School bullying is one of the major problems in traditional schools.
" [He] has a [mark] on his face and at his previous schools he was cruelly teased because of it. ....
There has been none of that at Alia College" - - - - - Parent of year 8 & 9 boy.
Alia College was not started with the particular idea of fixing the bullying problem.
The plan was simply effective teaching in a cheerful environment with effective discipline.
The great result was a combination of that; along with some extraordinary luck.
We now take great care to keep the settings in balance.
School Bullying is worldwide and serious
Bullying is so common that you are probably unusual if you have not been bullied.
It's more a matter of how serious the bullying is; and how good your skills are at dealing with it.
If even Miss Australia can assert that her bullying at school was a "nightmare", then how can anyone expect to be immune?
Even school principals get bullied. I know. I talk to them. So are teachers, nurses, police officers and plenty of others.
 "It is now recognised worldwide that bullying or peer victimisation is prevalent in schools (Smith et al., 1999)
 has serious health consequences for a substantial proportion of repeatedly victimised children (Rigby, 2003b)."
See: Ken Rigby and Bruce Johnson. University of South Australia. [Plenty of Australian research based material here.]
School Bullying is Epidemic (or Endemic - take your pick!)
Bullying seems to be very common. So, theoretically you should not get too stressed if it happens to you.
The problem is that once you are a target it can be very hard to manage.
 "42% of year seven kids say they don't feel safe at school & this is a major public health problem"
Prominent Australian Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg who also works with the National Centre Against Bullying
4 minute video of Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg speaking on air about a bullying incident
School bullying produces fear and isolation.
Because of under-reported bullying, teachers are often unaware of bullying incidents.
Parents only become aware of the problem when other factors arise such as school refusal, non-specific illness, stress, lack of communication, etc.
Parents can know that the problem has gone when these things disappear and school work is back on the agenda.
 "Bullied children can feel frightened and alone.
They may not feel they can tell school friends or a teacher, and most children have few, if any friends outside their school.
Bullied children may also find it difficult to talk to parents and family about the situation.
This may be because they fear being branded a tale-tell; or perhaps they fear that their concerns will either not be taken seriously or will cause anxiety to those they care about.
Bullied children may also worry that the bully may be confronted against their wishes, and that the situation may worsen."
See: UK student information & resource portal [Plenty of UK material here]
School bullying - our unique solution. Our students assert that we have bullying sorted out.
"The key to reducing bullying lies in schools embracing an ethos in which it is impossible for this sort of abuse to flourish".
Bullying in Schools: "How Successful Can Interventions Be?" Ed. Peter K. Smith, Debra Pepler and Ken Rigby (2004)
Alia solved the bullying problem by concentrating on its main aims: really effective teaching, encouraging respect and responsibility and the promotion of open communication. These approaches and the other methods we use leave students feeling really happy and confident.
It is a bit of hyperbole for us to say that we have solved the bullying problem. That's like saying you have the cure for cancer, or the fountain of youth, because bullying is now seen as an intractible fact of life. So we should be clear that it is the students here who commonly say that the bullying problem is dealt with effectively at Alia. It's what the students say that counts.
No! Actually, it's what your own child says that counts.
If you would like to find out, just do a trial day. Your child will find out in one day. It's pretty instant. You probably won't believe it until it repeats for a few more days.
Question: So, you're saying that you have a perfect school?
Response: We regularly have problems. It's how we deal with them that matters.
Question: What if my child comes on a day when you have a problem?
Response: Normally they like it even better. When they see how we deal with problems here, they feel much safer.
The following comment came from a parent at the end of their trial week:
"Thank you. For the first time since starting Secondary School, two years ago, my son was smiling when I dropped him off for school. [My son] has been a constant target of bullies most of his primary school years and all of his time in secondary school. He is a very sensitive child and suffered severe anxiety due to the bullying.
[My son] is an extremely intelligent boy but was having trouble succeeding due to his fear of attending school.
I have had him to several psychologists including the school refusal program which have helped on a temporary basis.
Since starting his trial at Alia, he has become a different child. He is happy, relaxed and eager to get to school.
I would like to thank all at Alia for allowing [him] a chance to concentrate on his education rather than just the fear of attending school.
You really do have a great school and I now have hope that [he] will be able to grow as a productive member of society and not an anxious child living in fear.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Question: So, do you have any bullying or not?
Response: There is a wide spectrum of behaviour from fun, through joking around, to borderline uncomfortable interaction, to bullying. There is no sharp dividing line at any point. What we have developed is a school style that can deal with matters in such a way as to satisfy the vast majority of students who state that they have been bullied.
Some bullying experts say that the way to deal with bullying is to develop a school atmosphere in which bullying cannot be sustained. That is what we have done.
Obligatory disclaimer. This is not some sort of offer or guarantee. Don't send your child with intolerable behaviour here, and then claim that they got bullied after someone really lets them know about it.
Question: So, was Alia started as a school for bullied children?
Response: No. It was started as a school for high academic achievement. That has always been the main focus of the school.
Objection: I'll bet it's the bullies who say that they don't get bullied.
Response: Not at all. We have several students who have been bullied elsewhere and who readily travel much longer journeys to get here for the agreeable atmosphere. They are the ones who say it - and their parents. Often we have a student who might have a one and a half or even two hour commute to school.
Question: So you have a school full of problem kids who have been bullied elsewhere and have nowhere else to go?
Response: Not at all. It's a wide mix of the normal range of personalities. Come and see.
- Actually, we get the opposite problem.
Question: Opposite? How?
Response: When some families come to see our groups in action they develop a fear that we only enrol capable or confident kids. It's sometimes not easy to explain to the visitors that most of the students here were as sensitive or meek as their own child when they first arrived. The confidence develops gradually in the students' own time.
Question: So do you have a way-out mix of hippies and creative, artistic, tree-hugging, mung bean eaters?
Response: Please understand that it's a mix. We have a much higher percentage of VCE students doing the higher level mathematics subjects and hard sciences [Maths Methods and Specialist Maths, and Physics and Chemistry] than average schools.
Well OK! We also have a much higher percentage of vegetarians, creative sensitive types, budding Steven Spielbergs, would-be screen stars and the odd drama queen.
Question: So you enrol only smart kids?
Response: No. We accept our fair share of students who have a very low standard and/or low maturity. Admittedly we get a good supply of students who might be characterised as capable or creative and sensitive. We accept students who are a good fit with the style of the school. "Smartness" is potentially nice as long as it doesn't come with too much arrogance. The great results here are because we do a far better job. Often students of supposedly low ability, maturity or confidence find that they seem less 'disabled' after only a short time here. When excessive pressure is removed from people they are often able to perform at their real or desired capacity.
Question: So you take the pressure off kids and treat them gently to achieve the results you get?
Response: Not entirely. We take inappropriate pressure away and once a student is ready, we replace it with pressure that is responsible and respectful. A sensible degree of stress improves performance wonderfully; but sometimes it is impossible to apply any pressure because a person is too psychologically tense to be able to manage it. Sometimes teachers will get upset at students [who can handle it] for some issue; but students are able to complain back - there is no sanction here for that.
Did I mention somewhere that we also get a good supply of students who are right into social justice and are sometimes very vocal about issues. They also like it here a lot because they are permitted to have their opinions and to argue them. Another possible motto for the school is Quot Homines, Tot Sententiae. Terence (185 BC - 159 BC) It translates to There are as many opinions as there are people. Students are encouraged to think for themselves, to have their own opinions and to argue them respectfully; and not to simply believe what they are told, even by their teachers or by the Principal.
Question: Do you have an entrance test?
Question: Then how do you choose?
Response: Applicants simply do a trial day. They do our normal program for a day. They chat with their parents about how it went. The teachers also chat about the student. If the fit with the other students seems acceptable then we proceed to a trial week.
Question: So you select according to who can or can't pay the fees? You are an exclusive school!
Response: Not so. We have a hardship clause in our enrolment process.
You can ask more questions about this or anything else by calling us on +61 3 9822 9622 or by clicking on the [Email Us] tab on the left.
Question: How did you do it? What are the policies?
Response: Instead of using tactics, policies or the rule and punishment mentality we set about developing a discussion ethos in which bullying wouldn't make sense. Then we had some luck.
Question: How can we set the same thing up in another school?
Response: Get some really effective teaching happening. Use teachers who are committed to resolving problems by discussion rather than coercive techniques. Then hope that you can sort out the students who have the bullying mentality; that's where you really need the luck.
Question: What do you mean by luck?
Response: The founding principal really knew what he was wanting to develop; but the bullying mindset is firmly entrenched in our culture.
Even victims, parents, teachers and bureaucrats have it. They want bullies restrained or punished by authorities. That simply validates the bullying concept in the eyes of bullies. i.e. "you get what you want by coercion."
To get past that you need better than average luck; otherwise all you end up with is school authorities having to bully the bullies to keep things under control.
As soon as the authorities are not in immediate supervision of any situation, problems can arise; and that can even be in a classroom.
The only solution is to get past the need to bully the bullies and that is seriously difficult even if you are lucky.
Teachers generally agree that discussion can work well; but that it can't be sustained because of control problems, and because there are too many attitudes to manage at once.
If, by some miracle, you do get to a great outcome, things become easier; but only until the next bunch of kids arrives.
They bring the whole bullying concept with them even if they are generally great kids. If you can't persuade them to rethink sufficiently quickly then the bullying mentality recolonises the group because it is so dominant in our culture.
It's a bit like holding the tide back. Who'd be a teacher?
Question: It's ridiculous to think that teens or even adults will behave without coercion.
Response: There! You see how entrenced the bullying culture is in our society! Even well intentioned adults can't see another way.
Question: It is still ridiculous.
Response: Anthropologists have described many other cultures in which the society works wonderfully without punishments. In some cultures members consider it unthinkable that someone might force someone else (even a child) to do something.
Question: How can you possibly think that teens can act responsibly?
Response: Come and have a look here; or at least read what the anthropologists have written.
Question: Some force is necessary to stop children from hurting themselves or others.
Response: Some tribes of native Americans consider it unthinkable to restrain children even near fires. They expect children to learn very early how to take care. Consider what anthropologists have said.
Question: A civilised society requires rules and consequences.
Response: Our society seems to consider that every problem ought to be solved by establishing a rule and then associating a formal punishment for an infraction.
Question: What other possible option is there? Chaos?!?.
Response: On balance judgements! Rather than judging students on a single infraction, consider their overall helpfulness, work, progress, etc
Question: But who decides and how? How can you or they themselves even tell if they have done wrong without a clear guideline. How can they learn and improve? How do you prevent unfairness and arbitrary decisions without defined rules?
Response: There is plenty more to talk about here eventually.
The bottom line is that, against all logic, we have a system here that actually works. Come and see for yourself.
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