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Schools: Bullying — Motion to Take Note

– in the House of Lords at 12:04 pm on 20th June 2013.

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Moved By Baroness Brinton

That this House takes note of the level of education support and mental health provision available to children who are severely bullied at school.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat 12:26 pm, 20th June 2013

My Lords, I am very honoured to be able to move that this House takes note of the very difficult problems facing severely bullied children, particularly of how they are able to learn and to get help with any mental health issues they face as they recover. I look forward to contributions from noble Lords today, many of whom have considerable knowledge and interest in this area. I am particularly looking forward to hearing the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro as he makes his maiden speech. I declare my interest as the co-chair of the All-Party Group on Bullying and as a patron of the Red Balloon Learner Centres, a charity that works with severely bullied children.

Any head teacher who tells you with confidence that there is no bullying in his or her school is deluded. Bullying, as with any abuse of power, will always be with us. What we need to do as parents, educators, friends and family is to be alert and work with both bullies and the bullied as early as possible to recognise the bullying as it starts, and to work to change behaviour.

I am sorry to say that many people think that too much fuss is made of bullying and that children should just learn to cope with it. Today’s debate is not about the minor tiffs that all children go through, learning about relationships, power and listening to each other. It is about the children who are so severely bullied that it is having a catastrophic effect on their lives—to the extent that some children kill themselves—and about what we do as a society to respond to this problem.

First, let us clarify what we are talking about here. The definition of bullying is aggressive behaviour that is intended to cause distress or harm, involves an imbalance of power or strength between aggressor and victim, and commonly occurs repeatedly over time. Children severely affected by it miss school for long periods of time, often self-excluding due to the trauma caused by the bullying.

This image of self-excluding may seem odd to those who do not know about it. I will tell you about a time when I was standing in a primary school playground with a head teacher. We had talked about her early recognition and intervention techniques, but she wanted to show me the practical effect of bullying on a youngster. This child, no more than eight years old, was standing on the edge of the playground. He refused eye contact with any of the children and, when their play moved near him, he sidled round the edge of the playground as far away as he could. The head told me that he had arrived from another school and was finding all social relationships very difficult following bullying elsewhere. He did not want his parents to intervene with the school because every time they had reported it in the past, the bullying had got worse. Even worse for him, his previous school had told him that he was behaving like a victim. This head understood that he needed intensive support, which she had put in place, including staff members keeping an eye out for him and a safe place inside if he felt he could not bear to be in the playground. This child was heading towards a classic downward spiral. His concentration had gone; understandably, he was not learning; and it was going to take many months to start building him up again. At least he had parents who had taken action and a new school that understood the problem.

For too many children, help comes too late. Ayden Olson took his life aged 14 earlier this year. His mum, Shy Keenan, wants action to ensure that it never happens again. She said:

Our wonderful 14 year-old son Ayden died on the 14th of March 2013—his spirit defeated, he was bullied to death at school and driven ... out of pain and despair ... to take his own life. We miss him so much. Our hearts just ache for him and as we try to adjust to a life without him, we have committed to carrying his dreams of bully free schools ahead with Ayden’s Law”.

Her campaign, with the charity BeatBullying and the Sun newspaper, is an outstanding example of how we need to change the culture surrounding bullying. Otherwise, even more children will die. However, Ayden is not the first; nor, indeed, is this the first campaign. Other recent tragedies include Aaron Dugmore. He hanged himself at home after relentless bullying. At nine years old, he is Britain’s second youngest suicide victim of bullying. Other cases are Natasha MacBryde, who jumped in front of a train because she was being bullied about her parents’ divorce, and Sam Leeson, whom internet bullies drove to suicide because of his taste in music and love of fashion.

Research already shows that more than 16,000 children a year are so severely bullied that they cannot face school, and it is estimated that a shocking 44% of suicides of children aged 10 to 14 have occurred at least in part because of bullying. I support much of what Ayden’s law seeks to achieve, including compulsory family intervention and children, teachers and social workers all having anti-bullying training. The model, Jodie Marsh, who was herself severely bullied at school, has worked with anti-bullying campaigner, Alex Holmes, to celebrate the good practice at some of our schools. She went to Springwell College in Staveley, Derbyshire, which has 25 anti-bullying ambassadors. They are now spreading that work to other schools. A TV programme broadcast a couple of months ago showed what they were doing with Carlton Community College in Barnsley to make sure that children themselves change the culture.

We need to really look at our schools and at educational support for these badly bullied children. One child described how,

“actually going to the school campus was terrifying”.

They want to learn, to have friends and to be in school, but it is literally too dangerous for them even to try to go and learn. How do schools handle children who refuse to go to school? Believe it or not, some are sent to specialist alternative provision known as pupil referral units. These units are designed for children whose behaviour is so unacceptable that they cannot remain in their mainstream school, and so often they are the bullies that these children desperately need to get away from. I shall say briefly here that we also need to address the behaviour of bullies, and I know that my noble friend Lady Walmsley will cover this in her speech.

When schools are in denial about bullying, they will not pay for alternative provision that may cost more than the school receives for educating that pupil. I am afraid that they often keep the child on the school roll—and therefore receive the government funding for that child—and say to the parent that the family could educate the child at home until things get better. Many parents do not feel that this is the right route for them, especially if they have to give up work to do it, thus costing the state even more.

Often, children need specialist support for only a limited period, and organisations such as Red Balloon have an excellent record in getting bullied students back into mainstream education. In Red Balloon’s case, it is 95%. Will the Minister make it absolutely clear that severely bullied children will receive the funding required to recover and continue their education, and that the schools will not keep the money if a pupil transfers to alternative provision or sits at home for months on end?

One young student I know from Red Balloon arrived there aged 13, having been bullied about the death of her single mother. That is shocking. She was unable to concentrate on anything, and her reading age was estimated at nine years. However, within two terms, she was reading—and enjoying—Great Expectations on her own. The intensive therapy alongside excellent education transformed her life but, for most, many schools do not even recognise that these children have special needs.

I remind the House that the definition of special educational needs is having learning difficulties that make it harder for children to learn or access education than most children of the same age. Surely severely bullied children fit that description. They need this formal label to help to create the package that is going to help them to return to their mainstream education, whether it is in school or college. It is evident to those who work with these children that severe bullying is, at the very least, a temporary special educational need that will persist and worsen without intervention. Will the Minister consider specifically adding severely bullied children to the category of those with special educational needs?

The Government are rightly concerned about the achievements of children who fall through the net. Students who end up in pupil referral units do not perform well. Less than 1% gain 5 A* to C GCSEs. That should be compared with specialist intervention at places such as Red Balloon, where the figure is 75%. Therefore, I further ask the Minister to ensure that alternative provision for bullied children is made available that compares performance not with the mainstream education system but with other children who also face major difficulties, whether the comparison is with pupil referral units or even with the data for looked-after children. It is not fair to set a benchmark for these children that does not recognise the trauma they are facing.

The reality of what these children and their parents have to deal with is stark, especially when schools refuse to face up to their responsibilities. A 13 year-old boy in year eight was threatened by his school and the education welfare team, which said that he had to come to school despite severe bullying because, if he did not, his mother would be taken to court and might go to jail. That is shockingly cruel. Schools should have to be responsible for the consequences of bullying in exactly the same way that employers have to provide a safe working environment for their employees.

Mental health problems are exacerbated when these children are made to feel that it is all their fault and that they are letting down their families. Giving them special educational needs status will ensure that schools can more easily work with GPs and specifically with child and adolescent mental health services. The latter is already very difficult to get referrals to, but a statement will provide the key to unlocking that urgent help.

The National Union of Students has surveyed school students, and its mental distress survey illuminated a lack of support and advice opportunities for students: 64% of respondents said that they did not use or have access to formal services for advice and support in relation to their mental distress; and 26% did not tell anyone about their feelings of mental distress. Evidence from this survey shows that levels of educational support and mental health provision are a concern not only in schools but in colleges and universities.

Bullying and harassment are demonstrable sources of mental distress for further and higher education students, too, and opportunities for support and advice are either unavailable or, worse, inadequately signposted.

Can the Minister reassure the House that signposting for support and advice for school, and education beyond, are clear and evident to any student and their family in distress?

During this speech, I have referred to a number of different types of bullying. I have not touched on cyberbullying, which is a growing and insidious form. It needs to be part of the debate we are having as a nation at the moment about the use of the internet and social networking. It is all too easy to post something on Facebook that can cause lasting damage, and the viral nature of social networking means that things can escalate out of control very rapidly.

Reasons for bullying seem to grow. Schools pride themselves on their equality and diversity policies, yet race, homophobic and disability bullying remain. Schools must tackle the unacceptable culture that even thinks it is okay to taunt, let alone bully, someone because of their race, disability or sexual identity. There is also a disturbing increase in physical attack and even rape as a part of bullying.

It is our duty in society to help these 16,000 children who fall through the cracks in our education system. By giving children a statement and proper funding, we are investing in a transformation of their wrecked lives, even if it is only at very few of the schools in our country. Many are becoming inspirational champions as they recover. Let us hope that they become future leaders. We need to empower those schools that do not understand this to help build a network of support for severely bullied children. The country has instilled its trust in our ability to restore hope to these children. We cannot allow success so far to impair our ability to make our country a better place. We must ensure that there is not one more wrecked life; not one more suicide. Imagine if it were your child or your grandchild. You would want better.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Conservative 12:40 pm, 20th June 2013

My Lords, it is both a pleasure and a privilege to make a short contribution to this debate, initiated with great skill and in the most moving fashion by my noble friend Lady Brinton, who speaks with such tremendous authority on this grave social and educational issue—authority drawn from her patient, dedicated and successful work in combating it in practice on the ground.

School bullies are sad individuals, cowards every one of them, who gain satisfaction and pleasure from showing unkindness to others—a reversal of the right and proper order of things. Unkindness leading to persecution can be such that, in some cases, it leads—as we have heard—to suicide. My noble friend spoke particularly movingly on that point. For far too long, indeed over generations, there were in our country too many weak and callous teachers in uncompassionate schools who did little or nothing to tackle the disfiguring phenomenon of bullying in their midst. Today, however, they can no longer evade their basic responsibilities, which have been clearly defined in law, endorsed by all political parties and by successive governments.

This Government have shown themselves to be particularly sensitive to widespread concern—reflected in my noble friend’s important Motion today—about the extent of bullying prevalent in our schools. That is underlined by the deeply disturbing facts and statistics that my noble friend referred to. The Government have consistently shown their responsiveness to well founded anxiety. In 2011, they brought up to date the anti-bullying advice drawn up to enable all schools to tackle bullying effectively. Teachers have been given new powers to tackle the hideous new phenomenon of cyberbullying, for instance by searching for and, if necessary, deleting inappropriate images on mobile telephones. Very importantly, the Government have laid a requirement on Ofsted to take account of behaviour and well-being, including the incidence of bullying in schools. Most recently, funds have been made available to enable four specialist organisations to work with schools in exploring new, innovative ways of tackling the scourge of bullying. These points, I hope, bring some measure of comfort to my noble friend, while also underlining the need for her continuing commitment to securing further progress.

The Government deserve great credit for extending and enhancing the national framework through which bullying can be confronted and reduced. However, particularly after hearing my noble friend’s speech, we all now yearn for results—for tumbling rather than rising statistics. That can be the only truly satisfactory measure of success.

I will illustrate the point by turning to an aspect of the issue that has always been a particular concern and anxiety to me personally: homophobic bullying. Last year, Stonewall published results of research carried out on its behalf by Cambridge University, involving a survey of some 1,600 lesbian, gay and bisexual young people in our schools. Some 55% had experienced homophobic bullying in schools and 99% had heard homophobic language. It is not surprising, and confirms the other evidence that my noble friend has given us, that this bullying had a marked adverse effect on young people’s attainment, health and well-being. Three in five bullied pupils said that it had a negative impact on their schoolwork. One in three bullied gay young people had considered changing their future educational plans because of the bullying. Nearly a quarter of gay young people had thought of attempting suicide. More than one half had harmed themselves. Polling of more than 2,000 primary and secondary school teachers by YouGov, published in 2009, showed a similar picture. Nine in 10 secondary school teachers said that they had witnessed homophobic bullying. Worryingly, half of secondary school teachers who were aware of homophobic bullying said that the vast majority of incidents go unreported. There is a further important point to be made in this connection. Stonewall’s research into homophobic hate crime in 2008 found that three in five hate incidents are committed by people under the age of 25, highlighting the transition from homophobic bullying in schools to homophobic hate crimes in local communities.

In this area, as in others, the Government have shown commendable resolution and determination. They made tackling homophobic bullying a priority in both the coalition agreement and the 2010 schools White Paper. They have strongly encouraged schools to seek advice and support from Stonewall. Ofsted inspectors are advised to ask pupils about the use of homophobic language in their schools and whether or not they learn about gay people in the curriculum.

Perhaps the Government will now consider taking further steps. For example, through the National College for Teaching and Leadership, they could seek to ensure that high-quality training on preventing and tackling homophobic bullying is part of all teachers’ initial training. They could help schools further to share best practice and to learn from each other in this area, in particular encouraging academy chains to provide such opportunities among their schools. The Government could also ensure that free schools and new academies recognise the importance of combating homophobic bullying and supporting gay young people when establishing policy and procedures. As president of the Independent Schools Council, and its former general secretary, I also recognise that action in these matters should not be confined to the maintained sector. It is needed in all our country’s schools.

Bullying in schools causes serious, sometimes terrible, problems, both social and educational, for those who experience it at the hands of the cowards who practise it. The harmful effects can last a lifetime. Our duty is clear: to do all that we can to help extirpate it.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 12:48 pm, 20th June 2013

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, not only for calling this debate but for her brilliant and comprehensive speech, as well as her efforts on behalf of children. She drew together many of the issues which we all believe to be a terrible, often hidden, problem for many children. Any bullying can become severe bullying. Prevention, as well as dealing with the issue, is vital. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for his passionate plea to combat homophobic bullying.

I have just come from a meeting to launch the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children’s new report on an inquiry into what opportunities children think they should have. I declare an interest as the chair of that group. In that inquiry, during which we consulted children and those who work with them, children’s rights came across very strongly. This debate reminds us that the children we are discussing are having their rights eroded in a very sinister way.

Many years ago, as a teacher, I was aware that some children were not only being discriminated against but were being bullied. I recall how difficult it was to identify the problem and to deal with it. Bullying is very difficult to prove and it is very difficult to change the behaviour. I recall that children might be bullied perhaps because they were clever, not clever enough or had a physical feature such as an accent, a limp or red hair. The schools I taught in had a proportion of children who were black or Asian, which could be a factor.

It is even worse now with e-mails, texts and so on. It is clear that there is the same old problem. Many children—I believe that now it is about 28%—do not want to talk about being bullied either to their parents or the school. Parents and schools often are in denial about children who are being bullied or children who bully. I believe, as I suspect do many people, that bullies also need help and that they exhibit behaviour that may damage their lives. All that is even more terrible when there is severe bullying. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bullying states that children who have suffered severe bullying may develop temporary special educational needs, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.

In schools, teachers also may be victims or perpetrators. We are now going back an awful long way but I have never forgotten a friend of mine at school who was picked on—that is what it was called—by a teacher because she was overweight, middle class and very clever. She said that she thought many times about ways to kill herself. The problem was resolved because I and other friends told another teacher.

Extremely severe bullying, as has been said, can have tragic consequences in the deaths of young people. Today, I am very grateful for the many organisations which exist to combat bullying and improve the lives of young people. Many of these organisations send us their experiences and their concerns. It is also gratifying that Ofsted now comments on bullying in schools.

From what we know and continue to learn, it is clear that bullying has an impact on the physical and mental health of children—the more severe, the greater the impact. It is also clear that bullying may have a profound impact on achievement in school and on the whole life of a child both immediately and in the future. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, spoke of the Red Balloon Learning Centres group, which estimates that 16,000 young people may be absent from school at any one time due to bullying. That is a shocking figure and these children may be treated as if they are just truanting. What impact on the self-worth of a child must bullying have? Without self-worth, attendance and academic, as well as social, competence may be severely affected. The Anti-Bullying Alliance reports that more than 61% of children reporting to child and adolescent mental health services are being bullied. The NSPCC’s Childline estimates that 38% of young people have been affected by cyberbullying.

I want to dwell mainly on what can be done to either prevent bullying or tackle it before it becomes dangerous. Parents are key. The National Centre for Social Research points out that children being bullied at the age of 14 or 15 were much less likely to be bullied at 16 if parents had reported the bullying. But, as I have said, and as we know, parents often do not know what is going on and friends—if the child being bullied has friends—also find it difficult. Bullies can be very powerful, particularly when they are in a gang.

I want to look at how we can prevent bullying in schools, starting with the importance of immediate action. I have to say, and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy reaffirms this, that having a school counsellor is one of the most immediate and accessible ways of offering support. Sadly, provision of school counselling services is not universal. It should be and I wonder whether any schools are using the pupil premium to supply such services. That would be money well spent. Perhaps I may ask the Minister how many school counsellors there are working and by what means they are paid.

I move on, inevitably, to personal, social and health education in schools. When will the Government accept that every child, in whatever type of school, should be entitled to protection and encouragement from a solid programme of personal, social and health education? That would be much less difficult than the Government think. We have had this debate before and no doubt will have it again. A school policy on behaviour and bullying is part of PSHE. Many schools have such policies, although Kidscape asserts that some schools are reluctant to discuss their policies. I cannot think why: perhaps they do not have one.

In a school where I was a governor, the children helped to develop the policy. School councils can help to monitor behaviour policies. Class representatives on school councils often know what is going on before a teacher and may have suggestions to repair the damage. One school, Goose Green in east London, came to speak to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children. The teachers and children spoke eloquently about their experiences of personal, social and health education and of a friendship system where a child can go to another child for help and support, which is just brilliant. I wish that Mr Gove could have been there.

Personal, social and health education is not just a woolly concept about being nice; it should be rigorous with structures and policies to help children gain information at the appropriate age, develop the skills and confidence to use such information, and develop respect for themselves and others. I hope that the Government will provide a more encouraging lead on this. I believe that there are others in the Chamber today who think the same way.

School policies support a positive school ethos and are not just about mistreating others. Personal, social and health education is about what happens not just in science lessons where reproduction may be taught, even if it is not human reproduction, but also in English lessons, history, art, sport and so on where children can discuss relationships and reflect on their behaviour. PSHE may happen in lessons on topics that are not necessarily carried out by teachers but by special visitors, such as St John Ambulance, the school nurse, scouts and guides, the police, parliamentarians and so on. There do not have to be specialist teachers but the school has to be organised to make use of such visitors. I know of one school which invited a school counsellor and a child who had been bullied to a lesson to talk about their experiences. It was a very powerful experience for all those people in the classroom.

That is preventive work. If a school discovers bullying, the staff policy must kick in fast. The incidents need to be analysed, solutions sought and, if necessary, help found. It is not enough simply to punish. As I said earlier, an elected school council may be able to help, as well as counsellors, parents and a strong school ethos. There clearly is a problem here. For children who are bullied, it is disruptive and a terrifying problem. I have suggested two things that could help schools to help children; namely, school counsellors and a programme of personal, social and health education. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.

Photo of The Bishop of Truro The Bishop of Truro Bishop 12:59 pm, 20th June 2013

My Lords, I am honoured to be here and I thank noble Lords for their welcome. I also thank Black Rod and his staff for their marvellous help and support. I regard it as a privilege to be a Member of this House and look forward to playing my part. I thank in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for initiating this debate, and for her powerful and passionate speech. I am very grateful to be able to make my maiden speech in this debate.

As Bishop of Truro I am fortunate to work across the county of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Last week I was on the Isles of Scilly visiting the Five Islands school, which is an all-through age five to 16 school. I spend a lot of my time across the diocese visiting schools and always enjoy engaging with staff and students. It is helpful for a bishop in the Church of England sometimes to be in places where the majority of people are relatively young.

As I am sure that your Lordships are aware, Cornwall is a beautiful part of the country. If this were not my maiden speech, and therefore non-controversial, I might have gone further and said that it was the most beautiful part of the country, but I will refrain. I am sure that noble Lords are also aware that it is one of the poorest parts of the country, with areas of real deprivation and facing major problems of rural isolation, low wages and, sadly, among many of the young, low aspiration. Bullying and mental health concerns can be compounded by living in rural areas.

I am delighted to say that much of my work is responding to invitations from the wider community to visit and learn more about what is happening right across the county. In this regard I am always concerned to hear of areas of life where there are real pressures. I know, sadly, that many people in the county suffer from various forms of mental illness and do not always have access to the support structures and services that they need.

As well as being the Bishop of Truro—here I declare an interest—I am chairman of the trustees of the Children’s Society. Many noble Lords will know that this is a national charity, caring for the most deprived young people across the country. I will reinforce a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. One of the key features of our work is that we listen to the voice of children and young people.

In this debate I want to make the point that it is essential that we advocate for those who are often unable to advocate for themselves. Children who are either affected by mental health conditions or are being bullied are not in a good place to have their voice heard. It is important that we find ways to do just that. As is evident from the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bullying, many children who are bullied feel isolated from their peers. This can have a profoundly damaging impact on their well-being at that time and over the rest of their lives.

There are two points that I would like to make about children who are particularly vulnerable to bullying. First, children living in poverty face a number of issues with bullying. This can be due to lacking things that their peers may have, such as not being able to go to the cinema, or to a friend’s birthday party because they cannot afford a present. I underline what the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Massey, said about understanding child poverty in terms of the children’s own understanding of what it is like to live in poverty. Children can miss out on school trips, or not have the same basic material goods that other children have. This will have an impact on a child’s sense of self-worth. They are therefore more vulnerable to bullying and socialised isolation than their peers.

If not administered correctly, things such as free school meals can serve to highlight differences between children. In many schools children on free school meals are not easily identifiable, which reduces the risks of stigma. However, I am concerned that nearly half of secondary schools do not have cashless systems, meaning that those on free school meals may be singled out. My first point is to highlight the need to listen to the voice of children in poverty and note the implications on their lives of being bullied.

My second point relates to young carers. The latest census statistics reveal that there are 166,363 young carers in England, compared to around 139,000 in 2001. This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, as many young carers remain hidden from official sight for a host of reasons, including family loyalty, stigma or indeed bullying. As well as having the potential to suffer stigma and bullying, young carers are particularly vulnerable because their caring responsibilities can have a severe impact on their school life and long-term outcomes.

We know that one in 12 young cares is caring for more than 15 hours per week. Around one in 20 misses school because of their caring responsibilities. Young carers are more likely than the national average to be not in education, employment or training—one of the NEETs—between the ages of 16 and 19. That is why I welcome the Children’s Minister’s announcement last week that the Government will be looking at how the legislation for young carers might be changed so that rights and responsibilities are clearer to young carers and practitioners alike.

It is important that the Care Bill that covers the adults’ legislation around social care, and the Children and Families Bill, work together to better identify and support young carers and their families. Schools and teachers can play a vital role in doing this. Schools also play an important role in promoting positive attitudes towards young carers and their families to help mitigate the impact of stigma, discrimination and bullying. It is important that children who struggle in school get the support and help that they need, and this includes mental health support. I fear that the provision of mental health support and the structures in place are not sufficient for the needs of young people and children.

I also want to ask if it is right that we should allow young people to be carers, which inevitably limits their childhood and opens them to a range of potential problems, not least bullying and missing out on education. These put added strain on their mental health. I dare wonder whether society is in danger of being the bully in allowing young people to be carers. What about the rights of the children and young people themselves?

In conclusion, I welcome this debate on such an important matter. I am glad to be able to speak as a bishop and as chairman of the trustees of the Children’s Society. I am especially concerned about children living in poverty who are vulnerable to bullying and to mental health concerns and who need advocates on their behalf. Equally in need of advocates are the young carers, who again are open to being bullied. I question whether we should not take more seriously the issue of whether we can do more to allow such children and young people to have their right to a childhood. I look forward to the contributions of other Members and hearing from the Minister about the work that Government are doing to support those children who are indeed being bullied at school.

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Liberal Democrat 1:08 pm, 20th June 2013

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Brinton for the opportunity to debate this difficult issue. Mental health problems in school have been on the radar of the NHS for well over 15 years. Similarly, bullying, once thought of as a brutal rite of passage, has become a major concern for schools and society at large.

Before I develop my thoughts, it gives me enormous pleasure to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, my own bishop—Bishop Tim as he is affectionately known in Cornwall—on his maiden speech. I know that he does not shun challenge or difficult issues. I welcome another voice in your Lordships’ House to speak up for Cornwall, where a chocolate-box image often seen by the majority hides real poverty and inequalities. I would expect him, as chairman of the Children’s Society, to be well informed on this issue and I was not disappointed. I welcome his concern for child carers, and at some time I will talk to him about adult carers for children, because there are similar issues to be concerned about there.

I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his Google footprint. I came to do the speech following his quite late, so needed to find out more about him than I knew—and which perhaps he would not want to be shared with the rest of the House—in a hurry. I resorted to Google. His footprint is almost non-existent, and there few in public life who can say that. I had to resort to Cornish contacts.

He is universally liked and respected for his commitment to working with the sizeable Methodist community in Cornwall. He has a liking for ham and eggs and is the doting grandfather of twins. One thing I learnt that really surprised me is that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro was schooled in Devon—and not only Devon but Plymouth, over the Tamar. However, that secret was well kept and I shall not revisit the boundary debates of a year or so ago.

The links between mental health and bullying can go in two directions. There is evidence that children who have mental health problems are often bullied, and children can be so consumed by bullying that they develop mental health problems. It goes both ways. Both problems need dealing with in school, as others have spoken about in detail.

I will address the issue of health interventions, whether through the NHS or through other services.

Before children and young people can get support and help—I am talking about the whole age range in schools—they need to be identified. Current statistics suggest that one in 10 children and young people aged between five and 16 suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder. That is three children in every class.

Schools need to train staff in how to identify those with mental illness and those who are being bullied. This is a priority for all schools, whether they are academies, private schools, free schools or maintained schools. I would be grateful if the Minister would indicate in his reply the proportion of schools that ensure that their staff are given training in identifying signs of mental health problems in children.

The lifetime cost of a single case of untreated childhood conduct disorder is approximately £150,000. Early intervention for young people with emotional, behavioural or social difficulties can help prevent mental health problems becoming more serious or developing in the first place. Early intervention saves money but, as we have already heard, it also saves lives.

A survey conducted for the Red Balloon learning centres found that 18% of school absences arose from bullying. The number of young people aged 11 to 15 who were away from school was estimated by the study to be around 16,500, for which bullying was the main reason. Bullying can lead to a child suffering from myriad psychological issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders or obsessive compulsive disorders, all of which can result in extreme anxiety and social avoidance.

According to YoungMinds, the Department for Education message to schools is that their focus should be on educational attainment; it does not consider health and emotional well-being as one of its core priorities. Over the past year we have seen what has happened to hospitals, and their patients, which have concentrated on targets to the exclusion of all else.

Having identified and had diagnosed a mental health problem, treatment can be difficult locally. However, the coalition’s localism and decentralisation policy initiatives have allowed many heads to use their new-found autonomy to commission their own mental health services, which, in combination with the voluntary sector, have helped deliver early-intervention mental health support for young people in schools. I would be interested to know how many head teachers have used those freedoms to do that. If the information is not readily available, I would be grateful if the Minister would write to me.

The coalition has recognised this as a problem and last year announced extra investment in the Children and Young People’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies project, which works with existing CAMHS in the NHS, the voluntary sector and others to help improve and change mental health services and make them better for children and young people. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and former care Minister, Paul Burstow, announced that the ambitious Children and Young People’s IAPT programme will receive an extra investment of up to £22 million over the next three years. This is in addition to the £8 million a year for four years that had previously been secured. These new resources will be used to extend the geographical reach of the collaboratives and to extend training to two further therapies that address depression, eating disorders, self-harm and conduct problems with ADHD. This is to be welcomed. The focus of the project is to help build upon more collaborative relationships between children, young people, families and therapists through the use of frequent outcome monitoring, extending participation in service design and feedback.

Additionally, Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb has just announced an investment of almost £2 million in Children and Young People’s IAPT sites to buy handheld computers such as laptops, tablets and iPads. This equipment will be used in existing IAPT sites to enable young people, parents and practitioners to record session-by-session outcome monitoring, allowing instant feedback to be used in therapy sessions.

Acting early to help children with mental health problems can prevent a lifetime of suffering, as half of those with lifelong mental health problems first experience symptoms before the age of 14. This technology helps children and young people see how their treatment is progressing and, where treatment is not going as well as it could, practitioners can change their approach to get the best results. Children and young people have said how much it helps them to see how their treatment is going. It is interesting here to reflect on the generational change. Young people welcome these kinds of interventions, but their parents and grandparents possibly would find them threatening and not of help.

The Red Balloon centres and Kids Company do wonderful work with children in inner-city settings—all of which is welcome—but this is not yet available all across England. Rural areas fare particularly badly. In the moorlands of the north-west, the north-east and the south-west, services are remote and access is difficult. Will the Minister tell the House the latest estimate of children and young people who are not yet reached by NHS child and adolescent services, and what is the percentage reduction across England since 2010?

We now recognise the problem, which when I trained to teach some 30-odd years ago we did not, and we now know how to address the problem, which 15 years or so ago we did not, so, in part, we are doing really well. We know that funds are tight but, until every teacher has received training in recognising mental health problems and every bullied child receives some level of mental health support as appropriate to their need, we not only fail them but we lay down trouble for the future and we fail society, too.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 1:17 pm, 20th June 2013

My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for this debate on bullying and the extent, or lack, of educational support that still exists for children who are severely bullied at school. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro. I am particularly glad that he mentioned not only carers but school governors and their important role, because I think there should be someone on a governing body who keeps an overall eye on bullying.

Like one or two other speakers, I wish to concentrate my remarks on the importance of a high-level preventive strategy for this damaging and growing phenomenon, which has become a far too obvious part of each individual’s life, whether they are a child at school or an adult in a job. As we have heard already, it is the most vulnerable members of the community who are most likely to be targeted.

As I said, the title of the debate points to the level of educational support provided for those who are severely bullied at school, with the implication that it is probably inadequate. I am sure it is, even though we are all beginning to be much more aware of the need. In any event, is there not a necessity for rather more than the required support? Should it not be the Government’s responsibility, if necessary by education, to see all schools not only providing support for those being bullied but having a strict policy to ensure that there is no bullying?

Five years-old is the official age at which a child is required to attend school, so that is clearly a good time to insist on acceptable and respectable behaviour not just of pupils towards their teachers but of children towards each other. I suspect that there are already a number of examples of good practice of how this is being achieved in our schools. The only problem is that they are insufficiently publicised. I remember attending a meeting several years ago when one such successful example was being discussed. Where better to start than at the moment when a child arrives in school? What unfolded seems a pretty good way to provide an early intervention exercise that would have an excellent chance of working. In this group of schools, every new pupil is given a slightly older mentor whose duty is to settle the child into its new surroundings and environment. How well the child does will affect the number of brownie points that the mentor gets, so both the new pupil and mentor gain.

Another area where a clear need has been shown, and has been mentioned many times, is in Red Balloon’s work with children who have special needs. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on her involvement with that organisation, which does some incredibly good work. I thought the case studies that they included—I had a few moments to scan some of them yesterday—were extremely interesting. Quite clearly it is not only at the very beginning of your life and at school that problems occur that can lead to bullying and huge periods of isolation. Those case stories showed a high level of success when places such as those provided by Red Balloon offer support to cope with this situation. It would have taken some time to establish what was really required in those cases, but at least it was established, whereas in other situations in other parts of the country I am afraid the local authority did not want to know, nothing was done and two or three years went by before any notice was taken. That is horrendous because that really is the end of the possibilities for that child.

Somebody also mentioned the importance of learning about the background and history of that family. Again we come back to the early intervention side. I wish we could encourage really effective, early intervention. Frank Field and all our experts have educated us for so long on this issue. Yes, everybody has accepted it, and yes, everybody has contributed something, but I am afraid it needs far more resources to make it work really effectively and begin to show results.

I hope I will be encouraged by what the Minister tells us, but I really do think that a national strategy is what we need as a way forward.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat 1:24 pm, 20th June 2013

My Lords, I add my voice to all the requests my noble friend Lady Brinton made to the Government in her excellent speech. I declare my relevant non-pecuniary interests as an honorary fellow of UNICEF and as a patron of Red Balloon, and I pay tribute to Carrie Herbert and all her staff for the wonderful work that they do in getting children back into education.

I will start at the very beginning, which is a very good place to start, especially with bullying, because if there were no bullies there would be no problems with the education and mental health of bullied children. There would be no bullied children. I will therefore address the issue of prevention. Why do children bully others, and how can we stop them before they even start, because all severe bullying starts with mild bullying?

In my view, a bully is often someone who needs help himself or herself. In some cases, the bully has been a victim himself or is simply replicating learnt behaviour. A violent child often comes from a violent home. A child demonstrating inappropriate sexual behaviour may well have been abused. So while we are looking at the causes of bullying and how we can help the bullies to stop doing it, we are of course not ignoring bullied children; we are making life better for them by nipping it in the bud.

Learnt behaviour is a big factor, which is why parents should always be involved by schools dealing with bullies. However, I think many children bully because they lack self-confidence in some area of their lives, so they make up for it and make themselves feel better by making someone else feel worse. They feel powerless so they try to take power over others.

A guide from the Department for Education a few years ago suggested how children might react to bullying. It says:

“stay calm … and … confident … be firm … tell the bully to stop”.

That is easier said than done, but it becomes easier when children have developed their own self-confidence and a belief in their own self-worth. How do they get that? Ofsted identified the answer and published it in its 2012 report No Place for Bullying.It found that the schools that were most successful in preventing and tackling bullying were those that,

“identified the links between personal, social and health education, citizenship, religious education and other curriculum areas”,

and their anti-bullying programme. It is obvious to me that PSHE courses that build up children’s self-confidence and self-esteem will help the bullied students to “stay calm and confident” and will help those who might become bullies not to need to fill the gap in their own self-confidence by belittling others.

Ofsted also pointed to the need for good-quality teacher training and CPD to help staff to deal with situations that might arise. That is quite right, but it is important that staff identify bullying as a child protection issue, not just in relation to the bullied child but so that they will look at the underlying issues in the life of the bully. Domestic violence at home, drug and alcohol problems, neglect and a poor relationship with their parents can all be contributory factors. The child may never have developed the ability to empathise with others, possibly because of attachment problems early in life. For reasons to do with his background, he may have great difficulty forming relationships. Perhaps he has never been loved.

So, apart from good quality PSHE in all schools, which noble Lords know I always advocate, I recommend a programme that has had a great beneficial effect in all the schools that have used it, so much so that it is rapidly spreading across the country, particularly in Scotland. It is called Roots of Empathy and was developed in Canada by a wonderful woman called Mary Gordon, who ought to get an honour. As Mary herself says:

“Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among school children while raising social and emotional competence and increasing empathy”.

Her aim is to change the world one child at a time. If a child has empathy, why would he ever bully another child? The strong evidence from schools is that this programme improves behaviour and reduces bullying.

The first Roots of Empathy classes in England began in October last in 14 primary schools in the south London boroughs of Lewisham and Croydon, although it had been going for some time in Scotland. The classes are co-ordinated by the Pre-school Learning Alliance, with support from the WAVE Trust and funding from the Big Lottery. How does it work? The basis of it is that, following preparation by the teacher, a mother or father brings his or her young baby into the primary classroom and the baby becomes the "teacher". Indeed, he wears a cute little T-shirt that tells us he is the teacher. The children sit around the baby in a circle and are asked to observe his behaviour, interact with him and comment on how he is feeling. The whole thing is very structured and there is plenty of cross-curricular follow-up work. By interacting with a tiny vulnerable child in a controlled environment, the children go back to the beginning and learn how to empathise with others, understand their own feelings and why they sometimes feel sad or uncomfortable. All aggression is taken away and it is often amazing and very touching to discover what the children reveal about themselves and their home backgrounds.

The programme also gives the children a model of parenting which some of them never see at home. In Scotland, the programme is so popular that I believe it has now been introduced in two-thirds of all primary schools. The programme has now been extended to the early years and is called Seeds of Empathy. It is being piloted here in Lewisham, although it has been operating in Canada since 2005 and is being evaluated there. Seeds of Empathy, apart from helping children develop their social and emotional skills, also helps them develop positive attitudes to reading. It does not teach reading as such but uses stories to explore feelings, such as feeling grumpy or happy, and helps the children to be comfortable about expressing how they feel. The children observe how the baby’s capabilities develop from week to week and consider why his or her moods change and how that relates to their own moods.

Mary Gordon believes that the programme helps children develop their executive functioning skills, dealing with impulse, self-control, flexible thinking and decision-making. In this way, these toddlers are being prepared to benefit from their formal education a little way down the road. Having seen these programmes in action, it is hard to believe that any of the children will develop violent or disrespectful behaviour towards their peers. Respect is, of course, a key word in relation to bullying, and there is another programme that is highly successful in developing this, the UNICEF Rights Respecting Schools programme, about which I have spoken before. It is logical, is it not? If a child understands his own rights, he learns to understand that the other children in his school have the same rights and that these should be respected as much as he would wish his own rights to be respected. Therefore, a school that fosters this mutual respect usually does not have a major problem with bullying and has a structure for dealing with it, if it does arise.

Finally, I would like to mention counselling, as was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. When I visited a primary school in Beijing, I was surprised to be told that all Chinese primary schools have access to a school counsellor. Why should we not have that here too? I think that we need it since our children are often under great stress and really need help. Children need someone to talk to who will not be judgmental but will help them work out their own problems or direct them to other help. Some great organisations do this, such as Place2Be. If children are listened to, they feel valued. We know that if children do not feel valued, they sometimes strike out and that is what we want to avoid. It is striking that most of these counselling services help both the bullied and the bully. However, I know that schools struggle to find the money to introduce these programmes, so will my noble friend the Minister confirm that they could legitimately use some of the pupil premium money to do so as long as they can show that the programme helps to underpin the learning of children who attract that money to the school? Of course, I believe that it does. A child in fear is not a learning child and neither is a child who is angry, so again the same service helps both the victims and the perpetrators. Is not that unusual?

This matter boils down to the culture of the school and its duty of care to bullied children to ensure they get an education, but also to its duty of care to bullies to stop them ruining their own lives as well as those of others, because nobody loves a bully.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 1:34 pm, 20th June 2013

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for tabling this debate. I also pay tribute to the passion and commitment she has shown in raising awareness and campaigning on these issues and to her forthright leadership of the all-party group.

I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his maiden speech. I am grateful for his emphasis on the stigma that can attach to children living in poverty and to young carers. He made powerful points on those issues. He has shown enormous compassion and wisdom on these issues and I hope he can be persuaded to join us in speaking up for young people’s needs in future debates.

I think we all share a common purpose in raising this issue. Anyone who has read the case studies and the media stories cannot help but be moved and saddened by the dire consequences for the happiness of young people if bullying is allowed to carry on unchecked. The fact that at a low level it appears to be so prevalent in schools—which should, after all, be providing a secure and nurturing learning environment—should be a wake-up call for everyone involved in education.

The Department for Education report which showed that 47% of children report being bullied at 14, 41% at 15 and 29% per cent at 16, is truly shocking. Many of those reported that bullying was not just a one-off incident but was ongoing, and for some of them it was an everyday occurrence. The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, rightly raised concerns about the prevalence of homophobic bullying, which, as he reported, is widespread. It is also distressing to hear that children with disabilities and special educational needs are three times as likely to be bullied, with verbal, emotional and physical bullying again being prevalent.

Meanwhile, as a number of noble Lords have commented, the dramatic rise of cyberbullying is finding new victims, with new vulnerabilities and opportunities for exploitation and abuse. Recent research has shown that nearly one in five young people have been victims of Facebook, internet or mobile phone bullying, with girls affected more than boys. Many of these children will slip under the radar. Their plight will never be drawn to the attention of anyone in authority and they will develop coping methodologies to survive, and as a result will never know the full impact on their confidence, self-worth and sense of well-being as they progress into adulthood.

We know that bullying is not a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up but can have long-term consequences into adulthood. A recent study at the University of Warwick showed that children who are exposed to bullying during childhood are increasingly at risk of suffering psychiatric disorder in adulthood, regardless of whether they are the victims or the perpetrators. Victims display a higher level of agoraphobia, general anxiety and panic disorder, whereas bullies show a tendency to develop an anti-social personality disorder. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly identified the need to break that cycle of bullying at an early age and the factors that lead children to bully. I was very interested to hear about the Roots of Empathy programme that she described in detail, which should be encouraged.

It appears that the problem is growing and that the onus on schools and local agencies to have a clear, firm policy in place is ever greater. So what needs to be done? At the outset, schools need to have a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying. There are simply too many examples of children or parents who have reported bullying to a teacher or head teacher but who then find that nothing is done or that the child is disbelieved or the problem minimised—or, worse, that the child being bullied is further isolated or removed to another class, rather than those who are doing the bullying.

Schools need to have an active anti-bullying policy that is backed up by staff training and regularly reviewed. They also need to take responsibility for what happens at the school gates and beyond.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, rightly made the point that mutual respect should be learnt from a very early age. My noble friend Lady Massey made a powerful case again for the role of PSHE and also for the role that school councils can play in empowering young people to tackle the bullies.

However, there also needs to be a much clearer strategy for those children who are so traumatised that their behaviour, school attendance and mental health are beginning to be affected. We have some evidence of the problem from research by the National Centre for Social Research for the Red Balloon Learner Centres. As we have heard, it has calculated that more than 16,000 young people at any one time refused to attend school because of bullying. Given the parental, legal and educational pressure on young people to attend school, it is also fair to assume that there is a much greater number suffering severe health problems arising from bullying who remain trapped within the school and without adequate support.

What provision should we make for these young people? First, given that they are the victims of bad behaviour by other children, I hope we can agree that any alternative education and support should be at least as good as that which they would have received in mainstream education. Secondly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, highlighted, consideration should be given to those young people accessing temporary SEN status, which would allow them to fund and access individual support.

Thirdly, as many of these young people have complex needs, there should, as is fairly obvious, be a range of support packages available. These might include counselling facilities and in-school specialist units. As has been pointed out, however, we need to be aware of the limitations of these options. PRUs often do not address the child’s trauma of going through the school gates, remaining on the same site as the bullies or dealing with the staff who they feel have failed them in the past. Sometimes, as we have heard, it is expected that they will be taught side by side with other children with a range of other behavioural problems, including the very anti-social behaviour often displayed by bullies that they fear. All too often the units do not have the quality and range of teaching available in the rest of the school.

Fourthly, although local authorities have a duty to provide suitable education for children who are unable to access mainstream education, the reality appears to be that there is little funding available and that provision is patchy. Local authorities are quick to pass the problem back to the school or, as we have heard, in cases where children refuse to attend, they consider prosecuting the parents for their child’s non-attendance rather than tackling the root cause of the trauma.

Fifthly, it seems that government and educators are becoming much more proactive in addressing the physical health of young people through, for example, providing sport and tackling anti-obesity. However, there is not the same drive or expertise to tackle the equally pressing mental health issues of young people in education. There needs to be much better awareness and training for staff on effective strategies for addressing mental health issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, quite rightly raised the patchy provision of support for mental health in schools since the funding has been devolved.

Finally, we should promote the benefits that specialist trauma recovery units can provide. Like others, I am very impressed by the successful work carried out by Red Balloon to provide a safe sanctuary for bullied children combined with strategies to help them back into mainstream education. Many of the children they help are academically bright and it is crucial that they are not lost permanently to the educational system. It seems a great shame that these units, or an equivalent, are not available on a more extensive basis for traumatised young people.

These issues seem to come down to issues of quality and money, so I would be grateful to hear from the Minister what guarantees he is able to give that bullied young people will receive the same quality of education as their peers. Will he consider our proposal to make SEN status available on a temporary basis to bullied young people, thereby giving them access to much-needed additional support? What external inspection mechanisms are in place to ensure that specialist in-school units, such as PRUs, provide a comparable quality of education as that available on the remainder of the school site? What funding is available to ensure that local authorities provide quality education for young people not attending school? What inspection regime exists to ensure that proper standards in these alternative provisions are met? Finally, what funding mechanisms could be put in place by the department to allow delivery of a more comprehensive availability of such specialist units as Red Balloon which are, as we have heard, so successful?

We have had a thoughtful and probing debate this afternoon and I know that the Minister shares many of our concerns. I hope that in responding he will be able to offer some comfort and commitment to the many thousands of young people who are being bullied in school, and who continue to be bullied as we speak.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 1:45 pm, 20th June 2013

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lady Brinton for raising this important issue and for her excellent and moving speech. I should also like to thank noble Lords for their contributions. It has been an insightful and productive debate. I should particularly like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro on his maiden speech. His wide experience, including as chair of the Children’s Society, will bring very valuable insights to our debates in future.

I am grateful for the opportunity to set out again the Government's vision in the context of this important group of children. One of the really nice things about this job is that, although we inevitably disagree from time to time on the precise mechanisms for delivery, I know we agree entirely across this House on the determination to provide an excellent education for all pupils, irrespective of background or personal circumstances. This is vital for the success of our young people and it is vital for the success of our country.

The Government have sent a clear message to schools that bullying for any reason is absolutely unacceptable and should not be tolerated in our schools. We will not hesitate to continue to reinforce that message. Schools should tackle bullying at the earliest opportunity and not allow it to escalate, so that pupils suffer emotional or physical distress. Every school is required to have a behaviour policy which includes measures aimed at preventing all forms of bullying among pupils, both in school and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said in her excellent speech, beyond school as well. My noble friend Lord Lexden referred to some of the measures we have introduced.

I have personal experience of bullying in a number of ways. It is a particularly nasty and pernicious piece of behaviour which can become all the more relentless with the use of modern technology. I can assure the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Howe, that we will exhort schools at every opportunity to have a clear vision that emphasises, among other characteristics, compassion for and consideration of others. They must have a clear PSHE policy, which includes an anti-bullying policy, and emulate what good schools do, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned.

In our drive to tackle bad behaviour and bullying, we have changed legislation to strengthen teachers’ powers to enforce discipline and promote good behaviour in schools. Our guidance published in 2011 sets out schools’ legal duties and powers in relation to bullying. Teachers can search pupils and delete inappropriate images on electronic devices potentially used for cyberbullying. There are now plenty of examples across the country, including in many sponsored academies, where behaviour has gone in a relatively short period of time from being, frankly, pretty awful to good, thanks to strong leadership, a clear behaviour strategy, and the strengthened powers that we have given to teachers.

We believe that the balance is now about right between a statutory framework that requires schools to address behaviour and bullying and is clear about the powers at their disposal, but which also allows schools freedom as to how they tackle bullying. I will come to Ayden’s law shortly. But along with freedom comes accountability. As a number of Lords have mentioned, Ofsted now clearly holds schools to account on how well they deal with behaviour and bullying. Since January 2012, inspectors must consider pupils’ freedom from bullying, harassment and discrimination. The department has also provided £4 million for four anti-bullying organisations to work in schools.

Section 19 of the Education Act 1996 places a duty on local authorities to provide full-time education for children of compulsory school age who, due to illness, exclusion or any other reason, including bullying, may not otherwise receive suitable education. That is what we define as alternative provision education. The Government have shown they importance they place on providing a good quality education to these pupils by asking Charlie Taylor last year to review alternative provision. He stated that it was,

“a flawed system that fails to provide suitable education and proper accountability for some of the most vulnerable children in the country”.

The Government have agreed to all Charlie Taylor’s recommendations and acted swiftly to improve the quality and range of alternative provision by giving existing providers more autonomy through conversion to AP academies and by encouraging new providers such as AP free schools. We now have 14 AP academies and 32 new AP free schools either open or approved. They are providing a range of alternative provision and include such excellent providers as the Bridge Academy, the Complementary Education Academy and Everton Free School.

We are also enabling schools to have greater responsibility and funding for commissioning alternative provision. We have set clear standards for this provisioning and, since September 2012, Ofsted has shone a bright light on mainstream schools’ commissioning of AP. We have asked Ofsted to conduct detailed thematic surveys of this every three years. As part of the wider school funding reforms, since April this year we have ensured, for the first time, that all maintained alternative provision providers such as PRUs, AP academies and AP free schools receive essential core funding of £8,000 per pupil. Top-up funding will then be paid depending on local frameworks agreed between the provider and the commissioner. Schools and local authorities are best placed to decide the appropriate provision for their pupils and, as such, responsibility for commissioning and funding AP has to be at the local level.

We are also trialling a new approach, the “exclusion trial”, built on excellent work previously pioneered in Cambridge, under which schools maintain responsibility for excluded pupils—who stay on their roll—including for placing them in AP settings. This gives a real incentive to schools to intervene early to address behavioural problems before they become entrenched. It also means that schools will ensure that the AP they commission is of high quality and results in pupils achieving good qualifications. The trial includes 11 local authorities.

For the first time, we are utilising effective practice in AP by involving pupil referral units and AP academies in teacher training. Trainee teachers will now be able to teach and gain qualified teacher status in PRUs and AP academies. Eight PRUs are working with 21 trainee teachers for their initial teacher training with seven initial teacher training providers.

I turn now to the mental health support available for children and young people who are bullied. Good head teachers know the importance of supporting young people who are unhappy, unwell or struggling with their family life. Ofsted evidence shows that schools whose pupils do well academically recognise this. In July last year, the cross-government No Health Without Mental Health implementation framework was published. It describes the role that schools and local authorities should play and recommends that schools and colleges have a whole-school approach to this. In his AP review, Charlie Taylor said that the interface between CAMHS and schools does not work as effectively as it should. We are looking at this in some detail.

I can confirm, as requested by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, that my department’s investment in the pupil premium enables schools to invest in pastoral support, therapists and counselling—as in my own school, which has an extensive inclusion programme of therapists and counselling, run by our SENCO. As my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, these are complicated issues and home circumstances often play a very big part. Pupil premium funding is driven by the number of economically deprived pupils, who are more likely to face mental health issues. We also fund a £3 million two-year grant with the Better Outcomes, New Delivery consortium, or BOND.

Helplines also provide a vital source of support and advice for children who are bullied. We have awarded the NSPCC a grant worth £11 million for investment in ChildLine and the NSPCC helpline. In addition, we have awarded a £1.3 million contract to YoungMinds to deliver a helpline for parents whose children are having mental health difficulties. We have also extended the Coram Children’s Legal Centre funding for a further two years to March 2015 and fund Family Lives and Contact a Family. All provide advice and intensive support for parents in relation to bullying and SEN.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, mentioned, a key strategy for improving services for children and young people is to improve their access to good mental health services, such as the Department of Health’s Improving Access for Psychological Therapies programme. IAPT is a service transformation project, aimed at embedding the best evidence-based practice. It trains CAMHS and other professionals in evidence-based therapies. The programme is being rolled out gradually but, by the end of 2015, the Department of Health estimates that 60% of under-19s will be in an area served by the programme.

The Government have also invested £54 million in the Children’s and Young People’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme to transform mental health services for children. We hope that the service will particularly help children at risk of suicide. The Government have underlined that commitment with a specific reference to IAPT for children and young people in the NHS mandate.

Clearly, a highly trained and qualified workforce is also crucial to providing good outcomes for children with SEN, including those with mental health problems. The school SENCO has a critical role to play in this. Every school, including academies, must have a qualified SENCO. He or she has day-to-day responsibility for the operation and co-ordination of specific provision to support pupils. This could include children who are experiencing psychological distress and who are affected by bullying.

Since 2009, the department has funded more than 10,000 SENCOs to complete the national award. We continue to invest in their development and will support a further 800 SENCOs this year. The department has also made a significant investment in educational psychology training of around £5 million per year since 2010. A further £16 million will be made available to support existing trainees to fund their courses and to support two more cohorts starting this year and next.

These principles drive the Government’s reforms but can succeed only if we allow schools, medical practitioners, local authorities and other professionals the freedom to exercise their professional roles, working closely with parents to seek the best outcomes for each child.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, gave examples of particular cases of child bullying leading to suicide. These cases are tragic. With regard to Ayden’s law, we believe that the behaviour and disciplinary framework that schools are required to have in place should be sufficient to cover most cases of bullying and we are wary about suggestions to make bullying a criminal offence. It is difficult to define, could put head teachers in an invidious position and would risk classifying young people as criminals.

Many noble Lords mentioned the Red Balloon organisation. I have had the opportunity of discussing Red Balloon’s work with my noble friend Lady Brinton. Its outcomes sound most impressive. I have not yet had the opportunity of meeting Dr Carrie Herbert, the chief executive, but I hope to do so soon. I hope that it will be able to make a successful application in September under the free schools programme to expand its provision. However, to do so, it will need to demonstrate value for money, demand from schools and local authorities, and clearly demonstrable outcomes.

I was asked about adding bullied pupils to the SEN category. SEN tends to be a long-term issue and we hope and intend that the consequences of bullying can be resolved quickly. However, the definition is deliberately broad and it must allow local professionals the freedom to make those judgments. I understand the points raised by my noble friend Lady Brinton about the need to provide rapid support for children and young people who have become deeply troubled as a result of bullying. Local authorities can issue a short-term statement or make an emergency placement. Education, health and care plans are intended for longer-term, more complicated needs and can take up to 26 weeks, although we are reducing that to 20 weeks.

A number of noble Lords referred to cyberbullying, which is a particularly insidious and harmful form of bullying. We are working closely with anti-bullying organisations such as Childnet International, social networking sites and other internet companies. We included wide search powers in the Education Act 2011 to give teachers stronger powers to tackle cyberbullying and CEOP has also developed an excellent resource for teachers.

My noble friend Lord Lexden referred to homophobic bullying. The coalition Government have made it clear that tackling all forms of bullying, including homophobic bullying, is a key priority. Stonewall has found that 98% of young gay pupils hear the word gay used as a form of abuse at school. Such language is offensive and unacceptable. I expect teachers to react to this in the same way as an offensive racial slur. My noble friend also made the point about the national college enhancing training. I will investigate what it does now and what more can be done and I will write to him. I will certainly send a message to free schools and academies about inspection and the importance of eliminating homophobic bullying.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley talked about school counselling. England does not collect data on the number of schools offering counselling. A recent survey conducted by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy estimated that between 61% and 85% of English secondary schools provide access to counselling. School-based counselling is one of the most widely delivered forms of psychological therapy for young people in the UK. The Department for Education has a two-year grant with Better Outcomes and there are some excellent voluntary and community organisations. My noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned Place2Be, an organisation I know well and been involved with for a number of years.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro made an important point regarding advocacy for young carers and children in poverty. The Department of Health has recently started training school nurses to champion young carers and, as he knows, we are working with the Children’s Society to develop policy. He also mentioned child poverty. This Government’s education reforms are driven very much by the needs of children in poverty. As we all know, the best way out of poverty is a good education.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, mentioned early prevention. Schools should excel at this by inculcating a culture of respect rather than a rules-based system so bullying is tackled at an early stage and does not develop. This Government have thought hard about early invention, recognising the importance of boosting our children’s social and emotional capability. We have done this through a range of measures such as Graham Allen’s review, the Early Intervention Foundation and George Hosking’s work with Sally Burlington on the needs of children up to the age of two. They identified the importance of evidence-based programmes and practice, such as the internationally acclaimed Roots of Empathy programme mentioned by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. I am very pleased to hear that the Roots of Empathy classes were launched in 14 primary schools in Lewisham and Croydon and I will be very interested to hear about their progress.

I hope I have been able to reassure noble Lords that bullied children are very much not forgotten by this Government and are very much factored into our education reforms and that every reasonable step has been taken to support them and to end bullying in our schools. I restate the Government’s position and the principle that drives these reforms—all children, regardless of circumstances or setting, must be allowed to thrive and prosper in the education system and receive a good education.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

May I push the Minister on the issue of whether bullied children can access SEN facilities temporarily? He quite rightly made the point that SEN facilities normally are for longer term ailments, but is there any reason in principle why we could not amend either the existing legislation or the Children and Families Bill to allow for that temporary access? I wonder whether he would look sympathetically at an amendment along those lines when the Bill comes before us later this year.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I am certainly happy to discuss this with the noble Baroness and see what can be done in this regard.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat 2:04 pm, 20th June 2013

My Lords, I thank your Lordships for a moving and interesting debate on this very serious issue. I particularly want to offer my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro on an insightful contribution on children in poverty and the risks that they face from bullying. I thank the noble Lord, Lexden, for highlighting homophobic bullying; the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, for focusing on mental health problems; the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for talking about the importance of pupil mentors; the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for focusing on empathy and helping bullies—reducing the number of bullies will solve bullying—and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, who talked about the long-term consequences of bullying and also helped to list what needs to be in place to support severely bullied children and to move towards their recovery.

I am particularly grateful to the Minister for his responses to virtually all our questions—we did throw rather a lot at him—and to his confirmation of the Government’s commitment to reducing bullying. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, I remain concerned about the issue of short-term statements and I have warned the Minister that I am likely to be laying down some amendments when the Children and Families Bill comes before the House. In the mean time, if the dedication and commitment from everyone who spoke in this debate are replicated elsewhere in the country, we can really start to remove the scourge of severely bullied children and help them to recover.

Motion agreed.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, as this debate has run slightly short and we are still missing one or two of the speakers for the next debate, I suggest that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 2.20 pm.

Sitting suspended.