John West-Burnham

Educational Leadership Development

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This piece is written from the perspective of someone who was an overweight teenager with a severe stammer, a strange name and an odd accent. I was never the victim of physical bullying – rather the insidious mimicking and ridicule that accompanied many lessons and social situations. It is the emotional impact of bullying that really lasts and scars. The problem is that bullying never really goes away –at best it is manifested in a defensive caution in certain circumstances, at worst the deliberate avoidance of some situations. What one learns very quickly is that almost anyone is a potential bully – the veneer of appropriate behaviour can be very thin. What follows is an attempt to clarify and define certain key issues in the debate around bullying.

It is probably the case that the vast majority of bullying incidents never go reported. There sometimes seems to be a culture in Britain that victims, of sexual violence, bullying and various forms of discrimination, are often partly to blame for being a victim. It is almost as if being vulnerable in some respect is an invitation to violence. It is worth clarifying from the outset that bullying is violence – physical or emotional; it represents the deliberate and systematic abuse of power by one person or several against another. And yet it is still considered appropriate by some to diminish this violence as ‘high spirits’, ‘play’ or inevitable behaviour in social environments like schools and workplaces.


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