DESCRIPTION OF THE SUCCESS STORY
Main actors involved
All the girls of the class. Seven bullies (boys). The discipline headmistress.
When, where and how the story took place
The events take place in a third year class, made up of 18 students (14-15 year old girls and boys).
Girls are bullied from the beginning of term, every one of them is concerned, one after the other: inappropriate gestures (jabbing with the tip of a compass, breaking material, hitting with a ruler, nudges, touching breasts …) inappropriate remarks, vexations (putting them down as objects, “you’re ugly” …), threats (“gimme your phone, otherwise…”).
In the class, no one speaks a word. The whole group adapted itself to this way of working and seems to consider it as “normal”.
With time, the girls’ results drop (although they work better than the boys). The teachers notice there is a problem but cannot identify it, because girls deny for fear of reprisal.
Soon before the Easter holidays, a girl “falls apart” with the discipline headmistress and explains the girls of her class are going through hell since the beginning of term.
The discipline headmistress summons the girls. She has them express their sufferings and make them understand the facts cannot be tolerated.
She informs the parents and asks them to talk with their daughters.
Some parents send her mails completing the descriptions given at school. Others wish to press charges.
The headmistress does not dissuade them, but asks them a delay to impose the necessary sanctions to the bullies.
She receives the boy one by one. She makes them write their side of the story and make them realise the seriousness of their acts. “Why do they behave with the girls in a way they would not admit with their sisters?”
During a discussion, one of the boys started crying. He admitted having done to the girls what was done to him in primary school. He was suffering, he followed the others for fear of being bullied. He wanted to make amends and confirm in writing all the bullying acts.
The discipline headmistress then summoned the boys’ parents to inform them of the facts and sanctions.
During discussions, some parents try to minimise the facts, refuting their sons’ realisation: “you’re going too far, the girls are not completely innocent either …” For those parents, it is difficult to understand their sons’ acts. Maybe they were scared of the charges.
The discipline headmistress then decides on a sanction/reparation. A three-day expulsion from school that will be used for a work of responsibility and reconstruction: understanding the acts committed, respecting others, writing apologies and signing a disciplinary contract. One of the boys will also be bound to material reparation: reconstituting a pencil case.
The disciplinary contract will be written with the participation of the boy and handed over to the parents. It states: the rules of the school, how to improve social skills, the follow-up of the boy (once a week until the exams), the sanctions in case of failure to respect the rule.
Some parents refuse the three-day expulsion, among other the mother of the boy who had also been bullied.
The classroom was rearranged and the seats were assigned by the headmistress (boys on the front and girls at the back). Teachers received surveillance instructions.
Bullying lasted seven months, from September to March.
Reasons why the story can be considered as a success.
• One of the victims could express the problem.
• The girls resumed normal schooling. They moved forward but did not forget. The events had no impact on their results.
• The boys realised the seriousness of their acts. Since then, they have excellent relationships with the headmistress and inform her of what happens between students. They stayed in the same school.
• The headmistress processed the complained as soon as she was informed.
• Sanction came along with reparation.
Starting point of the student
• The victims deny. They minimise the facts; they do not seem to realise their seriousness. The situation is felt as “normal”.
The girls did not interpose when another one was bullied, because they knew their turn would come. They feared retaliation.
Their school results drop.
If one of them eventually “cracks” it is only because she felt excluded from the group, for she express her disapproval more and more often regarding certain acts.
• The bullies wanted to dominate the girls, but without being “really” aware of it. It was their harem, their fiefdom!
One of the bullies, who had also been bullied when he was younger, fell apart when he was caught and wanted to repair. For the others: great awareness, not to let things go when one knows there is suffering …
Possible explanation of the success
The headmistress’ good reaction:
• Quick action as soon as she was aware of the facts and continuous dialogue with parents to avoid “getting carried away”.
• She seems to have a firm and benevolent position. She does not react under the influence of emotion, she takes time. She meets both the victims and bullies. She decides on the sanction with the bullies.
The bullies were not expelled. The school kept an educational approach: disciplinary contracts, days of expulsion at school dedicated to reparation.
• Victims and bullies were followed
The girls were followed once a week by the headmistress until the exams at the end of the year.
They were listened to, understood, advised. Awareness, reminding certain values. They then noticed things were getting better: no reprisal, immediate change of attitude from the boys, better atmosphere in the class. The girls did not want to be followed by the CPMS.
Like the girls, the boys were followed once a week by the headmistress until the exams.
• The homeroom teachers had frequent contacts with the headmistress to discuss the evolution of the class.
• The discipline headmistress’ decision were supported by the management, which organised:
A special class council the next hour (the sanctions were explained and advice given to the teachers),
An immediate change of room (those students were in a confined room; proximity was greater than usual).
• Following this problem, the school also decided to work on self-confidence, in order to prevent certain risk behaviours.
Interaction between the various actors involved
There were many interactions between the various school actors:
• All the parents of the class were informed and followed by the headmistress. Some parents of the boys minimised the facts. The word “harcèlement” (bullying) was difficult to understand because it had been used for little time in schools. Other parents did not accept the three-day expulsion. Students were still punished and parents still trusted the school.
Some parents of the girls wanted to press charge. They eventually renounced. They were satisfied with the discipline headmistress’ sanctions.
• Teachers and homeroom teachers were informed immediately and had frequent contacts with the headmistress.
• Victims and bullies were followed for several months by the headmistress.
• The school launched a reflection on self-confidence and on the establishment of a prevention device.
• The CPMS was alerted of the facts and of possible requests for help. It participated in the reflection on prevention and self-confidence.
• The situation was used for exchanges within families.
Transferability potential of the experience
This experience prompts the following recommendations:
• Parents are primordial partners in the implementation and success of measures. Therefore it is important to maintain dialogue with them.
• The reaction time of the school, listening to the request, and leaving room for emotion help solving problems and limiting its negative impact.
• Setting up a prevention device and awareness for the whole school staff on the problem and on what they can do are primordial to fight school bullying. In the situation described, bullying lasted much too long. The school had no prevention device, the teachers noticed there was a problem but could not identify it.
Since then, the school thought about setting up a “trustworthy adult” students can turn to (the adult vouches for the well-being and security at school, people know he will act).
• Working with the whole class group when the events take place within it seems important. One can regret the school did not call psycho-social agents:
to work on group-dynamics (the number of bullies, almost half the class, certainly helped repetition of the facts and amplified the girls’ fear of reprisal);
to work on the question of bullying taking into account the question of gender, which is prominent here.
• It is important to carry out a reconstruction work for the bullies as well as the victims. The sanction is just part of the answer, it is insufficient, or even counterproductive if it is not understood. It is essential that the bully understand why his behaviour was inappropriate and find alternatives.