play foopball, for not being mates of the local hooligans, for being the wrong colour...) and the bullies are in some perverse way the real victims.

Let's hope that the bullies don't seek revenge outside school where the school's jurisdiction doesn't apply.

didaxis said...

As a schoolteacher I am very aware of this problem. So often the victim's of bullying are just not taken seriously. This may be because the incidents are not seen as serious or the person responsible for dealing with these things does not have enough time to deal with it along with everything else that they have to do or that the child is simply not believed.

Clearly none of these circumstances are acceptable. A school's first duty, above all else, must be to ensure the safety and well being of the children in its care. All too often, however, the first duty of a school is perceived as getting the best possible exam results.

It is often the case that too few teachers are having to look after too many students. This has the effect that appropriate standards cannot be achieved across the board, and pastoral care is sacrificed in favour of academic achievement.

Last year, for example, two children turned up at one of my classes clearly too upset to do any work. It took me over half an hour of gentle coaxing to get out of them what the problem was. They had been the victims of a bully, and hadn't been able to resolve the issue. This turned out to be an ongoing situation. They had previouly gone to see their head of year (who is supposed to deal with these things) only to be told that they were 'old enough now to deal with these matters themselves'

Despite the continuing bullying the two children were not prepared to go back to see the head of year again (or anyone else) for fear of being labelled 'immature'and 'unable to cope'. It was only when I went to see their head of year to express my concerns that the matter was taken seriously.

There are two big problems here of course;

The first is that it should not take an adult's intervention for a child in distress to be taken seriously. It takes a lot for a child to complain about bullying and every such complaint should be investigated whether or not the complaint is thought to be genuine.

The second is that in taking the time to deal with these two students, I was not able to give the rest of the class my full attention. Fortunately the class in question are a very well-behaved bunch and were at a stage where they could work with little intervention from me.

I work in a private school where the standards of behaviour are generally pretty high and class sizes are relatively small (around 20 students usually). It would be very easy to have missed these childrens' distress in a larger or less well behaved class. How the overworked teachers in state schools find the energy to deal with these issues is beyond me. Clearly there are instances where they do not.

Class sizes of 20 or less allow a teacher time to talk with every student in every lesson, in classes that are bigger than 20 this is rarely possible, and so some things inevitably are missed.

Ther are a great many problems in modern schools that would be solved or at least seriously mitigated by reducing class sizes to a sensible levels and bullying is one of them.