Monday, August 10, 2015

The Conversation

Is your child less likely to be bullied in a private school?

Karyn Healy, The University of Queensland
The most recent Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Australia (HILDA) survey data revealed that twice as many parents of public school students reported their children had been bullied compared to private school parents.
Is it really the case that more bullying occurs in public schools? And should this affect a parent’s choice of school for their child?

Do these results reflect what’s happening?

HILDA tracked a sample of 13,000 households in New South Wales between 2001 and 2012. The data on schools comes from 2012 when participants were asked a range of educational questions.
Households with school-aged children were asked whether or not their child was bullied at school. A higher proportion of parents of children in state schools reported their child was bullied compared with private schools. The differences were greatest for high schools, with 22% of parents at state schools reporting their child was bullied, compared to 15% in Catholic and 11% in other private schools.
So is this information likely to be accurate? There is no reason to suggest the sample is not representative of the NSW population. However, given the question about bullying is based on one question only (with no definition of bullying apparent in the report), it would be useful to draw comparisons with other research.


Do bullies discriminate by sector? Yum9me/Flickr, CC BY

There is actually very little research comparing bullying rates at private versus state schools. This is probably because schools are unlikely to agree to take part in research that makes direct comparisons between schools on such a sensitive topic.
There is, however, a similar population sample survey conducted by the US government. In this study, parents whose children attended state schools (29%) also reported higher rates of bullying than parents whose children attended private schools (22%). So does this mean an individual child is less likely to be bullied at a private school?
Parents want the best for their child and are attracted to schools that report good data for students on academic, behavioural and social outcomes. But whether your child will have the same experience as children who have gone before depends on whether the results reported are the result of what happens at the school or whether they are inherent to the sample of children who attend the school.

Misinterpretation of statistics

A team of New Zealand researchers conducted some interesting research on individual and school factors affecting students’ academic success at school and later success in tertiary education.
They found the success of a school can be judged by educational programs but not by the demographics of who attends the school. Given general school-leaving results reflect both demography and education programs, they are not a valid measure of a school’s educational quality.
Students’ academic achievement is influenced not only by the educational program a school offers – but by what the individual student brings to the school in terms of genetic capability, family support and prior learning.
Almost all state schools are required by law to accept all students in their catchment area. Private schools are not bound by this requirement. Private schools attract a selective population of students whose parents can afford the fees and who are conscientious enough to have enrolled their child many years in advance.
Most private schools also have enrolment applications that exceed their quota, so they can screen for academic ability and behaviour. These schools do not end up with a representative sample of students (and neither do the minority of state schools that have merit entry).
It is therefore a fallacy that we can deduce the relative benefit schools can provide for our child by simply comparing outcome data across schools.

More at-risk minorities in state schools

There is no research to my knowledge that examines the differences in effectiveness of private or state schools in preventing or addressing bullying. However, we do know that private schools start with different populations of students from state schools.
Not surprisingly, the HILDA report shows that family income and the proportion of parents holding university degrees are highest in non-Catholic private schools and lowest in state schools; state schools also have a higher proportion of single parents.


There are more at-risk minorities in state schools. Beckywithasmile/Flickr, CC BY

The greater diversity of students at state and private schools results in state schools educating more students at risk of being bullied. Several demographic factors on which state and private schools differ have been found to be relevant to the risk of a child being bullied.
Children with a disability are much more likely to be victims of bullying and violence at school than other students, as are children enrolled in special education classes.
Parents’ educational level has also been found to discriminate bullied from non-bullied children. Children whose father is absent (likely to be more often the case in single-parent families) are also at greater risk of victimisation.
This suggests that the differences in victimisation between private and state schools may not be due to a higher level of victimisation across all state school students; rather they may reflect a higher proportion of a minority of children who are frequently victimised.
The 2015 Productivity Commission report also provides evidence that a much higher proportion of at-risk students attend state rather than private schools.
In 2013, 84% of Indigenous students and 76% of students with a disability attended state schools. Nationally in 2013, the proportion of students with disability was significantly higher in state schools (6.2%) than in private schools (3.6%).
Around 10% of children in Australia are bullied on a daily basis. For these frequently bullied children, victimisation tends to be chronic over time. It can continue even when children change schools, which includes crossing from primary to middle or secondary school contexts.
In a study at the Parenting and Family Support Centre, where making a fresh start at a new school was part of an intervention for some of the children, there were at least as many successful transitions for children moving from private to state schools as for children moving from state to private schools. What was more important was the ability of the child to fit in and make friends at the new school.

So is a child less likely to be bullied at a private school?

Although more parents from state schools report their child is bullied than do parents from private schools, this could result from the higher proportion of at-risk students who attend state schools. Therefore we cannot conclude that an individual child will be less likely to be bullied if they attend a private school.
There is bullying at all schools. A number of factors impact a child’s risk of being targeted for bullying. These include school management, the child’s social and emotional skills, support from friends and the parenting they receive.
Children’s friendships at school are an important protective factor against bullying. So whether your child already has good friends or is likely to be able to make good friends at a school is an important factor in choosing a school for your child.
Supportive family relationships help protect children against the emotional consequences of bullying at school, so families should take lifestyle factors such as the financial burden of school fees and long travel times into account when choosing a school.
The Conversation
Karyn Healy is Program Coordinator (Psychologist), Resilience Triple P program Parenting and Family Support Centre at The University of Queensland.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015




The Conversation

7 March 2015, 6.16am AEDT

What should parents do if their child is bullied at school?

If a child is being bullied at school should parents intervene? Talking to the school, the other parents, the other child are all options, but is it better to let your children fend for themselves? Shutterstock
Having your child bullied at school is one of the greatest fears of parents – and research shows this fear is well founded. School bullying has been described as the single most important threat to the mental health of children and adolescents.
Well-controlled studies show that being bullied in primary school increases the risk of serious mental health problems into adolescence and ongoing depression leading well into adulthood.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

So when parents find out their child is being bullied, they are right to be concerned. But what exactly should they do about it? Should they tell the school, approach the parents of the other child, or just let their child deal with it?
It can be difficult to weigh up the sometimes conflicting advice given to parents. Parents desperately want to help their child, but if they jump in too quickly to protect their child they can be labelled as over-protective or over-indulgent.

School authorities often recommend parents leave the school to handle it. This is fine if the school is successful in stopping the bullying. However, this is not always the case. Most school programs to address bullying make only modest improvements, leaving some children to continue to be bullied.

This could be why we often hear of parents taking matters into their own hands. This can lead to uncertain legal ground if parents reprimand other children and to ugly arguments between parents. Clearly none of these approaches is ideal.

New research on how parents can help their children

We now know that parenting specifically affects children’s risk of being bullied at school. A meta-analysis in 2013 concluded that warm, supportive parenting is a protective factor and negative parenting is a risk factor for children being bullied at school.

Another large well-controlled study from the UK showed that having warm supportive family relationships also helps buffer children against the adverse emotional consequences of being bullied. This means that when children feel supported by their parents, they are less likely to attract bullying. They also have someone to turn to at home when things are not going well at school, which helps them cope.

Research has identified two additional ways parents can make a positive difference to children’s relationships with peers: parents can coach children in social skills and they can actively support their children’s friendships.

Parents see children every day so are in an ideal position to help children find ways to deal with peer problems. Parents can improve children’s social skills, which can help children become better accepted by peers, and support children’s friendships by organising play-dates and other activities that help children develop close friendships with children at school. Having good friends at school helps protect children against bullying.

A program at the University of Queensland called “Resilience Triple P” teaches parents to support their child, support their child’s friendships, coach their child in social and emotional skills, and communicate effectively with the school and other adults.

A total of 111 families were randomly allocated to either receiving the program or not, and monitored over nine months. Schools of both intervention and control families were informed that parents had a concern about bullying.

Compared with families in the control condition, children whose families received Resilience Triple P showed greater reductions in victimisation, distress and depression. Teachers reported children became better accepted by peers. Children reported liking school more.

Resilience Triple P involves parents in helping children deal effectively with peer problems. However, if the child’s efforts do not work, or if the child is in danger, the parents step up as advocates for their children.

How parents can help children cope

If your child talks to you about problems with other children at school, this is good news. Very often children don’t tell anyone about being bullied; they might feel ashamed or worried how their parents will respond. It is important that when children approach parents with a problem, parents stop and listen. If parents become emotional or over-react, this may discourage children from confiding further.

If a child is not communicating, there are signs that indicate they could be being bullied at school. These signs include trying to avoid school or social situations, greater sensitivity and mood swings, changes in eating and sleeping, and unexplained physical symptoms. If children are demonstrating any of these patterns, parents could gently ask children how things are going in various areas of their lives.

Whether or not a child is being bullied, it is important for parents to support their children’s friendships, as an investment in children’s ongoing mental health and well-being. This means making time for children to catch up with friends and getting to know other parents as a way of supporting your child’s relationships.

When children are upset by other children’s behaviour, parents can provide a valuable sounding board. They can help children interpret situations and decide what to do.

Very often problems can be solved if the child can stand up for themselves calmly. Parents can help children practise how to do this.

Parents might also help children learn how to ignore minor issues, strengthen friendships with kind children, resolve ongoing conflicts and get help from a teacher when needed.

Approaching the school and other adults

If a child is unable to deal with a distressing issue by themselves, it is important that the parent communicates for the child. If the child is experiencing problems at school, parents should first contact the child’s school. This would involve approaching the child’s teacher if the issue is with another child in the class, or perhaps the school management if the issue is broader.

It is important when approaching the school for parents to plan carefully what they want to say. Schools can easily become defensive about the issue of bullying. It is important parents stay calm and explain exactly what happened and how their child was affected. The parent can request help in improving the situation and then check how this goes over time.

There are other adults who may be supervising children when bullying occurs. Parents may need to have conversations with out-of-school-hours care staff, sporting coaches, scout leaders and dance teachers.

The situation is a bit more sensitive if the problems occur when your child is being supervised by friends or family members. The same principles apply though – you need to calmly request the other adult’s help without blaming them or putting their child down. Sometimes this can start by acknowledging the children are having problems – and suggesting you could work together to help them.

Generally it is a risky move to approach parents of another child at school bullying your child, if you don’t already have a good relationship with them. Your approach is unlikely to improve things and may result in heated conflict. This may worsen the relationship between the children, making it more difficult for the school to resolve the issue.

What if nothing works?

Sometimes, despite parents’ best efforts to support their child and seek help from the school, the bullying continues. Ongoing bullying poses an unacceptable risk to any child.

If your child is experiencing ongoing distress from bullying, and the school doesn’t address it despite your requests, consider other options – including going to higher education authorities and reporting cases of physical assault or cyber-bullying to police.

Parents should also consider whether another school might provide a better option for their child, but it’s important to involve the child in this decision.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

THEY THINK THEY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING



Gabrielle Upton

Goodbye, my child

And to read the follow up letters to the editor, click here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

About the new book: To the Highlands


You remember Jack Muir? Well, To the Highlands details all the grubbiness of Jack's life after school. It's the next stage of his trip to manhood.

Jack Muir, the son of disappointed parents, and reluctant employee of The Colonial Bank of Australia, is dispatched to the capital of a regional outpost, in an unnamed island somewhere to the north of Australia. Like the capital itself, the country’s highlands – to which Jack is subsequently demoted in further disgrace – have a familiar feel to them. One suspects, very strongly, that this place might be Papua New Guinea.

In 1968, the greater world is full of upheaval and protest, warring and lovemaking. Its events are a million miles away from Jack’s sleepy and complacent Perth. But on the island, Jack falls into his own kind of revolution as he is lured by the irresistible promises of a sometimes brutal hedonism: on the island Jack comes to lose (at last!) his virginity and many of his inhibitions.

But if Jack and his compatriots are there for sport, there are locals for whom the precipice of independence is a serious matter indeed. So Jack meets the beautiful, talented, and unattainable Margaret Baker, being groomed to assume her rightful place amongst the classes of educated and elite, and he meets George Kanluna, powerful and impressive, watching and waiting for the moment his country will seize independence.

To the Highlands is a book set in a time and a place where a clear-sighted interrogation of colonialism could scarcely be expected of the white people who worked within its system. Jack Muir comes to the island with no more insight than many of his contemporaries, but his growing discomfort in a murky moral terrain becomes a mirror for the relationship between two countries poised (though to varying degrees) on the verge of maturation.

This novel is more than the story of one boy’s journey to man: it is an unflinching metaphor for a less than salutary chapter in Australia’s colonial history, laying bare, as it does, uncomfortable aspects our own national identity.