Like most people, I was shocked and sickened by recent images of violent incidents in our schools.
I have also been saddened by some of the distressing personal accounts of bullying that pupils and parents have related to The Courier.
To be absolutely clear – bullying of any kind, in any circumstances, is never acceptable and it must be addressed quickly wherever it happens.
The Courier deserves credit for highlighting this important issue and I would like to pay tribute to the courage of those who came forward to share their experiences.
In any conversation about bullying, there will be those who say that it has always existed, that it is somehow just a fact of school life. I will never accept that.
So what can we do, and what are we doing, to address bullying?
The Scottish Government has national anti-bullying guidance – Respect for All. It is focused on prevention and early intervention and it sets out the importance of working with children and young people to address underlying behaviours and of nurturing a school culture where everyone is respected.
Online bullying ‘scourge’
It also covers online bullying. This is a scourge that wasn’t around when I was at school and which we all know can have a devastating impact on those who encounter it.
All schools are expected to follow the guidance. They are also expected to follow our national approach to monitoring and recording bullying incidents, to respond appropriately to such incidents and to make sure that young people who experience bullying get the support they need.
Addressing bullying, however, requires a team effort. The Scottish Government sits on an advisory group which includes representatives from trades unions, local authorities, teaching associations, parents and carers. We all work together to look at how relationships and behaviour in schools can be improved.
Anti-bullying guidance update coming soon
The group considers approaches that are evidence based. New evidence emerges over time, so we must update our approaches when it is right to do so.
With that in mind, the Scottish Government has committed to refreshing the national approach to anti-bullying later this year.
In addition to this work, we also support a range of services who are working to address bullying.
We have fully funded “respectme”, Scotland’s anti-bullying service, since its inception in 2007. In 2022-23, we will provide the service with over £373,000 to continue its important work supporting adults working with children and young people to give them the practical skills and confidence to deal with all types of bullying behaviour.
We also provide £115,000 per annum to NSPCC to provide confidential advice and information to children and young people about bullying or any other issues.
All children and young people should be able to go to school feeling safe, respected and ready to learn.
I would like to reassure pupils, parents and teachers that we take all forms of bullying extremely seriously and that we will continue to do all we can to address it.
Dunfermline SNP MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville is Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.