Katie Ferguson: Change starts with kids in tackling the bullies

Lauren, 17, Kenon, 12, Jaclyn, 16, Aidan, 13, Lauren, 16, Leah, 17, Joseph, 17 and Ethan, 16, are among the pupils at Coatbridge High who have been involved in shaping anti-bullying strategies
Lauren, 17, Kenon, 12, Jaclyn, 16, Aidan, 13, Lauren, 16, Leah, 17, Joseph, 17 and Ethan, 16, are among the pupils at Coatbridge High who have been involved in shaping anti-bullying strategies
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Up to 30 per cent of young people claim to have experienced bullying and now is the time to listen to them. Young people see and experience bullying behaviour, they understand it and its impact, and therefore they should be the people we listen to when developing new strategies to address it.

We know that young people’s voices are vital in effectively addressing ­bullying – they can make policy-making and practice stronger, more appropriate and better able to meet young people’s needs.

Katie Ferguson is service director of respectme, Scotland's anti-bullying service.

Katie Ferguson is service director of respectme, Scotland's anti-bullying service.

With the right support and encouragement, young people are more than capable of leading peer education and support initiatives, contributing to anti-bullying policy development, creating information and advice, and establishing youth-led campaigns that spread key messages and connect and resonate with their peers in a powerful way.

Many organisations in Scotland are already putting these principles and rights into practice. At a recent respectme anti-bullying event, a number of schools and youth organisations showcased the success they have achieved by taking youth-led approaches to their anti-bullying work which positively contributed to a culture of respect and kindness from the student body upwards.

At Coatbridge High School, Lanarkshire, for example, young people across the school have been regularly feeding into some of the schools most fundamental decisions and ­everyday practices, meaning that young ­people are shaping the school’s direction and culture. They have directly influenced the school’s anti-bullying policy and are leading many of the approaches being taken to address the issue.

Recently, school captain Leah Woods reflected that young ­people taking the lead at her school has “encouraged everyone to get involved and helped diffuse the stigma of ­bullying”. She’s also noticed that “…naturally, young people are often more likely to take advice from their peers”.

Coatbridge High School isn’t the only school leading the charge on youth participation across anti-bullying work. Youth-led approaches at Alloa Academy in Clackmannanshire have seen pupils being empowered to choose the school’s health and wellbeing priorities through focus groups and discussions.

From this, pupils identified that they wanted to include a focus on bullying given the negative impact they felt this could have on every aspect of young people’s lives, including their mental health.

Young people at Alloa Academy have directly shaped the school’s anti-bullying policy, revised Personal and Social Education courses and strengthened the school’s focus on promoting equality and diversity.

To reinforce their work and spread the message of positive relationships and anti-bullying, pupils have also taken forward a campaign on the importance of peer influence – a conversation they believe carries more weight and power when it happens at grassroots among young people.

There are few who would argue with the power of youth-led approaches. However, in reality, the time and skills required to roll out quality youth participation continues to be an obstacle and there is still much more to do. That’s why we are making this a priority for our service in the year ahead and we will create a platform to encourage and support all those working on the ground to nurture this.

As educators, youth leaders and decision makers, we must remember that under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have a right to be listened to and to be taken seriously. Additionally, the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 made clear that young people should be consulted about decisions that affect them.

Successful anti-bullying work needs everyone to work together and our communities of educators are pivotal – they are crucial to empowering young people to fully participate and help ensure the voices of young people are heard and taken seriously.

This Anti-Bullying Week we’re calling on all educators to join the Change Starts With Us movement – now is the time galvanise young ­people across Scotland to take charge, shape policy and help create a culture of accountability and change. Running until the end of the school year, Change Starts With Us will support the ­genuine involvement and leadership of young people – which can often be the key to bringing about real and lasting ­culture change.

This approach has the potential to lead to a real shift in how consistently young people shape anti-bullying policy and practice, leading to more successful anti-bullying approaches.

We believe this has the potential to create a transformational change in young people’s everyday lives by contributing to increased cultures of respect and kindness.

For more information visit respectme.org.uk/campaigns/change-starts-with-us-2019-20/

Katie Ferguson is service director of respectme, Scotland’s anti-bullying service.