All schools are directed by the Department for Education (DfE) and their local authority to have robust policies to deal with these problems. Much work and effort by the DfE has gone into supporting anti-bullying strategies in schools and the issue is continually on the agenda for all school communities.
Ofsted now inspects school policy and practice on bullying and there are many materials available to schools to inform their own practice. All staff are obliged to be aware of the school policy on bullying and their obligations under it.
It is one of the major regrets of the many practitioners involved in supporting anti-bullying strategies that for many children bullying is still an issue that blights their school life even if only for a short time. This is often the case with children who stammer as they report that they have been imitated, taunted and laughed at, to the amusement of the audience of children around them, and sometimes have become the target of more serious long term teasing or bullying, as their vulnerability is exposed.
The fact that stammering is often portrayed in the media as funny obviously does not help. Some very recent research evidence supports concern that children who stammer may be more likely to be teased or bullied. A survey of 75 children, aged between the ages of 9 and 11, demonstrated that they held negative perceptions of children who stammer.
Furthermore even more recent research available on the BSA web site has shown that children who stammer are 43% less likely to be popular with their peer group in the classroom, which suggests again that they are more likely to be bullied than children who do not stammer.
Some older primary school children who stammer have resorted to the Internet to make friends and parents should carefully monitor this surfing. Now that many children have their own e- mail address they are very accessible to bullying by other children, and in the worst case scenario can get drawn into web sites where deliberate efforts are made by adults with dangerous agendas to groom them for further activities or contacts. Access to social networking sites also needs to be monitored as these have been used to publicly embarrass or harass children who use them.
Even young children may make contact by phone, and children who stammer often have problems with making calls themselves while being vulnerable to other children calling or texting them with possibly malicious intent. It seems that the popularity of text messaging, e-mailing and contacting social networking sites with friends has been very helpful to many pupils who stammer.
It helps to keep them in touch, but should only be a starting point for communication in speech and needs to be carefully monitored to ensure that these contacts do not become malicious.
Camera phones used by other children can quickly transmit images to social networking sites that are intended to cause hurt to vulnerable children and the BSA is aware that some children who stammer do worry about seeing pictures of themselves stammering on these sites.
The best protection is a good relationship with key adults who ideally understand the sophistication of modern methods of communication so that the young person is able to talk about any concerns he may have.
School strategies on bullying should be embedded in every aspect of the school's life so that every child feels safe in the knowledge that bullying will be stopped. Strategies should encourage the child to 'tell', a parent or teacher, and should provide some means also for all pupils to report an episode of bullying without other children knowing.
A method such as leaving a note in a 'bully box', located where other children cannot see it being placed works well for all the older primary school pupils. Children who stammer may prefer to use this rather than explain their problem.
For the very youngest children staff alertness is the main factor as children of that age may not be able to cope with a system, nor be able to explain their fears without prompting, particularly if they stammer. Action should be immediate and reported back to the parents and the child who should see that it has had an effect.
Class and school attitudes to bullying can be explored and developed in PSD/PSE programmes, Circle Time discussions and assemblies for example. These can address the need for children to accept and understand diversity and their own reactions to it. Information about stammering can be provided by the BSA for the class and may help to reduce bullying. The child who stammers needs to be happy with this, and ideally a speech and language therapist should be involved.
The BSA completed a film for the National Association of Headteachers in partnership with The Michael Palin Centre (MPC), the specialist centre for stammering therapy. This film shows pupils who stammer talking about their needs in school.
The MPC has also produced a DVD to give information to schools about stammering. This is available from speech and language therapy services in England. Both of these films may be used for staff training or for pupils to see in a PHSE lesson, provided that any child in the class who stammers is quite comfortable with that.
This can help the child to confront the bully and explain how he feels, and this skill may be developed in class and in therapy. A child who stammers needs to learn these skills and practise them in a supportive environment where he can always seek help from an adult. Then he is more likely to develop the confidence to use them successfully in situations where he feels harassed.
There is provision within this to flexibly meet the needs of a child as they arise and require intensive support. Consequently, when a child has become a regular victim of bullying and is very distressed, considerable staff time may go into monitoring the child and observing events in the school.
In such cases the child could be placed on 'School Action' or 'School Action Plus' if outside agencies are involved, with the support of parents, while the concerns are being addressed. This would focus attention on the child's immediate needs and provide designated opportunities for intervention.