Pupil voice is key to stopping bullying and improving wellbeing of young people

Shocking research published in the Lancet in 2015 showed that children who are bullied by other children have a greater risk of developing mental health problems as young adults than those who have been maltreated by adults.

Worryingly children who have been bullied are five times more likely to experience anxiety and twice as likely to talk of suffering depression and self-harm as those who were maltreated at home.Maltreatment includes physical or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, and neglect which have until now been the focus of concern regarding children’s mental health later in life. But with one in three children worldwide reporting being bullied, we believe it’s time to start hearing from young people about bullying.

The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), hosted by National Children’s Bureau (NCB), coordinates Anti-Bullying Week each November and is a partner for the second ever Pupil Voice Week. Pupil Voice Week is arranged by Tootoot and this year is from the 25th – 29th September. The theme this year is ‘It’s Your Voice’. They aim to celebrate the diversity and individuality of The Pupil Voice. Encouraging pupils to use their voice to be themselves and create positivity for those around them. Pupil Voice Week will also have a focus on pupils' mental health, ensuring that they are encouraged to use their voice to speak-up about their mental health and wellbeing.

So it’s got me thinking about encourage schools to become ‘talking schools’ where all children and young people are given a safe space to discuss bullying and other issues that affect their lives, and are supported to report all forms of bullying.

Feedback from ABA partners suggests there is still fear among some schools around acknowledging that bullying happens.  ABA always stresses that the schools that cause most concern are those that say ‘there is no bullying here.’ Bullying can happen anywhere where there are people – and the best schools are those that say ‘yes it happens, but we know how to deal with it and we act quickly’. 

Thankfully, with weeks like Anti-Bullying Week – which is already well-established in the school calendar – and newer campaigns like Pupil Voice Week this is helping increase the profile of speaking out.   But this needs to happen all year round so we will be providing teachers with practical tools to respond effectively to resolve incidents of bullying.

We also want to raise awareness of the impact of bullying on children’s lives if they don’t tell anyone it’s happening – or if they are not given appropriate support – particularly the impact on their mental health. And with three children in every classroom across the UK experiencing mental health problems there is no time for complacency.

The anti-bullying and children’s sector is tireless in championing the rights of vulnerable children and young people – and bullying, unlike almost any other issue, leaves millions of children at some point feeling terrified and alone. For those groups of children who are more vulnerable to bullying – such as disabled children, LGBT young people and those of minority race and faith – this is so often how they feel on daily basis: scared to go to school, scared to play outside, scared to go online.

Here are a few tips for schools about encouraging pupil voice (you can download this as an infographic at the bottom of this page):

  1. Use visual aids and reminders around the school about how important it is to share your concerns and feelings. Make it clear this is a talking school by using posters, encouraging times that you can talk quietly to your teacher and use times like Anti-Bullying Week and Pupil Voice Week to reiterate that you are there to talk to.
  2. Set up a school council that influences your anti-bullying work. Make sure your council is representative of the school population.
  3. Survey pupils in your school to find out about levels of bullying and wellbeing in your school. Ask particularly about types of bullying and whether some groups of young people are more likely to be bullied than others.
  4. Use examples in the media, e.g. literature or film, of young people speaking out to encourage and role model voice.
  5. Ask young people what they think of their school
  6. Organise a ‘takeover day’ where young people can run an aspect of the school community like social media accounts or assemblies.

The power of Pupil Voice is so important to ensuring that children are able to talk when they are worried about something. This is why we are supporting Pupil Voice Week this year. Get involved today and find out more at www.pupilvoiceweek.co.uk.