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Final Report - Working with young people to understand bullying and self-exclusion from school 08.10.19.pdf (1.39 MB)

Working with young people to understand bullying and self-exclusion from school

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posted on 2023-07-26, 16:57 authored by Niamh O'Brien, Anna Dadswell
1. Executive summary 1.1 Background In England, over 93,000 11-15 year olds are without school provision citing bullying as either a primary or secondary reason (Brown et al., 2011). However, the experiences and support needs of these young people are unknown. This study sought to find out from young people themselves, the reasons behind their own self-exclusion and the possible supports that need to be in place for other young people at mainstream school who might be suffering from bullying. 1.2 Participants All study participants were attending a Red Balloon Learner Centre: a charity providing educational/therapeutic support to young people who self-exclude from mainstream education because of severe bullying or other trauma. Founded in 1996, Red Balloon has four Centres, based in houses in Cambridge, Norwich, Harrow and Reading. It also has an online provision called Red Balloon of the Air which is supported by three satellite Centres in Cambridge, Norfolk and Chelmsford Essex. These are places where the children receiving education and therapy online can go for community based face-to-face activities weekly. Using participatory methodology, we conducted two phases of research. In phase one, we worked with young people in Chelmsford (previously in Braintree), to develop the research questions and in phase two we took these questions to the wider Red Balloon community and spoke to young people about their experiences using the focus group method. All young people provided their own consent to participate and parents/carers were made aware of the study through participant information sheets. 1.3 Findings Anxiety underpinned self-exclusion due to bullying but a number of factors led to this anxiety including: • Young people’s perceptions of their friends: “…I thought they were my friends, but they were just fake people that just wanted to hurt me…” (Female, FG1) • Overall support structures: “The teachers don’t do anything. It even got to a point where we were complaining so much, where they would just put me in isolation as well.” (Female, FG2) “That was a tricky time for me because I didn’t really trust anybody else enough to tell them how I felt about certain things, and that was when I was self-harming.” (Male, FG1) “….and then I had, like, I think the biggest meltdown ever, I think, I’ve ever had in my life, and, yes, that’s when everything came out…” (Female, FG1) • Institutional and contextual factors: The physical size of their schools, including the building being ‘too big’ as well as the numbers of students caused feelings of intimidation for some: “…when I was in mainstream, it was just too much, because obviously you get big classes, and you get kids doing stuff with kids, and teachers just not listening, or just making you feel like you don’t want to go to a big school.” (Female, FG3) Young people told us it was the build-up of the above factors that led to their gradual withdrawal from school life and consequently their self-exclusion from school: “ day you’re at school, fine and then the next you’re at home, too scared to move or go in. It’s such a gradual slow thing that you don’t see it coming.” (Female FG4) We asked the young people about anything that would have made their life easier while they were at mainstream school and three themes emerged as recommendations: • Awareness of changes in behaviour: In acknowledging that teachers have large demands on their time and given school size and student numbers, the young people suggested that school staff should try to notice changes in behaviour, which might indicate a student is struggling: “Losing concentration in lessons… just forgetting or constantly making mistakes…” (Female, FG4) • Promoting a feeling of security: The young people reflected that the use of ‘timeout’ rooms or ‘isolation’ was not effective in promoting a feeling of safety for bullied students. Instead, they suggested “a supervised quiet space” (Female, FG4) where anxious students could go to and feel safe. • Promotion of empathy among and between students. Young people suggested raising feelings of safety through practical approaches including assemblies and marketing to raise bullying awareness and promote empathy and compassion. “….they could find a scenario, like find a YouTube clip or something, put it on the screen. Then people will think even more, “That could happen to my friend.” Then speak up.” (Female, FG3) 1.4 Conclusion There is growing interest in understanding bullying and self-exclusion and how to tackle it. Indeed, the findings from this research demonstrate the wealth of knowledge that young people with experience of bullying and self-exclusion have to share. Their knowledge and insight goes beyond that in the current literature and provides a strong rationale for involving young people in further research into the matter in order to develop support that better fits the needs of bullied young people and reduce the incidence of self-exclusion.


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Anglia Ruskin University

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Chelmsford, UK

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  • eng

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  • Project Report

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Faculty of Health, Education, Medicine & Social Care/Education and Social Care

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