Comhairle defends action on bullying as support for petition grows

Stornoway mum Donna Jaffray grew so concerned about bullying issues locally that she created an online poll and petition to campaign for change.
Stornoway mum Donna Jaffray grew so concerned about bullying issues locally that she created an online poll and petition to campaign for change.

A wave of local parent anger over allegations of inadequate handling of bullying at the Nicolson Institute has erupted following the launch of a local petition demanding that ‘the Nicolson Institute take a stronger stance on Bullying’.

And the organiser of the petition is now calling for ‘harsher punishments’ for the bullies.

The petition, which now has nearly 800 signatories, was organised by Stornoway mum Donna Jaffray after she heard numerous allegations of bullying coming from the school and after harrowing videos of alleged incidents of bullying were circulated on social media.

Initially, Donna put together an online poll aimed at parents with children at the school, which showed that of 143 respondents, 142 thought that there was an issue with bullying that needed to be addressed.

The petition went live last week and had more than 600 signatures within the first two hours, with many current and former pupils at the school signing along with concerned parents.

WORRYING COMMENTS

Some current pupils have left worrying comments at the petition site about their experiences of being bullied.

An anonymous comment states: ‘I have children that will be going to this school and a nephew that is being bullied in the school and nothing has been done until it was so bad he ended up in hospital.

This school has a LOT to sort out.’

Another anon contributor wrote: ‘...bullying has affected my child’s life permanently, I feel this is of huge importance. The school offered me a quiet place for MY CHILD to go. Why should he need to hide? But this also starts before secondary. I think awareness of the power and affect of words and actions should be driven into children from the start.’

A current pupil wrote: ‘I am a 6th year at The Nicolson Institute, I know myself this is a serious issue, each time bullying is reported to the school nothing really happens apart from an assembly that’s basically says ‘please stop’...

‘The bullying also gets worse when you report it, because the bullies start picking on you more for ‘being a snitch’. This bullying needs to be taken seriously, and they’re are some parents that need to know that their children are bullying others and do something about it.’

HEARTBREAKING

This week Donna said:  “The comments are very hard to read. When the school knows that pupils are writing them why are they not doing more to combat this?  It’s heartbreaking.

“I would like the school to admit that they have an issue, and do more to stop it. At the moment they [the bullies] know they will get away with it. The school doesn’t do enough.

“Victims are being treated like they are to blame, they are being kept in at breaks or moved to different classes, and the bullies just sit in their classes.”

A new facebook group for the campaign, entitled ‘Uniting Against Bullying’ has now been set-up and has more than 260 members, many of whom are parents of children at the Nicolson Institute.

COUNCIL DENIES INSUFFICIENT ACTION IS BEING TAKEN

But Comhairle officials strongly deny the allegation that insufficient action is being taken and that there is a lack of support for the victims and parents.

The Chair of the Comhairle’s Education Committee, Councillor Angus McCormack, this week issued a statement strongly defending the Comhairle’s approach, saying: “We accept that bullying occurs in schools including our primary and secondary schools.  

“It is regrettable that any pupil experiences bullying whether verbal, physical or online.

“Where bullying occurs, all schools including The Nicolson Institute treat them seriously and address them as rigorously as possible.

“All incidents of bullying and additional support needs are recorded and action taken.

“Response to bullying and other behaviour is constantly under review in the authority and a wide range of support both individual, school based, and authority [based] have and are being considered and commissioned.

“We have, since 2017 provided 24/7, 365 day anonymous and confidential helplines that can be accessed by pupils, parents and anyone else who may be aware or have concerns regarding young people.”

The Chair’s statement concluded: “Where young people have needs which affect their learning, social or emotional development we ensure they and their families have access to a range of services internal or external to the schools.

“If young people or parents are unhappy with the action of the school or the authority, they may make a formal complaint to the Local Authority.  

“If they are dissatisfied with the school or authority response, they may refer their concern to the Ombudsman.

“It is important to recognise that this is not the experience of most of our pupils and I am grateful for the letters of support submitted or messages conveyed to the school in support of all they are doing.

“I know that staff, despite criticism, continue to do their best for our pupils both in the formal curriculum and in the wider range of extra-curricular activities they provide.  

“On this basis, I continue to be impressed with the levels of attainment, attendance and achievements.”

EVERT INCIDENT REPORTED IS DEALT WITH

Donna, who was also bullied at school described her own experience as being “nothing on this level”, and claimed that: “back then it was taken a lot more seriously than it is now.”

The campaigner claims that phoning to make a complaint to the school: “is a waste of time,” and recommends that parents should “sit down and write a letter or a formal email to the Education department and the school. You know then it is being reported.”

But a spokesperson for the Comhairle denied the claims saying: “This is incorrect. Every incident reported is dealt with. The outcome may not be to the satisfaction of some parents, but they are listened to.

“Every parent has or will be given the opportunity to meet with the school, to meet with the Director of Education and Children’s Services or other Senior Officer of the Education Department, and to contact a confidential helpline.”

At the end of last week, the school responded to the petition by issuing a letter detailing the actions taken to combat bullying and outlining the ways in which parents and pupils could report incidents and receive support.

But Donna states that the response of some parents to the letter was to desribe it as “an insult to parents and pupils”.

The letter, issued by the School’s head, contained figures for reports of bullying to the Education Department which suggested that no cases had been reported in the current school year and that only three cases had been reported in the previous year.

A Comhairle spokesperson confirmed that the figures in the letter were for reports to the Department, and clarified the figures, stating that the ‘alleged instances of bullying at the school’ show three cases in the current year.

STEADY RISE IN BULLYING REPORTS

The figures also confirm a steady rise in incidents of bullying being reported to the school, with 39 cases recorded in 2017/2018 and with 26 and 21 cases in the two previous years.

Donna Jaffrey has been invited by the School’s head to a meeting to discuss the situation, and has distanced the campaign from attacks on individual staff and teachers.

She said: “In no way are we blaming any teachers in the Nicolson for what’s happening in our children’s school. We blame the system.

“It’s the system and those in power that are failing our children.

“We fully understand that Teachers are stretched to the limits and trying to do a job that is very hard and very stressing at times.

“We appreciate everything the teachers at the Nicolson do to help our children. And just wanted to stress we aren’t singling out teachers and don’t wish any to feel that we are!”

Among the comments online, one anonymous contributor stated: “This petition must be very demoralising for our teachers. Most of them are doing their best with the resources they have.”

The teacher’s union, the EIS, was approached locally for a comment but none was received at the time of publication.

To find out more about the petition click: HERE

And to see the Uniting against Bullying Facebook page go to: WEBSITE