Wales’ anti-bullying answer may already be here

Bullying by Geralt

Robert Lloyd

Last month, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams AM, launched a consultation on draft anti-bullying guidance.

This is the latest consultation in a long list to contribute to the comprehensive reform of the Welsh education system initiated after the Donaldson Report back in early 2015.

Around 10% of pupils in Wales report being bullied regularly, and that manifests itself mostly in the form of physical and verbal abuse in primary school years.

It is clear to all that schools need more comprehensive guidance when it comes to anti-bullying policies than is currently catered for in the Respecting Others document.

Welsh schools need better assistance from the government than they are getting. So, what can we do?

In 2016, the World Economic Forum reported that our European cousins in Finland had the best education system in the world.

If Wales is to host pupils “aspiring to be the best”, as the Education Secretary suggested in her education action plan, Education in Wales: Our National Mission 2017-2021, where better to look than to our neighbours across the Baltic Sea to share best practice?

The Finnish experience

Finland has a revolutionary, proactive anti-bullying strategy for primary schools that provides not only a strict definition of bullying but also a concrete framework for dealing with bullying, combined with an efficient data collection regime.

It’s called KiVa – an acronym for “Kiusaamista Vastaan”, meaning ‘against bullying’ – a radical scheme that has produced some remarkable results.

The KiVa definition of bullying – a historically weak feature of the government guidance to schools – is simple.

Bullying is physical, emotional, verbal, relational, property, and cyber abuse that is:

  • intentional
  • repeated
  • based on a power differential between the bully and victim (i.e. the victim feels powerless to do anything about the abuse)

Any incident that does not tick these three boxes is not bullying and is dealt with through normal school incident procedures.

Behaviour that does tick those criteria is bullying and is dealt with through the KiVa framework by the KiVa team, comprised of staff and pupils.

Through a series of structured lessons, KiVa provides a focus on how bullying is influenced by those who are not the bully – the bystander – and teaches collective responsibility to enable pupils to spot for themselves when somebody might be being bullied and, most importantly, empowers pupils to intervene appropriately.

The programme also provides rigorous data, enabling schools to monitor properly bullying, and offers a process of mediation to deal with any incidents, all managed through a school KiVa leader from amongst its staff.

The first schools to use KiVa, developed by Professor Christina Salmivalli and colleagues at Turku University, witnessed an incredible 98% improvement in bully victims’ situations and bullying ceased in 86% of reported incidents.

Following a trial in a number of Finnish schools, KiVa was rolled out to over 90% of the country, and in 2017, Prof. Salmivalli was awarded the Finnish Science Award for her pioneering work in this field.)

The Welsh Experiment

In 2012 Bangor University’s Centre for Evidence Based Early Intervention (CEBEI) piloted Finland’s innovative anti-bullying programme in fourteen primary schools across Wales and the results were astonishing.

In one school, prior to the rollout of KiVa, 25% of pupils felt themselves victims of bullying and 9% felt they fit the KiVa definition of a bully. After a single year, the percentage of self-identifying victims fell by 12% to 13%, and bullies by 5% to 4%.

In another school, 22% identified as victims, and 10% bullies. After the implementation, those who felt themselves victims fell to 3% and the percentage of bullies halved.

When asked to rate their experience of KiVa out of 5, teachers gave a mean score of 4.47, and given the nature and content of the programme, it’s not surprising.

On paper, KiVa – which includes lesson plans, activities and online games in both English and Welsh – caters for around 50% of the current Personal and Social Education (PSE) curriculum.

However, having had the opportunity to attend a KiVa training course earlier this year in Pembrokeshire, it became clear to the teaching staff in training that the content, through activities and potential discussion with pupils, could realistically accommodate around 80% of the required curriculum.

The pilot of KiVa in Wales has been successful. Powys Teaching Health Board has funded the rollout of the programme across the local authority, and the Police and Crime Commissioner of Dyfed-Powys has initiated a trial of KiVa in some schools in Pembrokeshire, along with other schools picking up the programme in Clwyd, and the capital, following their trials.

So what next?

Significant hurdles in the overall effectiveness of a scheme like KiVa do exist. Evidence from one school in the north suggests that inconsistency in the delivery of KiVa can quickly lose its benefits if KiVa is not integrated fully in a school’s ethos.

KiVa is not a single event, but a new normal.

Though perhaps more relevant to the consultation, the ultimate challenge is the ability of the KiVa lessons to follow a pupil on the journey from primary to secondary school.

If only a handful of schools in any cluster are KiVa schools and others are not, the shared culture of anti-bullying may be jeopardised when pupils elevate to their cluster’s high school.

That is why it is vital that the government recognises the success of the evidence-based anti-bullying programme, endorses such a radical scheme for the whole of Wales, and doesn’t just rely on guidance resulting in piecemeal progress that is only undone at secondary schools.

It is vital that as many people respond to Kirsty Williams’ consultation as possible with their thoughts on what the anti-bullying guidance should look like come the rollout of the reformed curriculum.

When ticking through the requests for the consultation on ‘key aspects’, KiVa provides for every single subject.

If yours is not a KiVa school, the results speak for themselves, and perhaps you could talk to your child’s local primary school about becoming a KiVa school.

Start the conversation in your community about how we tackle bullying together. In any case – respond to the consultation.

Let’s learn from the lessons of our schools and provide a radical, uniform, proactive rather than reactive, anti-bullying strategy for our young people. Let’s recommend KiVa.

You can find details on the consultation, which closes on the 15th February 2019, here.

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