The BSA is aware from its Helpline calls, and a survey of members, that this is a major concern for pupils and their parents, even though there are school policies in place and an informed awareness among school staff. Vulnerable pupils are especially at risk during social times.
Some very recent research evidence supports concern that pupils who stammer may be likely to be teased or bullied. A survey of 75 children, between the ages of 9 and 11, demonstrated that they held negative perceptions of children who stammer and ongoing research is suggesting that children who stammer are less likely to be popular with classmates than children who do not stammer.
In Scotland all schools are now officially encouraged to develop anti-bullying policies. Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools examine anti-bullying policies and procedures during their visits to schools. Special attention is paid to this during the recently introduced "care and welfare" inspections, which, unlike normal inspections, are unannounced. Inspectors expect schools to have a policy statement which accurately describes how bullying is tackled.
The single most effective thing that a school can do to tackle bullying is to develop a policy outlining how the issue is raised within the curriculum and how incidents are dealt with after they have happened; i.e. the policy must acknowledge the need for both pro-active and re-active strategies. Such a policy must involve all members of a school community including pupils, parents, teachers and non-teaching staff.
Given all the support and advice which has been made available to schools over the past ten years it is reasonable to expect that all reports of bullying will be treated seriously and dealt with calmly. It is unreasonable to expect any school to be free of bullying or that teachers will be able to stop every single episode of bullying as soon as it is revealed. Coping with persistent bullying demands a consistent long-term approach.
Schools do make great efforts to ensure that pupils are always effectively supervised in the classroom and during social times at breaks and lunchtimes. However, this intention is frequently hindered by a campus layout that may lend itself to easy avoidance of the supervising staff by motivated pupils. The problem could be compounded at lunchtimes, when assistants may do the most supervision, and possibly do not command the same respect as teachers from pupils.
Different facilities may accommodate pupils during breaks and lunchtimes and provision may include indoor and outdoor social areas, so that the spread of pupils throughout the school can make continuous supervision impossible.
Other areas of difficulty may be bus queues or areas outside the school gates where pupils collect and the school's legal right to intervene is debatable. To assist with the problem, some schools do use CCTV cameras in outdoor locations, cloakroom or foyer areas, where groups of pupils are likely to meet. At these social times, vulnerable pupils are most fearful, perhaps with good reason, of being teased or bullied.
The pupil who stammers, particularly if just arrived from a home or pre-school environment, is likely to find the scale of the social contacts at his new school quite terrifying. Staff are aware of the problem but may find it difficult to prevent incidences of taunting, imitation or teasing and bullying about the stammer. The BSA knows of examples where verbal bullying has escalated to serious physical violence even in the younger the primary school age group.
It is vital therefore that the pupil himself is encouraged to use strategies of 'telling' an adult immediately after any incident to prevent escalation. The problem is that the stammer may be so severe when the pupil is trying to give information about a stressful event that he blocks and cannot talk, or fear of doing that may hold him back completely. Methods of reporting that give the pupil alternative means of passing on worries can be very helpful in this situation.
The older pupils in primary schools wishing to report an incident or to pass on everyday information have successfully used information boxes in a place frequented by many pupils, such as outside the school office where there may be considerable traffic of pupils and staff. A passing pupil would not know what information is being passed on and the frightened pupil would not fear reprisals.
Operating a mentoring system, where an older pupil acts as a 'buddy', can be helpful for younger pupils, so that concerns can be passed on to someone who can empathise with the situation. A pupil who stammers is less likely to be intimidated when talking to a senior pupil whom he knows well. For such a system to work senior pupils need some training in speaking and listening skills, confidentiality issues and to be clear about the appropriate action. There are primary schools that have found this method very successful and supportive particularly of the very youngest children.
A parent may be the first person to be told and if communication with a mentor is in place the incident can be dealt with immediately.
Whatever strategies are used, the bullying must be stopped and feedback provided to the 'victim' that is reassuring. A mediation session between the bullies and their victim may be useful if all consent to meet, and a dialogue may be possible. To encourage this, it could be helpful to provide information to the 'bullies' about stammering.
Schools will know what works for them and need to audit their success regularly in this crucial area. A school climate of co-operation and acceptance of diversity can be encouraged through the PSD/PSE programme.
Many primary school pupils have developed computer skills and may have easy access to the Internet. Some pupils 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 Internet 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 quite young pupils may also make contact by phone, and those who stammer often have problems with making calls themselves while being vulnerable to others 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.
The best protection is a good relationship with key adults so that the child is able to talk about any concerns he may have.
When a child appears to be the object of bullying for some time and it has become a barrier for learning, as the usual strategies are not working then there is provision for 'additional support' to be provided. This would enable the school working with the child and the parent to continually monitor the situation and respond with further support either within the school itself, or from outside agencies working with the child and the teacher. The flexibility of the 'additional support' system allows for temporary support to be given over individual issues that are affecting learning until the concern is alleviated. This is extremely helpful for children who stammer and reassures parents that a problem may be dealt with.
There are many organisations that offer helpful information to schools on managing teasing and bullying issues.
The most authoritative site for schools in Scotland with extensive advice and guidance for teachers and parents:.