DESCRIPTION OF THE EXPERIENCE
Period and place in which the experience took place
The events take place during the school year 2010-2011 from November to March, in a 4th year secondary class of technical education, artistic option.
Main actors involved (special focus on the profile of the student)
• The victim: a 15 year-old boy. He is part of the “studious group” of the class; they cannot stand the disturbances any longer. He wants to do things well. He adopted the role of a “righter of wrongs”. He has an acute sense of what can be done and what cannot. He cannot stand injustice. He expects a lot of answers from the adults and nothing happens, he acts awkwardly and puts himself in danger. His physical appearance and the way he speaks indicate lack of assertiveness.
• The bully: a 15 year-old boy. He is part of the “cool group” of the class. It seems he needs to exist. He cannot stand those who think they know better. He is assertive and can present his arguments, although he is not always right. He is trendier. His parents have split up. According to his mother, the father has few contacts (he lives abroad), there is some rejection. She thinks her son is not happy.
• The followers: two other members of the “cool group”.
Description of the factual events
The bully had already been detected as a disturbing pupil and the class was hard to manage. A bad feeling prevailed in the class.
The two groups of the class had challenged each other up for some time. Some pupils were complaining about the bully’s attitude and comments.
One day, an insulting and evocative drawing (caricature with sexual evocation of the bullied pupil) circulated in the study room.
Then, there were remarks and teasing addressed in particular to the bullied pupil who was some sort of representative of the studious group.
Eventually, the bullied pupil reacted during a workshop (where each pupil needs to pay attention in order to carry out his/her project). The bully’s group was making animal noises and disturbing the course. A confrontation between the two pupils took place. The bullied pupil eventually took the bully at the throat and knocked his head on the bench.
Actions carried out to identify the causes of the students difficulties
The school mediation service of Wallonia helped the victim find his place in the class group.
Actions carried out to solve the situation and the problems encountered
• With regard to the bully (supported by two followers), a context of constant disturbance of the courses prevailed. This pupil had already got a disciplinary contract (a form of probation) because of his behaviour in the class. This contract included “to respect classmates”. He was thus regularly evaluated.
When the unpleasant remarks were heard and reported by the teachers, they were punished.
He received 4 hours of detention for the insulting drawing he denied to be the author of.
• The discipline headmistress is immediately informed of the brawl between pupils and a report is written down by the teacher.
She informs the parents and receives the victim’s father for a clarification.
The two students are immediately punished: the bully gets 4-hour detention for having disturbed the workroom and the victim gets one day suspension, the next day, for his violent act.
• The discipline headmistress also organises mediation between both students (with advice from the school mediator who is present in the school). Two days later, a one-week school trip starts, and the school does not wish to exclude the two students.
During the mediation, the students express their feelings, their needs as well as solutions to exit the crisis. A “gentleman agreement” is concluded and signed by both. It includes the respect classmates and the work conditions in the class.
Both students will take part in the school trip and there will be no more incidents.
• The victim, who seemed fragile and who faced difficulties to integrate in the class, was supported by the School Mediation Service of Wallonia in order to help him find a place in the class group and react in a way that is suited and accepted by the group. There were among other role-playing games.
• Both pupils failed at the end of the year. The bully implied he would change school the next year but he finally came back. The bullied student also stayed in the school.
They were put in two different classes. They are both succeeding. The staff meeting noticed an improvement in the behaviour and the integration of both pupils.
• A request was issued to the psycho-medico-social centre after students of the class complained about the lack of seriousness and unpleasant remarks of some other students. The service proposed to listen to the victims and to try to reply to some of those attitudes. This proposition was not followed.
• The school mediation service also advised the discipline headmistress on how to fix the problem.
Support received by fellow students, colleagues, school management and parents
• The parents were informed by their children and by the headmistress during the fight. They were called for clarification. The victim’s father stressed that he too had relation difficulties in his work. The parents accepted the sanctions and mediation. The bully’s parents did not press charge after the fight.
• Between the students, there was a bad work atmosphere and constant distrust. After the fight, the atmosphere improved, or at least no more events were reported until the end of the year.
The students reacted more to the drawing and the fight (that chocked them). They were also affected by the atmosphere in the class and the disrespect of working conditions. They regularly complained to the headmistress about the bully’s behaviour (noisy, annoying, disruptive…). According to them, the bully was dysfunctional, especially regarding work and discipline.
• The teachers mainly experienced the situation regarding the bully’s misbehaviour toward them. The student was on probation, they had their eyes on him.
The class worked badly. Three disruptive students, including the bully, had been identified. The management and headmistress had been solicited during a class council especially summoned because of those three students. These had to attend it and had a disciplinary contract. All the teachers of the class council were concerned and regularly attended the council to evaluate the contracts.
• The management knew about the situation and received regular information on its development. It had endorsed the headmistress’ decisions and organised special class councils.
Strengths and weaknesses of the experience
It is indeed a case of bullying (various aggressions, meaning to harm, during several months). This situation is emblematic of the victim who becomes, in his turn, an aggressor; a victim who bursts out and commits something mad.
• The one-day suspension for the victim seems strict, but schools are very reactive to violence. Violence cannot be legitimated.
• The call to external services to support the victim was adequate.
• The bully’s disciplinary contract worked more or less well, in spite of its frequent evaluation. But radical change cannot be expected just because of the contract. It is a system to help, and one cannot ignore the things that improve and go well.
• The bully allowed himself some misbehaviour in certain contexts and was insufficiently called to order, which prompted the victim to “take responsibility”.
• The one-day suspension of the victim was disproportionate compared to the 4 hour detention for the bully. Since both students committed a serious fault, they could be expected to have received a same punishment.
• It is a pity the management did not act with the whole class group to “mark the occasion”, remind the school rules: everyone’s right to security and well-being.
• The bully did not show remorse. He tends to act like a victim (after the fight) and to minimise his own acts. He expressed some regrets and apologised. It did not look like a real re-assessment. Working with this student would have been interesting.
• Geographical elements participated in the event.
It took place during a 4 hour workshop, which has a different rhythm than a lecture. There is no break, some listen to music while working … The students have to do a drawing. They are left to their own device and manage their work.
The classroom is not large, there are one-way glasses, artificial light and bad acoustics (lot of resonance). Any disturbance bothers everyone.
There had already been three incidents in that room, but it was impossible to change because the school has a limited number of buildings.
• There is no global policy conducted by the school on bullying. There are few real bullying events. There are mostly simple quarrels. The school replies to them case by case and regularly calls the psycho-medico-social centre and mediation services.