Call for standard bullying rulebook for all schools in NSW
Experts are calling for standard bullying rules across all schools to stamp out the patchwork of policies which see some schools stand tough on the issue while others allow it to fester.
A wide range of bullying experts have backed The Daily Telegraph's call for a single authoritative anti-bullying rulebook across public and private schools.
Under current rules, all schools must have an anti-bullying policy registered by the NSW Education Standards Authority but the system does not stipulate what the policy should include.
Macquarie University bullying expert Dr Kay Bussey said a single standard in all schools could improve students' mental health, by issuing preventive messaging about bullying, having transparent procedures about handling bullies, and constantly evaluating to make sure the school was addressing the problem.
"When you get to the independent schools there is great variability - some want to advertise that they are really proactive in respect to bullying, whereas others want to hide it under the carpet," she said.
"The Education Department has guidelines saying that every state school has to have a bullying policy but that is about as far as it goes.
"It doesn't help them develop it, so some schools do a really good job and others don't."
Dr Bussey supported moves at The King's School in North Parramatta to make data publicly available about the prevalence of bullying gathered through student surveys.
As part of the school's policy, students are told precisely what constitutes bullying and warns them repeat offenders face expulsion.
The call for a single bullying policy comes as the percentage of NSW secondary school students who said they were "unhappy, sad and depressed" jumped from 35.2 per cent in 2008 to 36.6 per cent in 2017, according to Health Department data.
Over the same period, the number of students who said they were nervous, stressed or under pressure jumped from 35.6 per cent in 2008 to 40.7 per cent in 2017.
Among NSW adults, suicide increased from 8.6 per 100,000 people in 2008 to 11.7 per 100,000 in 2018. For those aged 15-24, it almost doubled from six per 100,000 people in 2008 to 11.2 in 2018.
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell backed calls to make data about bullying more transparent in schools but stopped short of endorsing a standard policy for individual schools.
"Managing bullying and behaviour at schools is a complex issue and is often unique to individual schools," she said. "Social media adds another dimension to bullying and we need to constantly adapt our strategies. Anything that increases transparency across the system and helps us understand what is happening both in the playground and online is worth pursuing."
But NSW Shooters and Fishers MP and former schoolteacher Mark Banasiak supported investigating a single bullying rule book.
"Kids go from school to school, anything to do with the development of a child's mind, it all speaks to consistency, so you need that consistency between systems," he said. "The high expectations of schools (which) will not tolerate bullying (should be) mirrored across the state and across any system whether it is public, Catholic, independent."
At Knox Grammar the bullying policy has been updated this year from a previous policy which told students "DON'T BE A VICTIM" and said "Victims can attract bullying behaviour."
After being contacted by The Daily Telegraph, a school spokesman said the policy was outdated and this year's bullying handbook did not contain that section.
Cyber bullying expert Melinda Tankard Reist said a standard policy on bullying across all schools should include cyber bullying outside classroom hours because teachers could fob parents off by saying they can only police what happens inside the school gates.
"Schools have a responsibility to create a safe educational environment but behaviour outside the school by students still needs to be addressed because the effects are so significant leading to suicidal thoughts," she said.
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Originally published as Call for standard bullying rulebook for all schools in NSW