Pupils ‘bullied to death’ like Natasha Macbryde deserve honesty, not damage control

All the people who knew Natasha Macbryde best – family, friends, classmates, and even parents of classmates – say Natasha Macbryde was ‘bullied to death.’ But no-one will be surprised to see that Royal Grammar School is reluctant to believe them. Ignoring the impossible problem staring everyone in the face seems to have become standard procedure for schools.

Royal Grammar School in Tything has questioned the truth of the bullying claims (claims which are all over Facebook, claims which are coming from the dead girl’s father, and even claims from parents of other pupils at the school) on the basis that Royal Grammar School have a ‘strong anti-bullying policy.’ They are naive at best if they don’t know that in practice there no such thing.

No-one is saying schools like Royal Grammar School should be held totally accountable, legally or even morally, for what happens to children on their property, and under their care – although in most other situations where an adult is entirely responsible for a child, it probably wouldn’t be considered as ridiculous an idea as it somehow sounds when we talk about schools. After all, in the workplace, adults are expected to take legal responsibility for the safety of their employees (other adults) to an extent. The reason it becomes impractical with schools, of course, is that most people know the impossible, uncomfortable truth: that there isn’t much that any school can do about bullying.

So no, of course they can’t seriously be expected to actually stop it happening. But the least schools could do is be honest about that impossible, uncomfortable truth. When 13 year old Kelly Yeoman killed herself because of bullying in 1997, her sister Sarah claimed that “the teachers would just say ‘Sit down Kelly, don’t be a tittle-tattle’” if her sister tried to report any abuse. After Thomas Thompson, aged 11, killed himself because of bullying, his headmaster Martin Pope argued that there were “no reports” of any bullying in his school. Holly Stuckey killed herself this year, and despite writing a suicide note which stated that bullying was the reason she committed suicide, and despite other parents at the school coming forward since her death to claim their own kids were also experiencing abuse, the school simply insisted: “We employ a zero-tolerance approach to bullying.” Perhaps Kelly Yeoman, Thomas Thompson, Holly Stuckey, and the seemingly endless list of similar cases were all mistaken or lying about what was happening to them. Or perhaps all our schools are in denial about what is and isn’t within their control – and what happens on their property, under their control, on under their noses.

Is it fair to treat deaths like these as if they were caused by some kind of negligence on the part of the school? No. Should schools like Royal Grammar School in Tything be more concerned with preventing assault and harassment (and isn’t it funny how calling things what they actually are can suddenly change how seriously we take them?) than they are with their own immediate reputation? Yes, of course they should. If they won’t be honest about the scale of the problem in order to actually try and start addressing it, then perhaps they could just do it out of respect for kids like Natasha Macbryde and their families.

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9 Comments

  1. How should the school be honest? Say, “Yes – there is bullying” without naming those responsible and thus tarring all the school’s pupils with the same brush? Or should they name those responsible with all that implies for their well-being and due process?

    Bullying is horrible and I’ve every sympathy for its victims, but you are very harsh in bashing a school’s action without suggesting an alternative course.

  2. All schools are obliged to have an anti-bullying policy, however most schools will try and brush instances of bullying under the carpet and avoid the issue. This was certainly the case when my 8 year old son was bullied throughout P1 and 2. It only came to light when he began to be disruptive in class during P2 and we found he’d been relentlessly bullied by a child who was much older and that it was common knowledge in the playground. When I challenged the school about it the head teacher did everything not to mention bullying or even admit their was an issue. When she finally acknowledged that there was a problem it was my son who had to ‘re-learn’ his behaviour and I was even asked to ‘consider’ the bully and his reasons for behaving like a little thug!! Nothing really changed, the older child kept bullying my son intermittently and a culture of bullying still exists in the school to this day. It’s very depressing and I really think a tougher line needs to be taken by the school and by the parents of the bully. My son still suffers from low self esteem and hates school – and he’s no wee shy, retiring flower!

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Pupils ‘bullied to death’ like Natasha Macbryde deserve honesty, not damage control « Libertarian Lou's Blog -- Topsy.com

  4. Why do they need to say anything other than “this is an awful tragedy?” I’m not sure why there’s any need to say “Oh but there’s no bullying in our school” to be honest. It feels incredibly disrespectful to make a point a point of questioning the child’s claims just to protect their own reputation. But saying “yes it’s a problem in our school” isn’t tarring all the kids, unless of course they said “yes it’s commonplace and majority of kids do it” (which is true in some schools sadly). I certainly wouldn’t want them to actually name those responsible, I do keep in mind that everyone being talked about is a child.

    Having researched this a tiny (very tiny) bit, it seems that the schools who insist there is no bullying in their schools are often the ones where it is worst. There is other research done by much more knowledgeable people than myself which backs this up. Like this for example: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bullycide-Death-Playtime-Neil-Marr/dp/0952912120

  5. Saying that there is bullying, but leaving it open as to who the culprits are, is worse than nothing. The real bullies will deny it (they always do, often because they don’t know they are doing it as they have been acculturated into it at home) but the innocent kids will imagine they are the perpetrators.

    It’s not just to protect the school’s reputatuion, it’s to protect the kids too. I agree that it’s unpalatable, but I reiterate – what are you going to do?

    I’ll look at the research, but I’d be amazed if there are schools with a majority of kids doing bullying – over 2oo kids at my kids’ primary school? I can’t see that.

    And I think bullying is horrendous and I am so, so pleased that my kids appear not to have been subjected to it. It’s just that hard cases make bad law – so what bad law do we have on disclosure of bullying in schools?

  6. Schools where there is little or no bullying won’t have cause to raise their anti-bullying policy. I bet when it is raised in private at governors meetings, they say it is efficient and effective.

    Any school that just said “it’s a tragedy” in such circumstances would be hammered for complacency – and rightly so.

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