Education secretary Michael Gove has been recalled to appear before MPs sitting on The Education Select Committee to face a further grilling over what he knew about allegations of bullying by his key advisers. Mr. Gove had previously told the MPs that he had been unaware of any such claims – an account now thought to have a distinct piscine whiff about it.
The grievance procedure, brought against two members of his closest staff by a senior civil servant accuses one of his special advisers (Dominic Cummings) and the department’s former head of communications (James Frayne) of bullying.
The case was to be heard in an employment tribunal, with the secretary of state listed as the respondent, but the DfE settled the case with a reported £25,000 payout before it got to an open court hearing.
Having now been recalled to discuss the matter further by Labour MP for North West Durham and chair of the Education Select Committee Patricia Glass, a prickly Gove graciously accepted the invite with this particularly snotty, defensive letter.
This is worrying – the man entrusted with overseeing our kids’ education is himself being accused of being a bully, if not directly, then at least by surrounding himself with thuggish muscle – classic bully-boy tactics.
Bullying is something all parents, kids and teaching staff worry about and most of us will experience it at some point in our lives, it’s by no means circumscribed to the schoolyard.
With the advent of social media and further strides in mass communication the scope for bullying is no longer a thing of time-honoured, almost nostalgic Boy’s Own, Bash Street Kids-esque hold-you–up-by-yer-ankles-and-pinch-yer-gobstoppers frivolity. It’s a far more serious, more complex being that operates on many levels.
But what should we do if we are being bullied? And how should parents react if we think our child is being bullied? Moreover – what do we do if we think our own child is the bully? Over a series of posts I’ll attempt to answer these questions and put forward some tips and strategies for dealing with these issues. Here, I offer up some tips for parents.
Tips for parents: I think my child is being bullied at school
Unless your child is willing to open up to you about bullying, or has visible physical bruises or injuries it can be difficult to know it’s happening. No-one knows your child like you do – have you noticed them acting differently or not as themselves? Perhaps they seeming anxious and are changing their habits in eating, sleeping or doing the things they usually enjoy.
Have they become introverted, tetchy or easily upset? Are they avoiding certain situations like taking the bus to school or school altogether?
It’s not going to be an easy road to get them to tell you if they are being bullied – the fear of reprisals, teasing and getting in trouble themselves can all drive a child into their shell. Where possible, try to find opportunities to bring up the issue with a softly-softly approach. Can you use anything that relates to issues of bullying and school – such a s a news story, TV show or personal experience to start a dialogue?
In many cases, teachers, playground assistants or counsellors are the first port of call when you suspect something is going on. You can ask them to keep an eye on things – after all, they’re the only ones that can. You may want to also ask other parents if they’ve heard about any bullying. Sometimes it’s even useful to approach the bully’s parents, depending on circumstance, but keep calm!
If your child does find the courage to admit to being bullied, praise your child for being brave enough to talk about it and remind your child that they are not alone; again show empathy and solidarity by relating to a personal experience if possible, show you’re in this together.
In my opinion, children should be encouraged to walk away and not get drawn into conflict, physical or otherwise. The Hollywood portrayal of stand up to bullies and fight back or they’ll keep doing it is problematic for me; it more often than not escalates rather than solves the problem. A reaction is the bully’s lifeblood – don’t give them the satisfaction.
Explain to your child that a person that bullies may have a problem like depression, family or anger issues.
Of course, if you have noticed ongoing physical bruising or other marks you need to immediately contact the school.
Knowing or suspecting that your child is being bullied can be very upsetting, try to bear in mind these nuggets of advice and I hope they go some way to solving the problem.