Stand Up to Bullying Campaign

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th September 2016.

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Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Scottish National Party

I thank Fulton MacGregor for bringing the subject of bullying to the chamber. Let me be absolutely clear that bullying of any kind is completely unacceptable and, when it happens, we all have a responsibility to address it. We need to intervene to deal with it quickly and effectively.

Before we talk about what is being done to address bullying, it is important to remind us all of the positive lives and contributions of young people. The latest behaviour in Scottish schools research shows that the overwhelming majority of children in Scotland’s schools are generally well behaved; an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report tells us that Scottish students are resilient; and further research from the health behaviour in Scottish schools survey tells us that Scottish young people report high life satisfaction.

Nevertheless, we must make sure that children and young people who are affected by bullying are supported effectively. A number of speakers have spoken in particular about the impact that bullying can have on children’s and young people’s mental health. That is one reason why the Government is bringing forward a 10-year strategy for children’s and adolescents’ health and wellbeing, which will focus on physical and mental health. The fact that we have a dedicated mental health minister in the Government demonstrates our strong commitment in the area.

Our document “A National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland’s Children and Young People” has children’s rights at its centre, and it provides a focus for all anti-bullying work across Scotland. The document makes it clear that, as well as intervening when bullying happens, we need to tackle the root cause and help to change negative views and poor perceptions so that we can prevent bullying from happening in the first place.

In recent years, Scotland has seen legislative and policy changes that have put greater focus on supporting our children’s and young people’s wellbeing, which is why we are refreshing our anti-bullying guidance. In that, we are supported by key stakeholders, including respectme, Scotland’s anti-bullying service for children and young people, which the Government established and which we fund to provide support across all Scotland’s local authorities and schools.

The Government believes that there is no place in Scotland for prejudice or discrimination and that everyone deserves to be treated fairly. We must continue unrelentingly to tackle prejudice and discrimination and to promote equality and diversity. That work begins early, in schools. The refresh of the national approach to anti-bullying will be clearer about the impact of prejudice-based bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, and how schools and youth organisations can respond appropriately to it.

Health and wellbeing are at the core of the school curriculum, and relationships, sexual health and parenthood education is, in turn, key to health and wellbeing education. In 2014, we published guidance that clearly states how important it is that relationships, sexual health and parenthood education addresses diversity and reflects issues relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex young people—or children with LGBTI parents—such as same-sex marriage and hate-crime reporting.

Annie Wells asked about the work that will be taken forward. The Government will continue to work with a range of organisations to ensure that schools address the important issues that LGBTI young people face, and we will ensure that teachers have the skills, knowledge and confidence to embed inclusive approaches in their schools.

Through addressing prejudice-based bullying and promoting an inclusive approach to relationships, sexual health and parenthood education, children will learn about tolerance, respect and equality, which will help to address and prevent prejudice. Moreover, the recently published “Delivering Excellence and Equity in Scottish Education: A Delivery Plan for Scotland” confirmed our commitment to a review of initial teacher education programmes. That will ensure that appropriate detail on equality is provided across the primary and secondary sectors. Working with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, more support for teachers on equality issues is provided through career-long professional learning.

It is vital that our refreshed anti-bullying policy is informed by the views and experiences of children, including the more than 8,000 children and young people who responded to respectme’s 2014 survey. Of the children who told us that they had experienced bullying, the vast majority knew the person who was bullying them, whether online or offline. In fact, young people do not refer to bullying online as cyberbullying—bullying is bullying wherever it takes place, and we must remember that the online world is part and parcel of our children’s and young people’s lives.

That fact gets to the heart of the point that a number of speakers made about the attitude that people should just turn off the computer or not go to a particular website. First of all, that misses the point that we should not put the onus on the victim rather than the perpetrator to address their behaviour. It also fundamentally misunderstands the importance that access to the internet and social media often has for young people. We must do all that we can to ensure that they are safe, resilient and equipped to respond to the challenges and opportunities that being a young person today brings.

Fulton MacGregor highlighted the rise in online bullying. The Government is committed to making the internet a safer place for children and young people. We want them to enjoy the internet and all that it has to offer. We also want them to stay in control and know what to do and who to go to if they feel at risk. That is why we have committed to refreshing our internet safety action plan and linking it with our strategies on digital participation and cyberresilience so that appropriate frameworks of training, support and information are in place for professionals and parents as well as children and young people.

Stewart Stevenson made an important point on the role of social media providers in relation to the bullying that can often take place on their platforms. Those providers, many of which are multibillion-dollar companies, need to ensure that the users of their platforms are safe in the interactions that they undertake and that any behaviour that risks encouraging bullying or other forms of harassment is stamped down on as soon as possible. Enough evidence exists to suggest that the response by the providers is often at best sluggish and, at worst, non-existent. They need to do more to tackle that.

Elaine Smith rightly highlighted the dangers that can exist for children and young people in the online world. However, it is also important to remember that the internet is a fundamental part of the lives of children and young people today and can be a fantastic source of education and entertainment. It is often also the first place to which they go to talk to their friends and, indeed, to meet new friends. I encourage young people, while being cognisant of the risks that exist, to embrace the internet’s huge potential for expanding their horizons.

Like, I am sure, every member present, I want a Scotland where young people can enjoy all the positive aspects that new technology and social media bring without the fear of being bullied or exploited and where young people form healthy relationships and value diversity. I want a Scotland where our children and young people can grow up in a safe environment in which their rights and needs are respected and protected and a Scotland where every child and young person is supported to be who they want to be, is treated equally, enjoys equal chances and choices in all aspects of their lives and is valued for the contribution that they make to our society and communities.

I thank again Fulton MacGregor for bringing the debate to the chamber and all speakers for their contributions. We all have a role to play in the matter and I am sure that we will all continue to work together to ensure that our children’s lives are as safe as they can be.

Meeting closed at 17:32.