Speaker: Stephen James Minton, Trinity College Dublin
Stephen James Minton reported on a qualitative survey, conducted by Professor Mona O' Moore, which included the participation of 822 primary school children. The survey explored the young people's views on and experience of bullying in schools. The aim of such qualitative research is to work towards the situation where the child is not so much the object of the research, but rather a partner in the research. Minton examined the notion of 'bullying as a process' (Minton & Minton, 2004). The study referred to had been explored in full in the NDA's 'Encouraging Voices' publication (O' Moore & Minton, 2003).
The starting point for this research was an earlier nationwide survey of bullying behaviour in Irish schools conducted by Professor O' Moore in 1993 - 1997 (O' Moore, Kirkham & Smith, 1997). This survey found that around one in three primary school students and approximately one in six post-primary school students reported having been bullied within the last school term. Around one in twenty primary students and one in fifty post-primary school students report having been frequently bullied - that is to say, they had been bullied at least once a week or more often.
The present qualitative study was undertaken in Co. Donegal. It formed part of an outcome study designed to test the effectiveness of an anti-bullying programme (O' Moore & Minton, 2004a). In the qualitative study, a number of open-ended questions were pursued with applicants:
(a) What do children think is the worst type of bullying?
The answers given corresponded with the Department of Education and Science's list of what constitutes bullying (DES, 1993). For example, verbal and physical taunting topped the list, but other specific scenarios such as being locked in a room or head flushed down toilet, not included in the Department's definition, were also mentioned.
(b) How do children feel when they are bullied?
"Sad", "isolated", "left out", "fearful", and less frequently "angry", "stupid" and even "suicidal" were some of the answers given.
(c) What actions do children take when they have been bullied?
28% of children said they tell their teacher or parent. Minton noted, however, that other research shows that this is not the case. Children know they should tell their parents but they do not. When asked why they do not tell, children replied that they fear that the bullying would get even worse if they do say anything. Another disturbing comment that was received was, "I did tell the teachers but they did not believe me". Some difficulty may also be due to the fact that what a child means by bullying often holds a different and wider meaning to that commonly understood by parents and teachers.
(d) Could their school do more?
Two out of three of children who responded to this question replied that they could. Many also recommended punishing bullies more severely! However, Minton advocated a problem solving / preventative approach, or so-called 'no blame' approach, which is increasingly being seen as the most efficacious for schools to take (O' Moore & Minton, 2004b).
(e) Why do people bully?
The children most often replied that bullies were trying to make themselves feel better. Other research backs up those findings. Whilst on the surface bullies appear to be relatively confident people, psychometric research shows that they have low self-esteem (O' Moore & Kirkham, 2001).
In his presentation, Minton concluded that bullying is one of many forms of discrimination. People with physical disabilities and special educational needs are bullied because of their 'otherness'. Other groups with similar experiences include those differentiated because of their sexuality or race. In Minton's view, unless the marginalisation of communities is tackled, communities will continue to disable the most vulnerable.