An Aberdeen woman who stood up for bullied kids for 27 years says secondary schools are “turning a blind eye” to bullying.
Jeanette Craig worked as a safeguarder, first with Aberdeen City Council, before she came under the auspices of the Scottish Safeguarders Association.
A safeguarder is an independent person who gets involved in cases concerning a vulnerable child, liaising between families, schools, psychologists and social workers.
Part of her job was to write reports to present to children’s panel hearings. She retired five years ago.
She thinks bullying in secondary schools is more prevalent now than in the past, and has decided to speak out about the issue after reading story after story after story of parents feeling powerless against bullying in The P&J in recent months.
The biggest problem, according to Jeanette, is that schools are no longer taking bullying seriously.
Bullying in schools – ‘the system is failing kids’
“It’s widespread, and the fact is it’s a huge problem in secondary schools. But the system is failing kids,” she told The P&J.
Jeanette corroborated almost point-by-point the complaints of parents at the end of their tethers who have approached The P&J in recent months.
The mother of an Inverurie Academy pupil told us she had been left frustrated by the school’s insistence that it doesn’t have a bullying problem.
This, despite her daughter being bullied so badly that the family are considering leaving the area. And the fact that other parents have accused the school of having a ‘culture of bullying’.
And the mother of a bullying victim at Bridge of Don Academy accused the school of “brushing the issue under the carpet”.
Something Jeanette said she saw at first hand…
“When I tried to address it in my professional capacity, the schools just wouldn’t admit it was a problem,” she said.
“You’d contact the school, and they’d tell you to contact the police. You’d contact the police, and they’d say they can’t deal with it because it happened in school.
“It’s not good for the school’s reputation so the schools would play it down.
“Meetings with the school never seemed to deal with things, it was just faff and flannel.
“‘There’s no bullying in our school’ – that was the generic response. They turn a blind eye.”
Repeatedly asked schools for copies of their anti-bullying policy – ‘Not one was able to give me proof of it’
The mother of a bullying victim at Lochside Academy in Aberdeen told us that in meetings with the school, senior management repeatedly referred to its ‘zero-tolerance’ anti-bullying policy.
The mum felt this to be no more than words, with no substance whatsoever. Something Jeanette agrees with, and said was a particular “bugbear” of hers when intervening in schools.
“Each and every school that I asked for a hard copy of their ‘zero-tolerance’ anti-bullying policy just referred me to a website.
“Not one was able to produce a copy for me despite me asking repeatedly. That was a bugbear of mine.
“They always talked about their anti-bullying policy but when I asked for proof of it, I never got it.”
Several of the parents The P&J has spoken to in recent months accused their child’s school of isolating their child, rather than dealing with the bullies.
Again, this is something Jeanette recognises.
‘Isolating the victim is totally wrong. Deal with the bullies, not the victims’
“The biggest issue I’ve got with the teachers I’ve dealt with is that I’d hear things like ‘oh that doesn’t happen in our school’, or ‘there’s not much we can do about it’, or ‘let’s take the victim out of their class and put them in the library over lunchtime.’
“So the bully swans about like they’ve done nothing wrong while the poor victim is sitting on their own in the library having their lunch, terrified. Or they’d get an adapted timetable, or start school a bit later or leave a bit earlier.
“Why? They’ve not done anything wrong.
“That isolation of the victim is totally wrong and I’ve seen it again and again.
“But they won’t exclude the bully because that gets recorded and affects the school league tables and so on.
“And perhaps some teachers feel bullied, because they’re under pressure to not say too much.
“But they should be dealing with the bullies and not the victims.”
Today’s secondary schools lack “discipline and consequences”, giving bullies free reign
Jeanette said she often felt up against it when dealing with schools, all the while fully aware of the lifelong damage bullying can do.
“I didn’t feel powerless but at times I felt powerless for the child.
“And parents feel helpless too, they don’t know what to do.
“They think they’re doing the right thing by going to the school, but they’re met with a brick wall.
“In the cases I worked with, quite often the underlying problem with the child was bullying at school.
“The impact bullying has on teenagers stays with them for the rest of their life.”
Jeanette feels today’s secondary schools lack “discipline and consequences”, allowing bullies free reign.
“There needs to be more support available in schools. I know it comes down to funding, but there’s not enough support in schools. There’s not enough education on bullying.
“And there needs to be acceptance – from every school – that bullying is a problem and that it needs dealt with.
“There’s not an easy answer, but there needs to be discipline and consequences in school that you just don’t get now.”
She added: “I’d absolutely say the education system is failing kids at the moment when it comes to dealing with bullying, without a doubt.”