Behaviour amongst pupils

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This essay discusses the idea that certain conditions peculiar to the school environment may - or may not - be likely to encourage bullying behaviour. By comparing research from a range of societal contexts and analytical perspectives, it attempts to integrate both empirical evidence and theoretical models of why bullying occurs. The whole point of studying the world of bullying is, however, not simply to understand it, but to change it. It is argued here that it is the institution of the school itself, rather than the nature of particular individuals, which is the most constructive of bullying. Although such propensities may exist independently, it is the school which brings them into proximity with catalytic socialisation.

The 'traditional' approach to bullying, in the judgement of Ma et al (2001) was to categorise it as an inevitable consequence of dysfunctional or aberrant behaviour within the school community, something which could, and should be dealt with through the operation of orthodox institutional governance. Wherever possible, this meant management of the problem by the school itself. The whole phenomenon was allegedly regarded as "…not seriously harmful, a natural part of growing up, and helpful to toughen up children and to prepare them for adulthood…" (p247). In the estimation of the same authorities, this consensus was undermined by successive incidences of pupil suicide, such as that in Norway during the 1980s, as well as allegedly retaliatory murder of a bully by his victim in the US. (Ma et al, 2001: p247). However, it could well be argued that this change coincided with a diminution of the professional autonomy of state educators, especially in societies such as the UK.

When looking at the 'Medical model of Disability', the disabled person is seen as the problem, especially in schools. These pupils are made to adapt to fit in with life at school. This is where the bullying problems begins. According to Reiser (2008) over 70% of disabled pupils report being bullied at school, with less than 30% non-disabled. He further claims that bullying is a major barrier for disabled pupils. However it seems the only answer to contain the bullying is to put these pupils into a separate school, yet this does not promote equality. It is to question why should these pupils be excluded from leading a normal life? It is easy to say that it is the school that should abolish bullying of disabled pupils, except it is the barriers that society puts against them that is the main perpetrator. For example, not allowing wheelchair access into schools, and for illiterate pupils, not enough one-to-one assistance is given for their studies. It is therefore considered that schools, teachers and the government reinforce these barriers so as to exclude disabled pupils.

Governments have become much more willing to override the expertise of teachers, and intervene in the running of schools. It is however questionable whether such intervention has a positive or negative effect on bullying. The never ending talk about the raising of standards is accompanied by parallel pronouncements on 'Inclusion'. One result of this is that schools cannot exclude pupils - including those deemed responsible for bullying, without registering a negative value on one of their key performance indicators (Croll & Moses, 2000: p6). As the Department Of Education (no date) states, successive pastoral and interpersonal or social coaching programmes such as the Social and Emotional Learning programme at Primary level, allows governments and school managements alike to argue that they have ticked the boxes on positive socialization (p2). It is much more problematical to argue that these schematized panaceas are helping to address bullying in a manner calculated to conciliate the fears of the victims of bullying. Nevertheless, Ma et al (2001) expressed an oft-repeated judgment when they state that "…effective schools encourage students to have positive interactions with teachers, and set up tougher sanctions against bullying…" (p247).

The more general environmental argument posited by authorities such as Roland and Galloway (2004), promotes the idea that "…teachers' professional culture is likely to be related to pupil behaviour in general as well as to bullying in particular... improvements in pupil behaviour may be a necessary prerequisite to improvement in educational standards" (p242). It is perfectly logical that any holistic examination of bullying should take a 360 degree perspective on causality, environment and management. Nevertheless, as other authorities have conceded, the institutional model has its own limits. As Yoneyama and Natio (2003) concede, altering the school itself cannot guarantee the end of bullying, or eliminate the tendencies in some individuals. Instead, they propose, improved governance "…has the potential to turn schools into places where pupils and students learn an alternative mode of human relations…without being dominated by power" (p328). As Yoneyama and Natio's study was based on Japanese institutions, it must be acknowledged here that 'power', as well as the notion of relationships, are mediated through significant cultural graduations of meaning. However, their idea still appears vulnerable to criticism on the grounds that schools are innately hierarchical enclaves, where the socialisation of power and contingent behaviour remain central (Raudenbush and Bryk, 1986. p1).

As Roland and Galloway (2004) argue, "…there are reasons to believe that schools high on bullying suffer from poor leadership, little professional co-operation, and low consensus on professional matters" (p253). Whilst this may be the case, a brief reconsideration of these two variables makes this assertion appear less reliable than it might otherwise seem. For example, significant elements of this conclusion rest on correlative positions, such as the idea that "…teachers' satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their head teachers' work as a leader is likely to be a good estimate of how able the head teacher is in managing the school…" (Roland and Galloway 2004: p244). It could be argued that the possible variations and alternative explanations contingent on exactly the same results are not really taken into account here. For example, an unpopular head teacher may run an academically or pastorally successful school, whilst a popular one might not. The permutations and graduations within such a model are virtually limitless (Hesketh and Knight, 1998). The overall conclusion also relies on the notion that contracted teachers will transparently reveal their opinions of school leadership. This is of course possible - as are other, less sanguine interpretations of such data. Research in parallel areas such as that of Randle (2003) in nursing education appears to show how widespread and systematic bullying is in adult contexts. The important point here is that the respondents were afforded the maximum ethical consideration in terms of anonymity, and were also in transitory roles. They were students being asked to comment retrospectively on their placements, rather than permanent staff commenting on their management at work. It may be argued that these are not inconsiderable factors in the quality and candour of their responses (Randle 2003: p396). Moreover, as Whitted and Dupper (2008) discovered in their own research, students report fairly widespread and protean forms of bullying on students by teachers themselves. As they stated, "…although the problem of peer bullying in schools has received the vast majority of attention and empirical study…researchers must begin to focus on teachers and other adults who use their…power to psychologically and physically abuse students" (p11).

The UK-based research of Eslea et al., (no date) itemised some of these, ranging from public ridicule to physical abuse. (Eslea et al., p19). It is interesting that, overall, more attention is paid to the potential vagaries within children's evidence, than that of others. As Hill (2006) has noted, "…there is a need both to ask children and young people much more often what they think about methods used in actual and potential research and to build up a record of their perspectives" (p84).

As Harber (2002) points out, the problem with such perspectives is that they essentially reproduce the statist or functionalist view of the school as a legitimate or benign enclave where aberrant behaviour should be the catalyst for further intervention. As Harber explains, there is an alternative available, in which the visualisation of a school system was as much a utilitarian idea prompted by the perceived needs of society, rather than necessarily those of the individuals who would attend them, "…thus schooling became one of the new institutions of social control, along with prisons, hospitals and factories, that used continual surveillance to, in the words of Foucault, "discipline and punish", in order to avoid social fragmentation and to create order and docility..." (Harber, 2002: p8). However, it is not necessary to prescribe to anti-establishment or anti-capitalist views in order to perceive the logic of this kind of argument. The spatial concentration of large numbers of individuals in the new state schools' systems of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was based partly on the economic necessity of educating groups in an affordable way, rather than purely educational criteria. This view is supported by Kelley (1979). Therefore, whilst the element of socialisation inherent in compulsory schooling is openly publicized as a beneficial function of mandatory education, its correlative decrease of individual freedom is played down. As Harber again puts it, …the origins of mass schooling as a form of social control has meant that the predominant form of schooling…has always been authoritarian, with pupils having little control or power over school curriculum or organization and…being seen as recipients of knowledge and instructions (Harber, 2002: p10).

The educational 'conscription' and enforced juxtaposition of individuals who would otherwise not socialize or collectivize does not, of itself, explain bullying. However, the imposition of routine and discipline, and correlative change of resentment, may well do. The essential point is that it is not the culture of particular schools, but the culture of the school per se which is constructive of these situational stressors. Education is not necessarily a large group or institutionally-based activity: it has been made so, in its contemporary form, by the state. It may also be argued that the regimentation and measurement of pupils' performance is as much economically as educationally driven. The power-based theory, for example, has drawn on negative stereotypes extant in society as the catalyst for some control-seeking bullying behaviour (Ma et al. 2001: p261). However, could it not also be argued that children are intuitive enough about social interaction to draw such inferences from the hierarchical interaction between adults within schools themselves? In this respect, similar associations could be claimed for, both the social learning and mind skills theories.

In conclusion, it is argued here that the systems-based solutions currently being disseminated in state education systems are no more likely to eradicate bullying, than are related political positions likely to break down inequality in wider society. As Randle (2003) concludes from her research into nursing, "…bullying cannot be isolated from the social relations in which it is embedded or from its social consequences…", and, furthermore, cannot be understood "…unless it is related to the historical and social structure from which it is derived…" (pp400-401). The important point here is that Randle herself identifies the tautology which runs from societal expectations of the nursing profession, political representations of what health care should be, and local contingencies surrounding resources (Randle 2003: p401). If the arguments of the new managerialism [sic] within education are accepted, then bullying - like underachievement, may be 'managed' away. "…mangerialism [sic] is a general ideology…that regards managing and management as being functionally and technically indispensable to the achievement of economic progress, technological development, and social order within any modern political economy" (Deem et al. 2008: p6). The predominance of such subjective and unsubstantiated ideas ensures that approximate and functionalist visualisations of bullying, and correlative solutions, will prevail over more holistic societal redress.


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