Too scared for school: Quarter of children bullied in South Tyneside

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MORE than a quarter of young people in South Tyneside experience bullying during the course of a year, according to a shock new report.

And 10 per cent of pupils say they are afraid to go to school because they have been bullied “often” or “very often”, according to the figures from South Tyneside Council.

Despite these figures, there is currently no anti-bullying co-ordinator in the borough.

Anecdotal evidence from school nurses and secondary school staff also suggests self-harming is “common” among youngsters.

Now an action plan is being drawn up by the council in a bid to improve the emotional health of children and young people between the ages of five to 18.

It follows a major consultation with teaching staff, health professionals, parents and a survey representing the views of 130 young people.

When asked who they approach if they are feeling sad or worried, 33 per cent of youngsters said their family, 24 per cent said teachers and 21 per cent named friends.

Members of the council’s People Select Committee have met to consider the findings because of the key role schools play in supporting good mental health.

All schools in the borough have been written to asking them to identify a member of staff to become a ‘mental health champion’.

A ‘Friends Against Bullies’ volunteers group also meets regularly to organise anti-bullying projects.

Among a raft of recommendations, there is also a call for action to provide specific training for school nurses on self-harming.

Although a report to the committee from Claire Mawson, senior health improvement practitioner at the council, found much good work was taking place to address mental health issues, it also concluded that a more “joined up” approach was needed.

Her report says: “There are a number of excellent programmes on offer. However, there is little consistency and co-ordination across organisations and the borough with a variety of resources being utilised.

“It is clear young people want to access support from their school staff and those who look after them.

“Adults need training to include not only general emotional health detail, but also some specifics that are particularly pertinent to young people in this day and age, such as self-harm and e-safety.”

The council’s corporate director for children, adults and families, Helen Watson, acknowledged gaps in provision but said “addressing some of the recommendations in the report will be challenging in these times of austerity”.

Coun Joan Atkinson, the council’s lead member for children, young people and families, said: “Good emotional health and wellbeing among our young people is important. It helps them avoid anti-social and risky behaviours but is also a major contributor to living healthy, happy lives.

“When people feel emotionally secure, they can achieve more. For our children and young people this is extremely important in their learning environment and subsequent achievements which often shape their career choices in life.

“It is also crucial that adults feel equipped to support our young people and know where to signpost them for additional support.”