Daniel Zeichner: On Anti-Bullying Week, let’s come together and choose respect
This week offers schools an opportunity to hold constructive conversations with students about how we treat our peers and own our behaviour, writes Daniel Zeichner
Anti-Bullying Week runs from the 12-16 November, and I am delighted that we have a chance to properly debate it in Westminster Hall on Thursday. Anti-Bullying Week, run by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, gives schools a chance to hold conversations about bullying and how we treat our peers in a constructive way.
In Cambridge, I visit schools most weeks, and they are all working hard to create an environment in which all children feel safe and supported, free from bullying. Despite all the great work that hard-working teachers are doing, it’s fantastic that Anti-Bullying Week provides an opportunity to consider bullying and how we treat each other, and it equips both staff and students to have those conversations which are sometimes difficult to initiate.
Schools are increasingly pressured to focus on exams, with many of them forced to cut down on the subjects that they offer due to funding pressures. They point their attention to the ‘English Baccalaureate’ subjects under Government pressure; the EBacc omits the arts. This can reduce the opportunity for the discussions which arise from studying the arts – how we relate to each other, what kind of society do we want to be? Anti-Bullying Week offers schools the opportunity to engage in these discussions, providing a platform on which children can think further about these very important questions which do not appear on exam papers.
This year, Anti-Bullying Week is themed ‘Choose Respect’. It encourages us to own our behaviour, and to remember that we all have a choice in how we behave; respecting each other is an active choice. In school, we learn how to relate to people who agree with us, and who don’t, from different backgrounds, with different interests – and we take these skills with us to our futures and use them for the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, there is an urgent need to address the disproportionate amount that some groups experience bullying: including disabled children and those with special educational needs, as well as race and faith targeted bullying and looked after children and young carers. By having discussions at school about bullying and how children can work to choose respect, this can be addressed.
Anti-Bullying week engages with 75% of schools in England and reaches over six million children and young people. It engages many charities, youth organisations and schools to reduce bullying of children and young people and is used to share resources and tools as well as raise awareness.
On Thursday 15 November, it is ‘Stop Speak Support’ Cyberbullying Day. With the rise of social media and technology, it’s important for parliamentarians and policy-makers to remember that the playground doesn’t stop after the bell anymore. One in five teenagers have experienced cyberbullying in the last two months, and children who have been cyberbullied are more likely than their peers to be lonely, anxious or depressed.
On Monday 12 November, we are all encouraged to wear odd socks as part of Odd Socks for Anti-Bullying Week to spread awareness. This is a great way of engaging everyone, from students to teachers, to parliamentarians and celebrities. As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bullying, I hear from researchers and campaigners all over the country, looking at environments from schools to prisons – they all consider our experiences as children at school to be important. It’s an honour to be leading the debate on the 14 November on Anti-Bullying Week, and I hope that many MPs can attend to make the case for choosing respect.
Daniel Zeichner is Labour MP for Cambridge and chair of the APPG on Bullying. His Westminster Hall debate is on Thursday 15 November