by Maureen McTaggart School management systems can handle reports about bullying but until now there hasn’t been one specifically designed to audit students on bullying and related issues – and then initiate support and action. But software publisher Birchfield Interactive worked with the charity Beatbullying to mark National Anti-bullying Week by producing a new secure online service. "Assesswise to beat bullying" links secondary students with their teachers in a systematic attempt to tackle the problem, and the results will be on show at BETT 2009 in Olympia, London. Although there is good anti-bullying work going on in many schools, a recent Ofsted survey of children revealed that 44 per cent of them had been bullied in the past year. Add to that the tendency that schools often admit they have no idea the extent of the problem and there is cause for concern.
Assesswise to beat bullying combines Birchfield's extensive experience with risk assessment software and Beatbullying's deep understanding of bullying and the models of prevention that is has developed through work in six London boroughs. It employs surveys to encourage students to respond to statements about all aspects of their lives. Measuring their experiences, teachers and other staff can identify pupils at risk of bullying and take action quickly. The survey poses 21 questions (whittled down from an original 45) to “assess the risk versus resilience factors” by asking students how they feel about relationships, friendships, home life and their journey to and from school. It's geared to nuances and can pick up on issues that some people might not notice in conversation.
It is currently been tested in nine schools across the Bradford and Airedale district and the idea is to provide an accurate audit trail to record what action has been taken and track progress. Other local authorities are interested.
'A powerful and effective method of picking up on any issues troubling young people'
Sam Preston, strategy manager for the National Healthy Schools Programme at Education Bradford says they have supported the development of Assesswise to beat bullying because proactive intervention is crucial if students are to enjoy school life and achieve their full potential. “We believe it will provide Bradford schools with a powerful and effective method of picking up on any issues troubling young people and enable timely, targeted support. This tool also has tremendous potential to help schools align the Every Child Matters agenda with their school improvement planning and build solid evidence of impact, improvement and better outcomes for our students.”
As the pupils work through the survey they get immediate advice and guidance and the opportunity to report instances of bullying. Once it has been completed, the computer program calculates the estimated risk and provides a report based on a "traffic light" system. By creating a permanent record of all interventions, which nominated staff can access and track throughout each pupil's school career, there is continuity even if there are staff changes. Some evaluations have seen a 39 per cent reduction in the incidence of bullying.
John Quinn, development director at Beatbullying, says: “Recording incidents of bullying is vital, but to reduce the problem, schools must understand why and how pupils might be at risk, and how teachers should respond. What is so crucial about this tool is that it enables teachers to use the risk assessment information to ensure that the appropriate intervention is made to tackle the problem successfully.”
The system is available at any time via the internet, so surveys can be completed in class or at home, even via mobile phone and PDAs - any technology with a compatible browser. This means that even when students are moving between locations or on vocational courses they can feel secure that they can report any troubling issues.
“For schools to stamp out bullying and raise standards, it is imperative that teachers are given the right tools to identify the risk level of each student, thus ensuring that strategies are appropriately tailored”, says Jon Case, Birchfield’s CEO. A snapshot is not sufficient. Teachers need an in-depth understanding of the kinds of bullying young people experience, how this makes them feel and what drives bullies. Early indicators about why bullies are targeting other children are essential.”
Assesswise 4 Bullying costs £2,999 for a school site licence (reductions are possible for small schools) and a percentage goes back to Beatbullying to support the charity's activities. It is also available to schools on a 30-day, 30-uses free trial.
or Anthony Evans at Birchfield Interactive