Here is a copy of the speech I will be giving at UWS on 30 may 2014. The conference theme is resilience and I will be making the link to how we define and respond to bullying in terms of agency. It also reflects recent input to PGDE Students in Glasgow this week.
everyone – I am delighted to have been asked to come along here today and share
some thoughts with you and also to hear from some of the other speakers.
I will be
talking this morning about bullying and agency, covering the core theory that
underpins our anti-bullying work – in terms of how we recognise and how we
I will make
the link between this and today’s theme, resilience and lastly how this
influences our responses to bullying.
respectme is Scotland’s anti-bullying service –
we build confidence and capacity in adults to recognise and respond to
bullying. We provide training, policy guidance and support as well as campaign
and develop resources for parents, children and professionals.
I will not
be starting today by offering our definition of bullying, it is only once we
explore agency will the definition be worth sharing.
It is vital
that we understand that bullying is both behaviour and impact –never always one
and not the other. It is itself a relationship between certain behaviours and
particular type of impact.
not defined by persistence or intent. This is relevant because if you were to
look up definitions online and in peer reviewed articles, the vast majority of
these will refer to bullying as persistent and deliberate behaviour.
argue that these are unhelpful criteria to apply to situations. So much time
can be lost trying to apply all the various factors, many of which are entirely
at intent – if you tell me bullying must be deliberate and then accuse me of
bullying, what is my first response? -That I didn’t mean it. Intent is difficult to prove. It can tie
situation up in knots and the focus on responding to what someone did and the
impact it had is lost.
waste a lot of time trying to prove intent –I have been involved in examples
when intent is denied the adults are stumped.
deliberate not always – sometime children use language they hear at home and
have no idea of how offensive or inappropriate it is. We should not get caught
up in using this as qualifying criteria though – it’s too easily re-framed
Let us now
consider persistence – that the behaviour must be repeated before it can be
considered bullying – again this is something I do not agree with and neither
do most young people have I spoken to. Persistence is difficult to define and
also, who defines when it’s persistent enough? Me, the person it is happening
to or the intervening adult? Something need only happen once and the impact can
be severe; a child may not get on the bus in the morning again or get changed
for PE after this.
The fear of
repetition can be sustained through looks or perhaps threats or just the fear
of it happening again.
factors are present in the majority of definitions of bullying across the
globe; both of which, we feel here in Scotland are unhelpful. What you do about
bullying is actually more important than how you define it.
questions we need to ask are;
What was the
did it have?
What do I
need to do about it?
situation is unique. You might over hear some name calling in the corridor and
discover this is chat between to close friends who are ‘winding’ each other up;
it is not part of any power or dominance game.
What was the behaviour? Name calling
What impact did it have? None – made
What do I need to do about it?
Nothing – perhaps remind them about language or being overheard
You may hear
the same name calling ten feet further on but the person on the receiving end
is upset and embarrassed in front of her peers.
What was the behaviour? Name calling
What impact did it have? Left someone
embarrassed and fearful – who ran off
What do I need to do about it? Help
this person get back into her routine, listen to how she feels and decide on
next steps – you will need to challenge the people who called her names and
look at possible consequences too
not mean we only focus on the impact behaviour has – this means that if someone
shouts a homophobic or racist slur at someone and it bounces off them and they
don’t care –this does not mean you do not need to do anything about the
language used and the attempt to bully or dominate.
Just as not
all attempts to bully are successful, people can feel bullied but not be – it
is possible some people over react –you still need to deal with their reaction
and their feelings but you might not need to do much about the behaviour – A
useful workplace analogy might be a boss saying something as simple as – ‘you’re
a bit late today’ and the staff member over-reacts and assumes this is an attempt
to exert power and control and may then claim they are feeling bullied. They
may panic, become restless, loose sleep and this will have an impact on them
but the boss’ behaviour was perfectly legitimate and reasonable. This person needs
help to work through their response but they have not been bullied.
So when we
look at impact – things like feeling hurt, angry, scared, frightened, that knot
in your stomach- what is happening there? What do these reactions say to us?
reflect ina range of ways that they
feel unable to speak out and feel trapped – they draw pictures of themselves in
large rooms feeling caged and so on. This learning helped us articulate the notion
that bullying actually takes something away from people.
All of these
feelings which are regularly articulated reflect a loss of being in-charge of
yourself, of being capable of taking effective action, of making choices and of
being an effective actor or agent in your own life.
where agency came into our thinking. Lister calls agents ‘autonomous,
purposeful actors, capable of a degree of choice’
talks about how we have agency within structures and our agency is utilised
when we consciously alter our place in the structure’
get this notion - as it can be a bit if
a head scratcher the first time you hear it - though when you explain a
‘typical day’ of meeting friends, going to school, laughing, joining in and
knowing what is happening and how you’ll respond. Bullied children don’t feel
that. Someone else is in charge of how they feel, where they go even or how
they will participate.
this dynamic takes place in is schools and communities. When they can exercise
choice in what happens in these ‘structures’, they are utilising their agency.
to negotiate relationships and difficulties is something all children and young
people need to learn and develop – it is a life skill many adults still don’t
always get right
We learn from our past experiences,
from imagining what we would do in future similar situations and what is
happening to us now – these elements combine and enable us to make choices and
act – this is agency.
change and responding to challenges requires hope, a belief you can handle
things - and agency and these underpin resilience.
Bullying is not about just any kind of injury, nor just any
negative impact. It involves a particular kind of harm. It is aimed at
engendering a kind of helplessness, an inability to act, to do anything. It is
an assault on a person’s agency (Sercombe and Donnelly 2012)
It is not
even the establishment of dominance. The person bullying is not satisfied with
dominance. Bullying involves the attempt to deny another any settled place,
even a subordinate one. It goes beyond subjection. In bullying, the goal is
that bullying is both different types of behaviour and a particular impact that
re-focusses our understanding of the dynamic - this can re-define bullying in a
way that helps practitioners’ responsd to feelings and actions. This is always more effective than checking off
criteria and having uniform sanction based responses.
Bullying is not defined by the type of
person who did it either
to be taken because labelling is not without its risks, labelling a child or
young person on the basis of bullying behaviour can result in a confirmed
identity as a ‘bully’ or ‘victim’ resulting in ongoing behaviour patterns based
on this identity.
This is not
to dilute behaviour but is to keep the focus of the adult’s responses on the
behaviour that is problematic, rather than the assigning characteristics to
those involved. This is a solution focussed approach that is designed to help
people change the way they behave, rather than attempt to change who they are.
We help people change by telling them and naming the behaviour that is
unacceptable, being clear that what they are doing is bullying and that it
needs to stop.
It is a
fundamental part of behaviour management that we tell people what the behaviour
was they did, why it is not acceptable and help them figure out what to do the
next time they feel that way – I did get asked recently if not labelling
children as ‘bullies’ is gobbledygook at parliament
With this in
mind – we offer up a new definition for people to consider
Bullying is a relationship of violence involving practices of
domination that strip another person of the capacity for agency, using
interventions carrying the sustained threat of harm.(Sercombe and Donnelly
intervention may not be repeated, but the threat at least needs to be sustained
over time. Typically, the threat will be sustained by actions: looks, messages,
confrontations or physical interventions.
we can accept that bullying takes something away from people, that they can no
longer take effective action our response must focus on helping get that back.
This is the
real shift in anti-bullying practice – how do I help someone get back a feeling
of being in control of themselves and in a place to take effective action to
feel safe and get on with their day?
moving desks or even just excluding people won’t on their own help restore
agency – young people must be included in what will happen next and given the
chance to steer what direction it goes in. They need to be asked what they
would like to happen and we need to take that seriously.
This is not
always easy but it must remain our goal with every intervention – to help young
people get back to a place where they are in control and can take effective
action. Where not all attempts to bully are successful – this can see you
continue to challenge people’s behaviour but you may need a lighter response to
the young people they are attempting to unsettle.
In reality –
what does that look like? What does it sound like? You will need to ask
you like to happen?
What do you
think will happen if I tell his or her parents?
happen if I tell your teacher?
What are you
for them to say
my dad – you will out me to him and I’m not ready for that
I just want
you to know what is happening and if I need you I will come and get you
If you talk
to his dad he will get a doing/beating and it’ll get worse
explore what options they do have and sometimes that means pointing out that
you need to do something as not doing anything is dangerous
Open conversations like these promote
communication – this promotes positive relationships and they promote and role
model problem solving behaviours –these relationships can become stronger and
children become more resilient to what is happening because of this strong
purposeful relationship – even with just one person.
The process of listening and
consciously trying to get back agency – a sense of being on control – won’t
always lead to a perfect outcome but it will help the person being bullied
conclusion, I would suggest that we have in fact re-framed our approach to and
understanding of bullying based on children and young people’s experiences –
that this understanding compliments the significant and long standing work on
resilience, and on how we promote and enable this in our children and young
When we are
promoting respectful relationships, when we are building capacity to respond
effectively, when we are helping young people learn to negotiate tricky
relationships and when involve them we help them to become more resilient.
I have copied my opening speech from this weeks 'Gender is Everyone's Agenda Conference - some more thought son this event to follow
The name of this conference was
chosen very deliberately – gender is everyone’s agenda
This title emerged as we began
exploring the challenges young people face and looking at the work being done
by the range of agencies – many you will see today – just how much of their
lives can be affected by gender inequality
We start of the games or the clothes
boys or girls are expected to wear or are marketed at parents, to name calling
bullying, insults, stereotypes, to threats and fear and abuse because they
don’t conform to what is seen as normal behaviour, or they don’t do what is
expected of girls when a boy asks you out or wants your picture, to feeling
safe being out, to being targeted online, being exploited or abused witnessing
and experiencing domestic violence or being attacked in the street..
This spectrum is where some of us sit
– a lot of us found that we play a small part on this huge spectrum or
behaviours or issues – but there is no one monopoly position on them – neither
in policy or practice - all of these issues and many more are underpinned by
gender inequality – they all adversely affect girls more than boys.
Aggression and violence towards girls
whether online, in school, in relationships is a complex phenomenon – not a new
one either - the pressure to conform to norms or to be sexually active or to do
what your friends tell you boys or girls are supposed to do – or are supposed
to respond to if their girlfriend or boyfriend texts or speaks to another
person are challenges we have been facing for years and at times we have tried
to focus on each part of the spectrum of behaviours or looked at what the media
does and then blamed that
When you look then at what each of us
is doing on our small parts of the spectrum are doing - you ask – are they
being consistent? Does it add up? It many places it does but many of us share
the same frustrations at trying to get communities and schools and funders to
look up and see the bigger picture.
We first became involved and were the
catalyst for the partnership forming that brings you todays conference – based
on our one area of influence – bullying
The term sexual bullying was being
used more and more often and was appearing in policy and was being used to
describe all manner of behaviours from homophobia to sexual assault – we felt
this ran the risk of diluting serious behaviour – forcing someone, threatening
to do something sexual they do not want to, isn’t bullying it abuse. Putting
your hand u a girls skirt is not bullying – it is assault – these examples did
and still do exist in policy in parts of the UK.
I as noticed a change when we were
presenting evidence to the parliament on cyberbullying and after I spoke 5
other agencies spoke about exploitation and child abuse online – these are very
very serious issues that need real policy and legislative focus – but we felt
the term ‘cyberbullying’ was becoming an umbrella term for all negative and
abusive behaviour online. I felt that if parliament is looking for evidence on
exploitation and abuse online – we shouldn’t be in the room.
These two challenging issues
converged and we decided it was time to talk to colleagues who were working on
these very serious very relevant issues – we could learn from them about the
areas they work in ad we could share what we did –so that we knew what children
could expect from Childline, what Zero Tolerance was talking about in schools
about relationships and violence and they knew what the anti-bullying messages
were, what LGBT Youth Scotland say about domestic violence and violence that is
routed in people not meeting gender norms – this vital and rich work being done
runs the risk of being done in isolation
We wanted to get people together and
look for where we can develop a consistent message – in policy and on practice.
Every one of us was dealing with behaviour and violence migrating to the online
world too but when we peel it all back and look at what we do – we are
responding to gender inequality - pictures of girls being shared and commented
on around school is misogyny 2014 – boys simply have new means at their
disposal to perpetuate the myths about relationships, norms and how we talk
about boys and how we talk about girls.
So ourselves, LGBT Youth Scotland,
police Scotland, Local Authority colleagues, the Mentors for Violence
Programme, NSPCC Scotland, Edinburgh University, Zero tolerance and Rape Crisis
Scotland formed a partnership –
This group has formed in response to
a shared concern and common interest in addressing gender-based inequalities
and sexual violence.It
sets out a partnership approach to lead and influence gender-related policy and
practice, as it relates to children and young people in Scotland.It aims to challenge accepted behaviour,
attitudes and relationships, with the purpose of reducing sexual violence
amongst young people, acknowledging that the status quo is no longer good
When each of us responds to reports
or is delivering our area of work – we now know more about what our colleagues
are doing and when we address gender issues – we have a broader and more
informed position for some young people the link form say gender based bullying
to gender based violence is clear for others less so but in understanding what
each of us can do on that spectrum or for some continuum of aggression and
violence we hope that we can develop more effective responses as we share our
learning our understanding and listen to each other.
I am very proud to be standing here today
opening this conference – I am very proud that it is not a conference about
online risks, there are plenty of them happening, or a conference just on
violence, or bullying – but one that hopefully gets straight to the point
–and that is how these are affected by
gender inequality – I want us to get the conversation right – not always
focussing on our own bits bit ask – how can we change attitudes and behaviours
I suppose for me an example is when
we look at what happens when sexting goes horribly wrong – a very important
area - and we spend time on reflecting on social media sites, smart phones and
the challenges they present – when the issue is actually what motivated the boy
involved what told him what he was doing
was okay – not how did he did it or where – but why.
That is what I mean about getting the
Today is our attempt to articulate
the problem – to explore some of the key issues and to share these with you and
to listen to what you have to say
We have avoided the temptation to
present you with speakers all do and for you to sit there and appreciate –
although I am sure you will appreciate the small number we have for you today –
but we wanted it to be an active day – where the workshops and the networking
are the focus – so please enjoy the variety on show – use the time at lunch and
breaks to go round the various stalls and make connections.
Finally a quick thanks to Our Funders
today from The Scottish Government – both The LearningDirectorate and the Equalities Unit- thank you for this and we hope you can see
that today has been money very well spent.