Addressing Bullying in Schools Bill: Consideration Stage

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 9:00 pm on 22nd February 2016.

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Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker 9:00 pm, 22nd February 2016

I call the Minister of Education, Mr John O'Dowd, to move the Bill.

Moved. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

Members will have a copy of the Marshalled List of amendments detailing the order for consideration. The amendments have been grouped for debate in my provisional grouping of amendments selected list. There is a single group of amendments. It contains amendment Nos 1 to 14, which deal with a definition of bullying, reporting requirements and cyberbullying. I remind Members intending to speak that, during the debate, they should address all the amendments in the group on which they wish to comment. Once the debate on the group has been completed, any further amendments in the group will be moved formally as we go through the Bill, and the Question on each will be put without further debate. The Questions on stand part will be taken at the appropriate points in the Bill. If that is clear, we shall proceed.

Clause 1 (Definition of "bullying")

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

With amendment No 1, it will be convenient to debate amendment Nos 2 to 14. The amendments deal with a definition of bullying, reporting requirements and cyberbullying. Amendment No 2 is an amendment to amendment No 1. Amendment Nos 7 and 8 are mutually exclusive. Amendment No 14 is consequential to amendment No 12. I call the Minister of Education to move amendment No 1 and address the other amendments in the group.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I beg to move amendment No 1:

In page 1, line 2, leave out from beginning to end of line 8 and insert


&quot;In this Act &#x0027;bullying&#x0027; includes (but is not limited to) the repeated use of?—


(a) any verbal, written or electronic communication,


(b) any other act, or


(c) any combination of those,


by a pupil or a group of pupils against another pupil or group of pupils, with the intention of causing physical or emotional harm to that pupil or group of pupils.&quot;.

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

No 2: As an amendment to amendment No 1, at end insert

&quot;and where there is an imbalance of power’.&quot;. — [Mrs Overend.]

No 3: In clause 2, page 1, line 12, leave out from &quot;among pupils registered&quot; and insert &quot;involving a registered pupil&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

No 4: In clause 2, page 1, line 16, leave out &quot;registered pupils&quot; and insert &quot;a registered pupil&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

No 5: In clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end insert


(iv) while the pupil is receiving educational provision arranged on behalf of the school and provided elsewhere than on the premises of the school.&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

No 6: In clause 2, page 1, line 22, leave out sub-paragraph (i) and insert

&quot;(i) at intervals of no more than 4 years; and&quot;. — [Mr Weir (The Chairperson of the Committee for Education).]

No 7: In clause 2, page 2, line 16, at end insert

&quot;(1A) The Board of Governors of a grant-aided school may, to such extent as it thinks reasonable, consider measures to be taken at the school (whether by the Board of Governors, the staff of the school or other persons) with a view to preventing bullying involving a registered pupil at the school which?—


(a) involves the use of electronic communication;


(b) takes place in circumstances other than those listed in subsection (1)(b); and


(c) is likely to have a detrimental effect on that pupil’s education at the school.&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

No 8: In clause 2, page 2, line 16, at end insert

&quot;(1A) The Board of Governors of a grant-aided school may, to such an extent as is reasonable, consider measures to be taken by the school (whether by the Board of Governors, the staff of the school or other persons) with a view to preventing bullying by means of electronic communication, in circumstances other than those listed in section 2(1)(b), where that bullying is likely to have a detrimental effect on a registered pupil’s education.&quot;. — [Mr Weir (The Chairperson of the Committee for Education).]

No 9: In clause 3, page 2, line 26, leave out &quot;or alleged incidents of&quot; and insert &quot;of bullying or alleged&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

No 10: In clause 3, page 2, line 31, at end insert


(d) while the pupil is receiving educational provision arranged on behalf of the school and provided elsewhere than on the premises of the school.&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

No 11: In clause 3, page 2, line 34, at end insert

&quot;(aa) state the methods of bullying, as defined by section 1;&quot;. — [Mrs Overend.]

No 12: In clause 3, page 2, line 36, leave out from &quot;may&quot; to end of line 4 on page 3 and insert

&quot;may, for example, relate to?—


(a) differences of religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, sex, sexual orientation or marital status;


(b) differences between persons with a disability and persons without;


(c) differences between persons with dependants and persons without;


(d) differences between persons based on gender reassignment;


(e) differences between persons based on pregnancy.&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

No 13: In clause 3, page 3, line 4, at end insert

&quot;(3A) The Department may by order subject to negative resolution amend subsection (3).&quot;. — [Mr Weir (The Chairperson of the Committee for Education).]

No 14: In clause 3, page 3, line 9, leave out subsection (5). — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I am pleased to bring the Addressing Bullying in Schools Bill before the Assembly this evening. I am particularly heartened by the fact that the passage of the Bill has to date been supported by all parties. I believe that sends a clear message that the Assembly is united in its desire to act on this problem.

The Bill was drafted to create a clear and consistent framework for schools to follow and as a means of ensuring that all pupils are protected to the same best practice standards. In providing an inclusive definition of bullying, introducing a duty on schools to record all allegations of bullying and strengthening the role of boards of governors in ensuring that effective policies are in place at their school, we can provide that framework while still allowing schools the flexibility to adopt policies that are reflective of their individual needs.

I have carefully considered the issues that Members have raised in their amendments and the concerns identified by the Committee during its scrutiny of the Bill. I have sought to address several of those issues in the amendments that the Department has brought forward this evening. I am keen that we continue to engage constructively to make the Bill as effective as it can be, and, in that spirit of constructive engagement, I emphasise that, where I speak to oppose any amendments, it will be because I feel that they either detract from the consistency we seek to build or will unnecessarily add to the complexity of the duties that we will place on schools and school governors.

Given that all the amendments have been placed in a single group for today's debate, I will now address them each in turn. Amendment No 1 is largely technical, using language that is more consistent with best practice in legislative drafting and serves to make the definition more straightforward for readers to understand. In its scrutiny, the Education Committee had reservations about the use of the word "includes" to convey that the definition was intended to be open and non-exhaustive and was not sufficiently clear. To address that concern, the amendment inserts in brackets the phrase "but is not limited to" to provide a clear additional emphasis that schools will have the discretion to identify and treat as bullying incidents that do not meet the specification in clause 1 but that the school considers would justify such recognition.

The definition set out in the initial draft of the Bill used the term "physical act". Specific advice from the Office of Legislative Counsel has highlighted that that terminology is not used in any other statute and is, in legislative terms, unnecessary. The drafting preference is simply to refer to "act", which is broader in scope and includes physical or non-physical acts or omissions. The term "physical act" has therefore been removed, and the definition has been refined further to provide greater clarity and less scope for misinterpretation. I urge the House to accept amendment No 1.

I now turn to amendment No 2, which proposes to include "an imbalance of power" in the definition of bullying. I understand why Members have moved the amendment for inclusion and fully appreciate that "an imbalance of power" is a recognised characteristic of bullying. However, my preference is for it not to be included in the Bill. If the Bill referenced "an imbalance of power", it would need to specify what that actually means in a watertight but practicable, workable way. Advice received from both the Departmental Solicitor's Office and the Office of Legislative Counsel recommended against the inclusion of "an imbalance of power". It was highlighted that the characteristic was not commonly referenced in anti-bullying legislation in other jurisdictions.

The absence of the imbalance of power wording has no adverse impact on the identification, actioning or recording of bullying incidents where an imbalance of power exists, as the proposed definition will inherently pick up all incidents of bullying: those where an imbalance of power exists; and those where it does not it. Lastly, I have a concern that putting a particular focus on an imbalance of power in the Bill could be interpreted by some schools as justification for not addressing and recording some incidents as bullying because, in the school's view, there was not an obvious imbalance of power between the victim and the perpetrator. I therefore urge the House to oppose amendment No 2.

Amendment Nos 3 and 4 are of a minor technical nature to bring drafting consistency to the rest of the Bill regarding the use of the term "registered pupil". Amendment No 4 will also clarify that the duty on governors to determine measures to be taken at school to prevent bullying also covers those instances where only one of their pupils is involved in a bullying incident.

Amendment No 5 addresses a query raised by the Education Committee regarding what action will be expected of schools in relation to incidents occurring when their pupils are attending lessons in other schools or external settings as part of the delivery of the entitlement framework. All post-primary schools are members of area-learning communities that work together to provide a broader and balanced curriculum to young people, which helps schools to deliver the requirements of the entitlement framework.

Through collaboration, schools offer courses not necessarily delivered on their school premises but through other schools, further education colleges or other training providers. That gives pupils access to a wider selection of courses. Therefore, subjects may be delivered in schools or educational facilities other than where the pupil is registered. This addition clarifies that schools and governors will be required to address the circumstances in their anti-bullying policies. The school where the pupil is registered will be responsible for taking any action in respect of disciplining or supporting their pupil. However, I will expect schools and institutions to work together, with a view to preventing or addressing any incidents of bullying involving their pupils. I therefore urge the House to accept amendment Nos 3, 4 and 5.

I now turn to amendment No 6. The Committee has proposed that a board of governors should be required to review its anti-bullying measures:

"at intervals of no more than four years", rather than "from time to time". I can confirm that I am happy to support that amendment.

I now turn to amendment Nos 7 and 8. I brought forward amendment No 7 to address strong concerns raised by the Education Committee that clear and more explicit recognition needed to be given to the problem of cyberbullying. While the Committee accepted that clearly defined boundaries for schools' responsibilities were an essential part of the Bill, it felt that cyberbullying occurring outside school hours often had an impact that carried across into the school day. The Committee was also particularly anxious that schools would have some legal cover to address cyberbullying incidents, which often have imprecise boundaries in terms of when and where they arise but which clearly have a detrimental impact on a pupil's education.

While I have some concerns about the imposition of additional, wide-ended legal duties on schools, I accept the merit of providing a clear enabling power, allowing schools to act in such circumstances should they wish to do so. The Committee has proposed its own amendment on the issue: amendment No 8. My amendment No 7 is a slight rewording of that to make it clear that a school's responsibilities are to act to support its own pupils if they are victims of cyberbullying or to take action against their own pupils if they are found to be undertaking cyberbullying. I believe that my amendment maintains the clear boundaries of responsibility that we have established elsewhere in the Bill while addressing the Committee's concerns. I urge Members, therefore, to support amendment No 7.

Amendment No 9 is, in essence, a technical amendment that would replace the words "or alleged incidents of bullying" in clause 3(1) with "of bullying or alleged bullying". That will clarify that bullying incidents and allegations of bullying must be recorded by a school. I again urge Members to support that amendment.

Amendment No 10 mirrors the changes that we considered under amendment No 5. It clarifies that schools would still be under a duty to record and respond to incidents that occur outside of school premises when those occurred in connection with registered pupils participating in shared lessons, for example, under the entitlement framework or other sharing engagements organised by a school. I should emphasise that, when such incidents involve pupils from the two schools, each school will be responsible for taking appropriate action to support or sanction its pupils in line with its own agreed policies. I again urge Members to support that amendment.

I oppose amendment No 11 to clause 3, which would require a record of bullying to state the methods of bullying. I consider the requirement to record each incident already adequately covers that point. A standard recording format that does not capture the nature and wider circumstances of an incident would be of very limited value to schools in monitoring their own performance or providing supporting evidence of those actions should they ever be challenged. The Department will issue guidance to support schools, governors, parents and pupils in understanding the Bill and its implications for them. That guidance will be developed in consultation with all the key stakeholders involved and will provide recommendations on all the details that schools should aim to capture when recording an incident. We believe that to be the correct place to offer that additional clarification rather than as an addition to the Bill.

Amendment No 12 is a technical amendment to the list of motivating factors set out in the original wording of clause 3. The purpose of that clause has always been to provide an illustrative list of the possible motivations for bullying behaviour that we would expect schools to record. That list was deliberately chosen to highlight relevant section 75 groups and other legislatively protected groups. The Education Committee expressed concerns that the original wording was unclear and could be interpreted as providing an exhaustive list of motivations. The amendment more closely mirrors the language that is used in other relevant legislation and identifies that motivation will arise from differences in relative circumstances rather than an exclusive characteristic of either the pupil being bullied or undertaking the bullying. I also believe that, by replacing the introductory comment "motivation may include" with:

"motivation may, for example, relate to", will remove any scope for confusion over the inclusive and non-exhaustive nature of the list.

I do not believe that amendment No 13 is required. As I outlined, the Bill provides a non-exhaustive list of the types of motivations that a school would be required to record. Amendment No 12 will provide sufficient clarification of our intentions in that regard and will, therefore, negate the need for a power to amend a list that, by its very nature, is designed to be illustrative and non-exhaustive. Making that a matter for amendment by order would go entirely in the opposite direction and suggest that the list is somehow exhaustive and that inclusion on it confers greater weight or legitimacy to those motivations, which is simply not the case. The departmental guidance that will accompany the legislation will provide additional clarification on the non-exhaustive nature of the list and will elaborate on a much wider range of factors that can lie behind bullying.

Amendment No 14 is a final technical amendment. By removing clause 3(5), the meaning of the terms "gender reassignment" and "disability" will revert to their commonly used meanings, rather than requiring readers to cross-reference through the complex legal definitions of each set of their own respective orders. I urge Members to support amendment No 14.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP 9:15 pm, 22nd February 2016

I will speak initially on behalf of the Committee. During Committee Stage, members considered written evidence from around 16 organisations and undertook six oral evidence briefings and six formal meetings. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many stakeholders who wrote to the Committee or gave oral evidence. Owing to the time pressures associated with the legislative programme, it was not possible to receive oral evidence from every organisation that made a submission, but I can assure stakeholders that we studied every submission, whether written or oral, and greatly valued their input into Committee Stage. I would also like to thank the Department for attending a number of oral evidence sessions and providing written responses and clarifications to the Committee in such a short timescale.

At Second Stage, and on behalf of the Committee, I addressed some remarks to children and young people who have been the victims of bullying at school. I promised them that we would take bullying in schools very seriously. I indicated that we understood that bullying can have a very substantial impact on its victims, and, sadly, it has even led to the death of some young people. I also promised that we would listen to their concerns and, with the Minister, do something about it.

To help with the listening process, the Committee undertook a series of focus groups involving children and young people from schools representing each sector from across Northern Ireland. Those were organised by the Assembly's Research and Education Service. The moderators for the sessions included Committee staff members. I would like to thank the contributors to and facilitators of that important work. The findings from the focus groups are summarised in our report on the Bill and helped us greatly in developing the amendments that I will discuss shortly.

The Committee generally takes the view that this is a good Bill and that the Committee’s amendments, and some or all of those proposed by the Minister, will make it better. There was a suggestion, at one stage, that we change the title of the Bill to "Eradicating bullying". Will the Bill eradicate all bullying in schools? Sadly, it will not, and I do not think that anybody will make that false claim. However, I think that an amended Bill would support and promote good anti-bullying practice in schools; clarify the scope of schools’ responsibility; inform future policy development through consistent record-keeping; and boost the confidence of boards of governors who want to take action on all forms of bullying, particularly cyberbullying. I suggest that, by passing an amended version of the Bill, we will be keeping the promise, which I mentioned earlier, to do something about bullying in schools.

I will now turn to the amendments that the Committee agreed to table or support. Clause 1 provides a definition of bullying. In general, all witnesses at Committee Stage supported the clause but wanted to change it. Some wanted to include wording that identified bullying targeted at specific groups. Others took issue with the apparent restriction of the definition to repeated acts. Still others wanted an explicit reference — this is taken forward in one of the other amendments — to the &quot;imbalance of power&quot; between the bully and their victim.

The Committee wanted the Bill to support good practice in schools and, therefore, listened carefully to the considered responses from the representatives of teachers and school principals. These teaching professionals were generally supportive of many of the proposed changes to the clause, but they also called for discretion that would permit schools to treat serious, one-off incidents as bullying.

Members felt that bullying was quite difficult to define exactly. It was therefore agreed that some space should be left in the Bill to allow schools the flexibility to include serious, unwanted behaviour that might not precisely conform to the definition as drafted. The Committee felt that the simplest and most effective way to do this was through the inclusion of the words &quot;but is not limited to&quot; in the definition. To be fair to the Department, while it initially raised concerns about that form of words, there was a common objective between the Department and the Committee on this, and I am pleased, therefore, that the Minister has incorporated this into his technical amendment — amendment No 1 to clause 1.

I am also pleased by the departmental assurances that, before provisions are commenced, guidance is to be issued on addressing the treatment of one-off events; bullying that is targeted at section 75 groups; and bullying by omission.

At this stage, I should also mention the feedback from representatives of special schools. They expressed concerns about the application of these provisions to their sector and to mainstream schools with a high number of children with special educational needs (SEN). It was suggested that the Bill might wrongly classify as bullying unacceptable conduct that may be associated with behavioural conditions linked to SEN or to a significant non-school-related trauma.

Members were quite exercised about this issue. The majority of members accepted the Department's assurances that the intention provisions would provide suitable protections for special schools and for children with SEN who were experiencing trauma. That said, the Committee felt strongly that the Department should consult widely with the SEN sector, including special schools and learning support units, in the development of appropriate guidance for teachers and principals regarding the treatment of children with SEN and those in exceptional circumstances. I hope that, in his response, the Minister will provide that assurance.

On the issue of cyberbullying, the Bill generated two types of commentary. There were those, mainly teachers and professionals, who felt that the Bill had perhaps gone a little bit too far, and there were those, most of the other witnesses, who felt that it did not go far enough. The Committee noted extensive evidence from the school focus groups and other witnesses in respect of cyberbullying; that is to say bullying related to the use of electronic communication, social media or the Internet. These witnesses generally contended that this form of bullying could have a very substantive impact on its victims and was significantly under-reported in schools. It was asserted that the Bill did not go far enough to address this form of bullying and that cyberbullies could very easily evade the relevant provisions. Others made the argument that cyberbullying accounted for only a small fraction of all bullying incidents and was the subject of a disproportionate level of exposure by the news media.

The Committee felt that cyberbullying is an issue of significant importance that requires immediate action and support for schools. The Committee also noted the complexity presented by a wide-ranging legislative solution and the potential for conflict, for example between the rights of the victim and the rights of others to privacy. Additionally, members noted that other jurisdictions have yet fully to address these issues in legislation. That was the conundrum that the Committee faced. To help to resolve it, the Committee listened to the conflicting views of witnesses. We listened to the concerns of schoolchildren and to the good-practice examples of anti-bullying provided by schools. It was on that basis that the Committee decided to put down amendment No 8, which is before us today.

Members felt that boards of governors need our support and the backing of legislation. Amendment No 8 is designed to empower them and give them the confidence to bring forward anti-cyberbullying measures. The Committee wanted schools not to feel constrained by a requirement to determine that the cyberbullying occurred during the school day, on the journey to and from school, or when under the lawful control of school staff. The amendment, which is permissive rather than obligatory — we take on board what the Minister said about imposing additional duties — is, we believe, the best possible compromise between the different sides.

I draw the House's attention, as has the Minister, to ministerial amendment No 7. While the Minister has indicated that it is slightly better drafted than amendment No 8, it is virtually identical. That being the case, I think that members of the Committee will be content to support amendment No 7 in place of amendment No 8.

The Committee could have gone further. We considered an amendment that would have dramatically altered the scope of school responsibility in providing protections from bullying. Attractive though such a proposition might be, the Committee was a little bit worried that it might lead to legal challenges and other undetermined consequences for schools, and might even promote unwelcome changes to the relationship between schools and parents. Members also noted the long-awaited anti-cyberbullying guidance. We should not always see a single piece of legislation as the silver bullet that will lead to all solutions; there are, indeed, other areas coming forward. That guidance, produced by the Anti-Bullying Forum, and the e-safety guidance which is to be produced by the Safeguarding Board this year, are very important documents that will inform schools' responses to this relatively new form of bullying.

I mentioned the scope of responsibility of schools and their boards of governors. Clause 2 of the Bill requires the latter to devise anti-bullying measures and to consult on them with children and parents. Like many witnesses at Committee Stage, the Committee strongly supported this aspect of the legislation. To further strengthen this obligation, the Committee agreed to put down amendment No 6, which requires the process to happen within a typical period of office of a board of governors, namely once every four years as a minimum period.

A key part of the Bill is the requirement to keep records of bullying incidents. This appears to be an inescapable requirement for schools, following fairly recent legal proceedings. The Bill provides some necessary clarity, which the Department has assured us will be followed by guidance designed to limit the bureaucratic burden on school principals and boards of governors. I think that the Committee accepted this assurance and, therefore, did not put down a related amendment to further specify that, although we appreciate amendment No 11, which has been put down by some members of the Committee.

Clause 3 also requires schools to record the motivation or perceived motivation underpinning bullying. All members of the Committee agreed that the list of motivations required some improvement. I think that there was some disagreement on how this should be done. Some wanted some limited changes; some wanted the list in the Bill to be removed and replaced with a regulation-making power; others – the majority – preferred amendment No 13. That is an order-making power that can amend the existing list of motivations. I note the ministerial amendment Nos 12 and 14, which would appear to closely align the motivations with section 75. I think that the majority of members felt that the nature of bullying is changing and that some flexibility will be needed if schools are to capture emerging trends. The majority of Committee members, therefore, felt that Amendment No 13 will allow this to happen.

During Second Stage, I made reference to concerns about the misuse of bullying records kept by schools and the development of the risk of unofficial bullying league tables. The Department has clarified that records will be held at school level and that usual data protection controls will be applied to personal information. I also understand that the Department will make use of related, aggregated statistics to inform anti-bullying policy development.

The Committee agrees that bullying is an important issue and requires robust and coherent responses from schools. Good record-keeping underpins this. I think that we all feel that, on balance, addressing the real problem of bullying is more important than the possibility of reputational damage to schools. In any event, the Department has advised us that, whether the Bill passes or not, recent court decisions will oblige all schools to keep and retain better disciplinary and bullying incident records. It is hoped that the passage of this Bill, departmental guidance, review by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI), and the anticipated extension of the scope of the Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsman to include schools will lead to more consistent record-keeping by all schools.

Finally, when the Committee was agreeing its report, a member asked an excellent question — it does occasionally happen at Committee. What happens if a pupil is attending another school, as part of the entitlement framework or a sharing activity, and engages in bullying activity at the other school?. Indeed, as we are in the process of passing the Shared Education Bill, the frequency of children being at another school for some form of shared activity is likely to increase. The Bill, as drafted, would have placed no obligation on the pupil’s home school to take action or keep a record. The Committee advised the Department of this, and I am pleased to note that ministerial amendment Nos 5 and 9 appear to be designed to deal with exactly this problem. The Committee has not taken a formal position on this. I imagine, however, that Members would be happy to support these sensible provisions, which oblige the home school to address bullying perpetrated in another school by one of its pupils, although I also note the comments of the Minister that, where this is happening in one school, a degree of cooperation is needed between the schools. I also suspect that the Committee would have no problem in supporting the technical drafting amendment Nos 3, 4 and 9.

Even if we have a couple of Divisions today, and we shall see how that turns out, it is fair to characterise the Committee Stage of the Bill and the interaction with the Department and the Minister as positive and cooperative. On behalf of the Committee, I wish to commend the Minister and his officials for the progress achieved to date on this Bill and the legislative programme generally.

At Second Stage, I described the Bill as a good beginning. I think that an amended Bill will be exactly that – a good beginning for the development of a consistent anti-bullying culture for all our schools. This, I believe, will be flexible enough to deal with the new challenges from things like cyberbullying and robust enough to give children the confidence to know that, when they are being bullied at school, something really will be done about it.

Now, turning briefly, because I do not want to reiterate all of that, to the position from a DUP perspective. I think that, as a party, we are happy with all the ministerial amendments and, indeed, all the Committee amendments.

Again, I do not want to go into a great deal of detail. When the issue in amendment No 1 was raised by the Committee, the Minister brought forward an amendment that encapsulated an almost identical position to that of the Committee, and I think it is quite sensible. It was raised with me on a number of occasions that the word "includes" could, by its definition, go beyond simply repeated bullying. I think that to have a specific reference in the Bill will give reassurance that very serious incidents will be taken seriously.

Similarly, I think that we find favour with amendment Nos 5 and 10, which have been mentioned, and which cover the shared education position. Similarly, with the technical amendment Nos 3, 4 and 9 proposed by the Minister, there is no particular problem.

I should also indicate that, with amendment Nos 7 and 8, we initially brought forward amendment No 8. It is virtually, word-for-word, what is in amendment No 7. From that point of view, therefore, we are happy with either amendment. Clearly, amendment No 7 will be put and, if, as I assume, the House is able to unite behind it, it will render amendment No 8 null and void. Again, we are giving power to governors to look at cyberbullying without going the further step of imposing a particular duty on them.

We support the Committee's amendment No 6, which, again, has a degree of cross-party consensus, to ensure that this is not something that is done as a one-off exercise and simply left to drift into the ether, but places an onus on the boards of governors to do this at intervals of no more than four years.

With amendment No 11, from the DUP perspective, there were issues raised in trying to ensure that boards of governors and schools, when recording these incidents, are not overburdened. However, amendment No 11 seems modest enough. The additional information may well be useful, and it is something that, I think, does not place any massive additional burden on schools. From that point of view, my party is happy to support amendment No 11.

I will return to amendment No 2 in a moment.

Amendment No 12, which is consequential to amendment No 14, is a better-drafted version of the requirements under clause 3 in covering all situations. I appreciate that the Minister expressed the view that amendment No 13 is not particularly necessary. However, as a party, we support the amendment. When this matter was looked at, by admission, the list was not got right initially and had to be corrected slightly. We are in a moving situation. It may well be that what is in amendment No 12 covers the situation at the moment adequately. However, we do not know what situation we are going to be in in a few years from now, and, if any amendment were required to clause 3, without amendment No 13, it would have to be done purely by way of primary legislation. We believe that there needs to be some level of adjustment to give the option of subordinate legislation subject to negative resolution. It gives that little bit of flexibility, and seems to be a relatively sensible amendment.

Finally, I turn to amendment No 2. I have some sympathy for the motivation behind the amendment, and it is something that has been included in a number of other jurisdictions. However, I have concerns about it, both as to whether it is necessary and whether, from a practical point of view, it might be slightly counterproductive. What I mean by that is that we have a clear definition of bullying, and this would add an additional limb to that definition to show that there was an imbalance of power. That may well be implicit in all cases of bullying. However, what would concern me are the situations in which some level of assessment that either a teacher or a member of staff is making. If they felt a little bit unsure about that additional limb, we may see some incidents of bullying that do not get recorded because there is a feeling that they have not jumped that extra hurdle. So, to that extent, I do not believe that amendment No 2 adds anything to the Bill, and it runs a danger, in some cases, of excluding cases where there is bullying. So, from that point of view, while I am happy with the other amendments, the DUP will be opposing amendment No 2.

Photo of Sandra Overend Sandra Overend UUP 9:30 pm, 22nd February 2016

I thank the Committee Chair for giving way on this issue. Just to clarify, I challenge Members who do not want to support this particular amendment to provide an example of where, theoretically maybe, an imbalance of power cannot be identified?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP 9:45 pm, 22nd February 2016

I will give you an example that occurs to me. It strikes me that, without that, there is no incident of bullying that is excluded. There is at least a danger that that would be the case. An imbalance of power, to some extent, could be in a situation with a group of young people and it may well be that, physically, the person doing the bullying is a lot smaller than the person being bullied. A teacher looking at that may take the view that the meek but larger pupil — we will call him "Pupil O'Dowd" — is being grossly intimidated by a smaller but much fiercer pupil — we will call her "Pupil Overend". In those circumstances, a teacher may say, "I see clearly where I believe there to be bullying". However, is there an imbalance of power where a larger pupil is bullied by a smaller pupil? I am not sure that ticks the box. Most teachers, to be fair, will have the common sense to see the cowering, intimidated Pupil O'Dowd and recognise that as bullying. However, I do not want the guidance, whatever it is, to be misinterpreted and an act of bullying unnecessarily excluded. That is my concern. I fail to see what the reference in the amendment adds to the definition, but I can see where, in some cases of misinterpretation, it may exclude something. I hope that the Member will not seek to bully or intimidate us as she moves on with that. With that explanation, Mr Speaker

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am sure that I am not alone in the hope that, in any dispute between a pupil called O'Dowd and someone else called Overend, the teacher would not be called Weir.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

In those circumstances, it would be extremely unlucky for both pupils.


As in all things in life, we have to cover all eventualities. There may be a teacher out there called Weir who does not arbitrate well in a situation. There may be some, depending on their perspective, who would accuse a teacher called Weir of encouraging a bullying situation between pupils called Overend and O'Dowd. There are others in the House who would, perhaps, accuse my party of being keen to facilitate a situation where Pupil O'Dowd was bullying Pupil Overend. It is a question of perspective in that regard.

Setting aside the broader situation, in those circumstances we want to ensure that no genuine incident of bullying does not get properly recorded. If it sows some level of doubt, creates an additional hurdle and means that, in a small number of cases, the bullying is overlooked because there is not perceived to be an imbalance of power, that would be wrong. That is why we are opposed to amendment No 2.

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. The House will be glad to know that I was never taught by Mr Weir, so this should be short and relatively painless. The Chair of the Committee and the Minister before him covered a lot of the detail at great length, so I will provide the executive summary of my thoughts.

We will oppose amendment No 2. While we disagree with amendment Nos 11 and 13, we do not find enough in them to disagree to the same extent. A large part of this goes back to what the Chair said about good practice and consistency. That is the hallmark of the Bill; indeed, I think that it will be celebrated for providing a platform for good practice and consistency in and around policy development and disseminating that through schools. Amendment No 2 from Mrs Overend just goes too far by creating a grey area where the waters get muddied, and where I would feel for the teacher having to step outside. I understand the power imbalance in theory, but in the real world in schools it would be hard for teachers to apply that. Academically, we could debate all the stuff about power balances, but, in the classroom or wherever it may be, the teacher needs to be able to rely on good, sound legislation that will not have the school in courtrooms with difficulties. That is why we will have to divide on amendment No 2.

As the Chair said, amendment Nos 3, 4, 5, 9, 10 and 12 are very technical amendments, some of them on shared education, which was a good point raised about the extent of the entitlement framework. On that point, as the Chair also did, I congratulate the Department and the Minister for working with the Committee through various sittings to get a very robust Bill. I think that it will be celebrated by parents, schools and the various stakeholders whom we met. It provides a good platform to build consistent policy on tackling bullying in all our schools.

The same goes for amendment Nos 7 and 8. Amendment No 7 is the stronger. Were it not for amendment No 7, I would have thought that amendment No 8 was fine. However, having looked at the difference in amendment No 7 and the rationale behind it, I am happy to go with amendment No 7. It is right that amendment No 7 is the stronger.

We do not agree with amendment Nos 11 and 13, but we will not push it to a Division. To a certain extent, amendment No 11 is pointless and should not be in the Bill. The guidance to deal with this will be developed at later stage through consultation with parents and stakeholders. On amendment No 13, for me, the very point of the list is that it is not exhaustive. If we are suggesting that there needs to be a mechanism to amend it somehow, we nearly give expression to the perception that the list is there to be amended. For me, it is not an exhaustive list, but it is inclusive. However, we will not push it to a Division.

On the whole, this is good news for schools, parents and kids. It goes without saying that education can be great for empowering our young people, but a school can be a horrible place for a young person suffering bullying. Anywhere can be a horrible place to be if you are suffering bullying. This will go a long way. As the Chair asked, will it eradicate all forms of bullying everywhere? Unfortunately, it will not. However, it creates a great platform for schools and boards of governors to deal with it. I look forward to the further comments.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am grateful for the guidance of my colleague Mr Seán Rogers, who served on the Committee throughout the passage of the Bill. I want to put on record our party's thanks to the Minister and the Department for the engagement that he and other stakeholders had with the Committee. The fact that the Minister has tabled so many amendments shows how he has listened during the passage of the Bill. The comments from around the House show that it is a Bill that all Members largely support. It should, I hope, lead to behavioural and attitudinal change amongst our schoolchildren. To that end, I am sure that the Minister will live up to the commitment that, I understand, he gave to the Committee on training and development opportunities for teaching staff on the implementation of the legislation. I also urge further debate with parents and with the children themselves to give an understanding of the implications of bullying in schools and how there will be zero tolerance.

As I read through many of the amendments, I saw that there seemed to be a reversion to the three Rs — only, in this case, it is reporting, recording and reviewing. We are somewhat disappointed that the review time frame is longer than we would have liked; we would have liked a much shorter one. On reporting, I do not think that it is onerous to add to the responsibilities of a teacher the task of recording the nature of an alleged bullying incident.

I will say for the record that we support amendment Nos 1, 3, 4 and 5. My earlier comment about a shorter time frame related to amendment No 6. I welcome the clarification from the Minister and the Committee Chair on amendment No 7 and appreciate that, if it is supported, amendment No 8 might not even be moved. We support amendment Nos 9, 10 and 11. On amendment No 12, we want to listen a bit more to some of the arguments about the list of motivations currently included in clause 3. At this stage, we do not believe that amendment No 12, which the Minister has tabled, is as strong as what was originally drafted in the Bill. However, before deciding and voting on it, we want to hear some of the arguments.

We support amendment No 13. However, we will not support amendment No 14 because we believe that it is beneficial to keep included in the Bill the definitions of disability as outlined in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and gender reassignment as outlined in the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976.

We are minded to support amendment No 2, although I have listened carefully to some of the arguments about the imbalance of power. I have some concerns about some of the scenarios outlined. I think that the Minister, who I thought maybe should be the bully in the relationship, should be named. I hope that he can assure his wife that he was not, at any stage, referring to her and how she can handle him.

This is a good piece of work by the Assembly. We all know about this issue, if not from our own years at school then from constituents who have come to us because of the different approaches to bullying in many schools and the sense of powerlessness not only among the families of the victims of bullying but among boards of governors. I hope that this sets a new standard in Northern Ireland and that, when we teach our young people, it will hopefully be something that they live by and endorse as they enter adult life.

Photo of Sandra Overend Sandra Overend UUP

I welcome the opportunity, as Ulster Unionist education spokesperson, to speak to these amendments. I welcome the progression of the Bill, which aims to address bullying in schools. Of course, as Members have said, it cannot realistically be completely eliminated, but it is something that school principals, staff and parents take very seriously, as they must. Appropriate steps must be taken to reduce bullying and to stop it once it has been identified. I add my thanks to the officials who appeared at Committee and to the Committee staff for all their work on the Bill.

I recognise that much good work is already ongoing in many schools across Northern Ireland. This legislation will tie down the obligation on all schools to take action on bullying and create uniformity of shared good practice across all schools. Of course, the legislation must not be seen as stand-alone; schools are already very well aware of other obligations in pastoral care, behaviour and discipline, as well as adhering to specific school codes of conduct.

As a mother of three children and as a past child, I am well aware of the behaviours that go on in school. I have watched my own children develop, mature and change how they deal with the other little personalities in their class and in their school year. Fortunately, I have not had any of my children suffer at the hands of a bully at school, but, as an MLA, I have helped other parents to deal with the after-effects of bullying incidents and ensure that the various authorities adhere to their appropriate responsibilities.

I will refer first to clause 1. Amendment No 1 refers to the definition of bullying; indeed, that created much debate in the Committee. It amends the wording to:

"includes (but is not limited to)".

That is a good amendment and means that incidents, whether an individual incident or a repeated act, are included in the definition. I therefore support amendment No 1.

Amendment No 2 was tabled by me and my colleague Danny Kennedy. It proposes to include in the definition "an imbalance of power". As I have said, there are policies in schools that deal with behaviour and discipline, as well as such things as adhering to the school code of conduct and so on. Therefore, I think that it is important that we identify bullying where there is an imbalance of power. That clearly states that there is a victim who finds it difficult to defend himself or herself.

Members will agree that there can be numerous and various forms of aggressive behaviour in schools that will not be defined as bullying. Think of two boys who regularly fight in the playground or the school bus, where there is no clear victim of bullying and they both seem to enjoy the fight. That type of aggressive behaviour is not to be condoned but must be dealt with under the school's disciplinary policy rather than an anti-bullying policy.

Research in Norway by Dr Dan Olweus states:

"It must be stressed that the term bullying is not (or should not be) used when two students of approximately the same strength (physical or psychological) are fighting or quarrelling. In order to use the term bullying, there should be an imbalance in strength (an asymmetric power relationship): The student who is exposed to the negative actions has difficulty defending him/herself and is somewhat helpless against the student or students who harass".

Furthermore, Professor Peter K Smith from Goldsmiths, University of London, said:

"there is some consensus, at least in the western research tradition, that bullying refers to repeated aggressive acts against someone who cannot easily defend themselves".

Professor Smith has also confirmed in personal correspondence that the new European Anti-bullying Network decided in December 2015 to include "imbalance of power" in its definition of bullying.

In Ontario in Canada, which seems to be leading in legislation in the area, in its Accepting Schools Act 2012, the definition of bullying states:

"the behaviour occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance between the pupil and the individual based on factors such as size, strength, age, intelligence, peer group power, economic status, social status, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, family circumstances, gender".

The National Association of Head Teachers, in its presentation to the Committee, also supported the idea that the definition should include a power imbalance as international best practice. Its representatives said that schools and teachers:

"possess a great deal of experience and expertise with regard to pupil relations and are capable of distinguishing between bullying, where there is an imbalance of power, and deliberate repeated aggressive behaviour between equals".

I am concerned that leaving out "imbalance of power" from the definition might result in a weaker definition, and that this legislation, which is written to address bullying in schools, may try to address all aggressive behaviour and indiscipline. Those issues are dealt with in other legislation, and if there is a feeling in that regard, surely it should be addressed in that legislation rather than in this Bill. There could also be an unfair and inaccurate inflation of bullying incidents due to a weaker definition.

As a parent, I am aware of the system in schools, which has reports on each pupil's behaviour. Believe you me, I regularly log into the school information management system (SIMS) database to read about instances when my children's behaviour has not been what it should be have, whether they have been late to class or forgotten homework books. From what I understand, that is where the reporting of indiscipline or bullying incidents would be recorded. As I said, I ask those Members who do not support amendment No 2 to provide an example of where it is difficult to define an imbalance of power.

Moving on to the clause 2 amendments, it is important that, in working to address bullying in schools, not only do we clearly define what bullying is but that the Department also provides clear and unambiguous guidelines to schools.

Amendment No 6, which has been brought forward by the Committee, put the onus on schools to review their measures at least every four years. It is important to examine their recording to analyse the need to change ways of dealing with particular behaviour or bullying and update them, especially considering changes in technology and the need to address its dangers. The period of four years was chosen as that was the term of a board of governors, and I was pleased that the measures can be reviewed more often than that if necessary.

There was much debate at Committee Stage with regard to cyberbullying and whether to include a responsibility on schools to deal with incidents that happen outside school. I am minded to support amendment No 7 rather than amendment No 8. Amendment No 8 does not provide an obligation and instead acts as encouragement. There are many issues that should be included as part of a school's pastoral care policy in a similar way, yet they are not included in the Bill. I have concerns that amendment No 8 may create a lack of uniformity across schools when the Bill is attempting to create uniformity in how schools address bullying.

Putting in that amendment gives an option, but it does not create uniformity across schools, so I have concerns with that.

I move now to amendments to clause 3, which relates to the duty to keep records of bullying incidents. We are minded to support amendment Nos 9 and 10.

Amendment No 11, which the Ulster Unionist Party tabled, proposes that the method of bullying must be included in the recording of incidents. That is our belief. We believe that it is important to provide the ability to look back and analyse the most common form or type of bullying, whether that is verbal, physical, cyber, social exclusion, material or indirect. Good analysis will provide for the possibility for specific needs to be identified in order to change or improve guidelines in an area. Proper recording allows proper analysis. A method may be recorded, but I feel that it should be in the Bill. That may require definition at Further Consideration Stage, and I am open to that.

The final three amendments relate to the motivation of a bullying incident, which also created debate in the Committee. I am content with amendment No 12, tabled by the Minister, but I feel that amendment No 13 should be supported to provide the ability to amend the list of motivations.

Mr Speaker, I will draw my remarks to a close. I look forward to the further progression of the Bill.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance 10:00 pm, 22nd February 2016

It is surprising that a Bill with only five clauses should generate so much discussion, but it has been constructive. The Committee took a lot of evidence, and I think that we have arrived at the point at which there is great consensus. That is credit to the Committee, the Minister and the Department because it did not look that way six weeks ago, and I thought that other amendments might come through, but we are where we are.

The point is that we all know — Members referred to it — the destructive effect that bullying can have. The Bill now refers to "a detrimental effect", but it is the same thing. We could all quote an anecdote or two. I saw a situation in which two children were removed from a primary school because it would not acknowledge that there had been a problem. The parents had to take the matter into their own hands. The fact that the school had "zero tolerance of bullying" posters on every wall in every classroom made it all the more ironic that the parents had to do that, but it does happen. The effect on a child's well-being, mental health, concentration and ability to work also come into play.

I do not have very much to say about any of the amendments. I agree with them, except for one. Amendment No 1 is a very good tidying up of the wordings that we have gone through. By implication, I take it that:

"'bullying' includes (but is not limited to) the repeated use" means that it includes single acts, or has the potential to include single acts, which was a bone of contention for the Committee for a while. I am perfectly happy with the rest of amendment No 1.

I may as well deal with amendment No 2 straightaway. Mrs Overend said that the notion of an imbalance of power came from Ontario. I had the Ontario version on my phone, but I do not need it now because Mrs Overend read it out. It is too hard to define, is it not? Is it physical? Is it mental? Is it strength of character? The Ontario wording is quite lengthy, but, as far as I can tell from the Ontario information, it is guidance, not legislation. I may be wrong about that, but, be that as it may, it seems to me that it is still possible to identify an act of bullying without being able to identify an imbalance of power. We have a pretty clear definition, so I do not think that we need —

Photo of Sandra Overend Sandra Overend UUP

Just to clarify, from what I can understand, it is legislation. It is the Accepting Schools Act 2012. I quoted the part about imbalance of power from that legislation.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

We may have to disagree about that, or agree to differ; let us put it that way because we are such good friends. I still say that it is not really necessary. It is adding another condition to what is already a good set of conditions. It is supplementary to them. It appears to me that you have to satisfy the original meaning of the Bill plus an imbalance of power, so I do not think that we will accept that.

The Minister referred to amendment Nos 3 and 4 as minor and technical amendments, and so they are, but they are actually quite significant because we are moving from a plural situation to a singular situation. That is significant. Instead of "registered pupils", we have "a registered pupil". Any possible ambiguity there has been ruled out by that simple turn of phrase.

Amendment Nos 5 and 10 are to be welcomed. They extend the lawful custody of the school:

"while the pupil is receiving educational provision arranged on behalf of the school and provided elsewhere than on the premises of the school."

That is good wording.

With regard to amendment No 6, I really do think that that interval of "no more than 4 years" is probably a better effort than "from time to time", which does not sound very legalistic when you look back at it. We have no problem with amendment No 6.

As for amendment Nos 7 and 8, it appears that we will all go with amendment No 7. On the basis that it would have been the first one that we vote on, I suppose that it would have happened anyway. There is not much difference between them. There are just very slight differences. One says, "as it thinks reasonable" and the other says, "as is reasonable", and, "taken at the school", rather than, "taken by the school". I do not think that there is any big significance in that. The point about it is that it is an attempt to deal with the problem of cyberbullying. We heard different interpretations and assessments of what that meant at the Committee. I think that one figure that was quoted was that around 16% of all bullying was, in fact, cyberbullying in some form or other. Anecdotally, having spoken to heads, principals and so on, I think that the scale of the problem is miles in excess of that; much, much more. This is an attempt to deal with it. It involves the use of electronic communication that:

"is likely to have a detrimental effect on that pupil’s education at the school."

That is probably as far as we can go. It does, at least, set some ground rules for it.

Amendment No 9 is technical as well. It leaves out, "or alleged incidents of" and inserts, "of bullying or alleged". Amendment No 10 relates back to amendment No 5. We are happy to support amendment No 11. I think that it is a useful addition to the clause.

Clause 3 says, "motivation may include". We originally wanted something along the lines of "may, but not be restricted to" — something like that. I think that the Minister has got it pretty much right with amendment No 12, which says, "may, for example, relate to". There are subtle differences even in the descriptions of what it could relate to. For example, "religion or belief" is being changed to "differences of religious belief", and, "race" becomes "racial group", which seems far more correct to me. "Marriage" becomes "marital status". Again, that is probably a better description for what we are trying to achieve, so I am quite happy with amendment No 12.

The Minister says that we do not need amendment No 13, but the Committee feels it is useful, and I cannot see any harm in it. It is one of those things, "You pays your money; you takes your chance." On balance, we will probably support it. As it is a Committee amendment, we probably supported it in Committee.


As for amendment No 14, I know that the Minister referred to it in his opening remarks, but it is not always easy to hear down here sometimes, and I am not quite clear as to why he wants to remove the definitions. Perhaps, if he sums up the debate tonight, he could explain that to me.

Having said all that, I do not need to say any more about this. It is a good Bill. It has almost total consensus. We have one more stage to go, and I hope that there will not be any surprises when we come to it. I am happy to support the amendments, subject to dismissing amendment No 2.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21 10:15 pm, 22nd February 2016

I must say that, when I borrowed the notes from Mr Rogers, he gave them to me with a warning that I was not to speak for too long. I will try to honour the commitment.

I made a special point of being here to talk about the Bill because I mentioned during a previous debate that I was particularly concerned with cyberbullying. When I raised the issue, the Minister said that he thought it was one for the criminal justice system and a justice Bill. I remain of the opinion that there is great danger in giving people responsibility without giving them the tools to deal with the matter. Although I will mention a number of amendments, my key concern is cyberbullying. Mr Lunn, I think, mentioned that the estimated amount of cyberbullying is probably understating the really serious situation that exists out there. Whilst I welcome the fact that we have put bullying on the agenda and indicated that we will deal with it, we will have to return to the subject at another time, presumably in another mandate, for those of us who will be here.

Let me deal with amendment No 1. Mr Lunn helpfully identified for me that the change includes:

"(but is not limited to) the repeated use of—"

Actually, when I read it, I understood it to be the other way round. However, I am happy that it is a more general stance and is not limited to single acts.

As regards amendment No 2, I approached the concept in a sympathetic manner, but I am not convinced that we can properly define an imbalance of power. I remember, when I was on the Education Committee, that I was introduced to a nursery school, where one of the learning experiences was that teachers would put objects in a sand pit and you could rummage around to see what you could find. That was very educational for the children until one of them picked up a brick and managed to hit another child with it. I wonder whether that was an imbalance of power or what was going on. You get into the issue of some people having verbal skills where others have physical skills. I just think that it is a pretty complicated interaction, particularly as people go through the changes in life that they will experience in school.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

I will indeed.

Photo of Sandra Overend Sandra Overend UUP

I think that the example that the Member provides to the Floor is similar to incidents that may happen in special schools, and the Chair referred to that. I think that there is flexibility in the Bill, and in the guidelines that will come after it, to provide for schools to be flexible and to understand different behaviours of children at different stages in their life. However, the imbalance of power might be easier to understand if I say that the child being bullied feels a level of intimidation. They feel lesser, to an extent. Maybe that is easier for the Member to understand.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

I am grateful to the Member for the explanation, and I have no doubt that her efforts to draft the amendment were well-intentioned. Maybe she can help me on this, if it has come up in the discussions. One of the real concerns that I have about bullying is that the old idea of it being a one-on-one experience, where one person was having a go at another person, seems to me not to reflect what happens in real life. Quite often what you get, particularly in cyberbullying, is that multiple people will pick on an individual. So, one individual may or may not be strong, but they are, in effect, set upon by a group of people. That is a very serious issue, and one that we have to look at. As I said, I will consider what the Member has said about her amendment. It is difficult to see how we would actually organise that, but I will think about it.

I struggled to find out the exact difference between amendment Nos 7 and 8. I guess, from the comments of others, that if we go with amendment No 7, so be it. Once again, I point out that the issue should be how we deal with cyberbullying. I know that in legislation, when we consider these issues, there is a determination to keep within the areas that are in locus — in other words, within the school. The problem that I see about bullying is that it does not confine itself to time or space. An awful lot of bullying that goes on amongst pupils takes place outside school hours, but the effects are, indeed, felt in the educational achievement of the person affected and their mental and physical well-being. I think that there is an issue in that and that schools have to play a part, whether it takes place in the school premises or school time.

I move on to the last amendment that I want to talk about, amendment No 12, which seeks to give examples of motivation. I have to say that the ones listed are not, in my experience, the core causes of bullying. Most of the issues that I experience or am aware of come from a power for supremacy. It is the jungle of the playground; it is people trying to assert themselves in what might be a throwback to former times. It is not for any of the more objective reasons that we list there. Whilst I can accept the fact that the amendment says "may", I will put on the record that I do not think that this really gets to the core of why people are bullied. I think that it is a much more fundamental issue than that.

My conclusion on this is that my reason for speaking tonight, at this late hour, is just to make sure that, in the future when I bring up the issue of cyberbullying with the Justice Department, no one can say to me, "You did not deal with it during the education debate". It is a wide-ranging issue. It is something that schools are fully involved in. It is not exclusively for them. I think that, in the fullness of time, we will have to tackle this particular issue with many more powers than we are currently looking at.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle. In conclusion, I say that bullying remains all too common an experience for young people in our schools, and that has been reflected in Members' contributions about their experiences as elected representatives and as parents. In responding to all the amendments proposed today, I have taken my position based on what I firmly believe will best serve the needs of those young people. I am confident that the Bill will provide a framework that schools, parents and pupils will welcome. The duties that it introduces reflect best practices, and many schools will find that it endorses what they are already doing.

I will also use the opportunity to offer some final words of reassurance on some of the issues that were raised during the scrutiny of the Bill or which have been touched on directly this evening. There have been repeated references to the need for supporting guidance to be provided before the commencement of the new duties that the Bill will introduce.

The Department has committed itself to engaging with school staff, governors, parents' groups and other key stakeholders, including young people, in both the development of the guidance and the identification of any associated training needs.

During the Committee Stage, and as mentioned by the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Committee, concerns were expressed that the Bill introduced an unfair burden on special schools, unreasonably asking their principals and staff to hold their pupils to account against the same standards as children in mainstream schools. I fully appreciate that young people in special schools will have significant social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and will face other challenges, so issues such as intent to cause harm may be difficult for staff to determine. I believe, however, that there is sufficient flexibility in the proposed arrangements to adapt to the unique nature of special schools and, indeed, to allow all schools to develop policies that fully reflect the needs, special needs and wider circumstances impacting on their pupils. Nonetheless, I acknowledge his concern, and I can assure Members that the Department will specifically engage with special schools in the development of our guidance.

Concerns were also raised that further clarification was needed to ensure that all schools understood how they should treat serious, one-off events and what data schools would need to include in their record of an incident; and that the list of motivating factors cited at clause 3 should be wider. It has also been suggested that we need to specifically clarify what would constitute bullying by omission. We recognise the validity of all those points. Those are all issues that we intend to explore fully, working with stakeholders, as we develop our guidance. The passage of the Bill will put the right legislative bones in place and maximise the value, and guidance will be key.

I turn to specific points around a number of the amendments. Amendment No 2 continues to cause debate. Indeed, I have debated the issue with the Anti-Bullying Forum, which has provided excellent work and guidance in relation to the development of the policy and the Bill. Indeed, I used a similar example to the one that Mr Weir used, though I did not include Mrs Overend in it. I used the example of me — 6 feet 6 inches and heavier than I should be — presenting myself in the principal's office along with someone who may be smaller in stature, though I may be the victim of bullying. How does the school define that? The imagery says that it cannot be the case. How do you prove that someone is psychologically as strong as, or stronger than, the other person? I think that it puts too much of a demand or responsibility on our schools within a legislative framework to overcome. I accept that jurisdictions have legislated for that, though the question that I posed at the time was that we do not know how effective the legislation has been in those other jurisdictions. We are all familiar as legislators that well-intended legislation may not become effective legislation moving forward.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I will in one moment.

I accept that the amendment has been brought forward in good faith, but I do not believe that it will make good legislation, because I do not believe that it can be defined properly or that we could even give guidance to schools to define it properly.

Photo of Sandra Overend Sandra Overend UUP

I thank the Minister for giving way on the issue. First of all, if the Member is tall and whatever and is being bullied, the feeling that he is being intimidated surely is sufficient to say that there is an imbalance of power. That may be easier to define than to say that someone small is being overbearing.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

There are valid arguments on either side of the point. Let us say that there are two individuals of a similar build, the same age, from the same socio-economic background and have the same abilities in school. How does the school decide where the balance of power is? That may be a better example, with so many similarities rather than a difference. It just places an unnecessary burden on the schools at this time.

Mrs Kelly and Mr Lunn touched on amendment No 14. For the record, Mr Lunn, what I said during the introduction was that this is a technical amendment to the Bill. By removing clause 3(5), the meaning of the terms "gender reassignment" and "disability" revert to their common use meanings rather than requiring readers to cross-reference to the complex legal definitions of each as set out in their respective orders. <BR/>There is no attempt being made here to undermine the definition of either "disability" or "gender reassignment", but I propose to not move the amendment this evening. I want to have further consultation with my officials on the matter. I may table it again at Further Consideration Stage, but I want to take on board your comments this evening.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker 10:30 pm, 22nd February 2016

Amendment No 2 is an amendment to amendment No 1, so we need to dispose of amendment No 2 before I put the Question on amendment No 1.

Amendment No 2, as an amendment to amendment No 1, proposed:

At end insert


&quot;and where there is an imbalance of power’.&quot;. — [Mrs Overend.]

Question put, That the amendment be made. The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 19; Noes 62


Mr Allen, Mr Attwood, Mr Beggs, Mr Cochrane-Watson, Mr Cree, Mrs Dobson, Mr Hussey, Mrs D Kelly, Mr Kennedy, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mrs McKevitt, Mr McKinney, Mr A Maginness, Mr Nesbitt, Mrs Overend, Mr Patterson, Mr Rogers, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Kennedy, Mr Patterson


Mr Agnew, Mr Anderson, Mr Boylan, Ms P Bradley, Mr Buchanan, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mr Craig, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Dr Farry, Ms Fearon, Mr Flanagan, Mr Frew, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hazzard, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr G Kelly, Mr Lunn, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyons, Mr McAleer, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Mr McCausland, Ms McCorley, Mr B McCrea, Mr I McCrea, Mr McElduff, Ms McGahan, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mr McKay, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr McMullan, Mr Maskey, Mr Middleton, Mr Milne, Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Murphy, Mr Newton, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr Ó Muilleoir, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mrs Pengelly, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Hazzard, Ms Maeve McLaughlin

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

We now return to amendment No 1.

Amendment No 1 agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 (Duty of Board of Governors to secure measures to prevent bullying)

Amendment No 3 made:

In page 1, line 12, leave out from &quot;among pupils registered&quot; and insert &quot;involving a registered pupil&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

Amendment No 4 made:

In page 1, line 16, leave out &quot;registered pupils&quot; and insert &quot;a registered pupil&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

Amendment No 5 made:

In page 1, line 20, at end insert



(iv) while the pupil is receiving educational provision arranged on behalf of the school and provided elsewhere than on the premises of the school.&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

Amendment No 6 made:

In page 1, line 22, leave out sub-paragraph (i) and insert

&quot;(i) at intervals of no more than 4 years; and&quot;. — [Mr Weir (The Chairperson of the Committee for Education).]

Amendment No 7 made:

In page 2, line 16, at end insert

&quot;(1A) The Board of Governors of a grant-aided school may, to such extent as it thinks reasonable, consider measures to be taken at the school (whether by the Board of Governors, the staff of the school or other persons) with a view to preventing bullying involving a registered pupil at the school which?—


(a) involves the use of electronic communication;


(b) takes place in circumstances other than those listed in subsection (1)(b); and


(c) is likely to have a detrimental effect on that pupil’s education at the school.&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

I will not call amendment No 8, as it is mutually exclusive with amendment No 7, which was made.

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 (Duty to keep a record of incidents of bullying)

Amendment No 9 made:

In page 2, line 26, leave out &quot;or alleged incidents of&quot; and insert &quot;of bullying or alleged&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

Amendment No 10 made:

In page 2, line 31, at end insert



(d) while the pupil is receiving educational provision arranged on behalf of the school and provided elsewhere than on the premises of the school.&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

Amendment No 11 made:

In page 2, line 34, at end insert

&quot;(aa) state the methods of bullying, as defined by section 1;&quot;. — [Mrs Overend.]

Amendment No 12 made:

In page 2, line 36, leave out from &quot;may&quot; to end of line 4 on page 3 and insert

&quot;may, for example, relate to?—


(a) differences of religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, sex, sexual orientation or marital status;


(b) differences between persons with a disability and persons without;


(c) differences between persons with dependants and persons without;


(d) differences between persons based on gender reassignment;


(e) differences between persons based on pregnancy.&quot;. — [Mr O'Dowd (The Minister of Education).]

Amendment No 13 made:

In page 3, line 4, at end insert

&quot;(3A) The Department may by order subject to negative resolution amend subsection (3).&quot;. — [Mr Weir (The Chairperson of the Committee for Education).]

Amendment No 14 not moved.

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 and 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Long title agreed to.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

That concludes the Consideration Stage of the Addressing Bullying in Schools Bill. The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.

The next Item of business —


If Members are leaving the Chamber, they should do so quietly. The Minister of Finance and Personnel needs a lot of attention and order.