Covid-19 school cancellations ‘boosted opportunities for bullying’ 

Covid school cancellations have boosted opportunities for bullying that schools won’t have been able to tackle because of their closed doors, a Dáil committee hears today.

nd anti-bullying procedures need to be urgently updated, eight years since they were published, because society and the educational landscape have “changed almost beyond recognition” in that time.

That’s the view of the incoming President of the the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD).

Rachel O’Connor, Principal of of Ramsgrange Community School since 2013 when the standard procedures came in, says her body now wants “an urgent review” because they are no longer fit for purpose.

“Look at the last 15 months and the overnight move to the online space — it has been far more difficult to monitor bullying and bullying behaviour,” she says in an opening statement to the Education Committee.

Schools “have had to play catch-up in terms of online etiquette, rules and guidelines,” she says, pointing that the 2013 regime makes schools responsible for dealing with any negative impact within their gates of bullying behaviour that occurs elsewhere — such as in cyberspace.

“Bullying that occurs online space and out of school gives no boundaries to the remit of the responsibility of the school,” Ms O’Connor says.

“That is very large task and very different to what schools faced in 2013.”

Schools need to be adequately resourced to face the modern-challenges of preventing bullying and promoting positive behaviour, with parents needing help also to “identify, call out and tackle the issue,” she says.

“The fallout from Covid, the move to the online space and the impact on mental health has exposed a lot of shortcomings.

“The reality is that schools can only plug the gap in terms of a lack of intervention supports for so long.”

There are cases where expert treatment and intervention is essential, but schools do not have the resources to tackle these situations, the NAPD says. Their focus should be on prevention rather than intervention.

The national organisation is “gravely concerned about access to youth mental health supports,” Ms O’Connor says.

“I can speak about the South East, where there is lack of expert intervention and supports outside school. There is one full-time child and adolescent psychiatrist position in Wexford that has yet to be filled for several years now.

“The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) is under-resourced and failing to meet the needs of vulnerable students.”

She says she is aware of colleagues who have had cases referred through a GP after self-harming, suicidal ideation, or threats of violence to themselves and others. But they have been told there is a waiting list of between eight and twelve months to be seen.

“I am also aware of three parents in last 12-18 months who have resorted to bringing their children to A & E and refused to leave until their children were prioritised to be seen,” Ms O’Connor will tell TDs and Seantors.

But even when students have been through CAMHS process and received a diagnosis there is no follow up in terms of school-based support.

“In such circumstances many must turn to Pieta House for help.”

CAMHS, in a letter, states that It has no expertise in education, and a determination as to a child’s care or educational needs can only be made by the relevant professionals in NEPS, the National Education Psychological Service.

But the new national President of NAPD says: “Over the past two years, in my own school, we have had no NEPS service as our psychologist has been on maternity leave.”

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals says: “Some are in denial about the extent of bullying in our schools.

“Bullying occurs in all schools – the measure of the school is how it responds to bullying issues when they occur. NAPD has been to the fore in dealing with this issue whether it is in the form of bullying or cyberbullying. The Association has conducted several polls on the issue.

“NAPD’s view is that a positive school climate where there is a culture of dialogue between students and staff to create a ‘telling’ school is the best way to inhibit bullying in our schools.”

It favours the use of restorative practices to repair the fractured relationship between bully and victim, where practical.

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