Dealing with bullying

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WE HAVE all met bullies like Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter books. But bullies are not fictional, nor do they disappear with the wave of a magic wand. Bullies can help blight a young life, sometimes beyond endurance.

Only recently, there was the case of the Lenzie Academy pupil, Nicola Raphael, who killed herself after being bullied by fellow pupils for her taste in "Goth" music and clothes. Nicola’s tragedy was an extreme example of a problem that is all too common. However, the solution to the problem is certainly not a flood of legal actions from pupils or their parents, claiming that schools have failed to protect them from bullies.

In recent weeks, at least 11 such actions have begun in Scotland against education departments by pupils seeking financial compensation for alleged distress and injury suffered at the hands of school bullies. One Glasgow solicitor involved in these cases claims victims could expect damages of 30,000. Which implies that more such cases, if successful, could end up diverting scarce cash resources from Scottish education, including funds required to invest in dealing with the bullying problem at source.

A certain amount of common sense is required here by all parties. Dealing with bullying is not just a matter of punishing offenders. It is about helping to mould and develop the personalities of young children to share in society. It is about schools and parents inculcating a collective culture which does not let children be isolated either by the bully or the young community. It is about involving all parents in the work of the school, so that they are on hand to ward off bullying problems before they get out of hand. But none of these things is possible if we see a rush of parents blaming teachers, solicitors seeking would-be clients to sue, and schools and the taxpayer having to divert precious funds out of the educational system. Clearly, the Scottish executive has to assure all parents that there is a clear strategy to deal with bullying. But recourse to the law courts will only take us away from dealing with the problem.