Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Violence in Schools: Possible Interventions and Remedies

The concern about school violence is high on the political agenda presently across Europe and United States of America. There have been a number of high-profile incidents of school violence, including indiscriminate firing and ruthless mass murders.

Except for the dastardly acts of violence or shooting, most smaller incidents of violoence in schools simply go unnoticed or unpublicized. Assaults and attacks on both teachers and pupils in schools are in reality occurring almost on a daily basis, especially in UK. This has catalyzed a widespread public belief in a general decline in standards of safety in schools in the present times.

The governments across Europe and the US have increasingly focused their attention on school violence. Various programs such as the Behavior Improvement Programs and Violence Reduction in Schools are aimed exclusively at improving behavior and reducing violence. This political priority has been further fuelling public opinion that violence in schools is at an all time high and that the youth of today are out of control.

One of the few large-scale surveys on adolescent problems and problem behavior involving more than 14,000 students aged 11 to 16 years in the United Kingdom n 2002 have found that boys' involvement in violent behavior is much more than girls. One in 10 boys aged between 11 and 12 years and 24% aged between 15 and 16 years said they had carried a weapon in the past year. Eight percent of the youngest boys and 19% of the oldest admitted to attacking someone intending to hurt them seriously.

The school often responds to these incidences by excluding pupils. In the United Kingdom, permanent exclusions have declined, following the Education Act, 1993. According to government statistics, exclusion rates decreased from 1997 to 2000 by 33%, and have largely plateaued since then.

The reason for exclusion tends to be related to general disobedience or physical aggression against staff and other pupils and the disruption of lessons. With regard to gender, boys are significantly more likely to be excluded than girls. Furthermore, some subgroups are particularly at risk of being excluded from school.

These include Black children, children with special educational needs, looked-after children, and other vulnerable groups, such as the children of gypsy families. The overrepresentation of African Caribbean pupils in school exclusions is a major cause for concern.

Children who are most vulnerable to exclusion are likely to live in districts or in circumstances of disadvantage. Studies indicate, young people most at risk may be missed or ignored by official agencies.

Furthermore, it has been found that traditional approaches to the reduction of exclusion tend to be conducted in isolation, with schools and local education authorities acting independently, without a necessary framework binding services together in a coherent manner.

In addition, most school reform efforts have fallen short because they have neglected to take the time or risk to try and change the foundation of the school and its culture. This is the main premise of a whole school approach to counteracting school violence, bullying, and exclusions.

The majority of work carried out on the subject of violence within school is predominantly focused on rates of bullying. Bullying and disruptive violent behavior occurs regularly in all schools. Research tells us that from country to country and from school to school bullying is widespread.

Recent studies of school bullying appear to indicate that the problem has increased. A survey of 4,700 pupils in 25 secondary schools in UK in the year 2000, found that 75% of pupils reported that they had been bullied sometimes; more severe and repeated bullying was reported by about 7% of pupils. Another survey involving 7,000 respondents aged between 13 and 18 years found that more than half of all respondents had been bullied at some time, with more than 10% reporting that they had been bullied severely.

Only about half of the young people interviewed said that they believed their school's anti-bullying policy was working. Additionally, these studies suggest changes in the patterns of.... bullying with less severe (but nevertheless distressing) bullying affecting a wider population of pupils. 20% of respondents said that they had been bullied because they were good at their work.

Bullying and violence are found at every level in society, including the individual, the family, and the community. Therefore, when schools are attempting to reduce bullying and violence in their environment, they need to adopt a whole school model that permeates the school and the immediate community, promoting a caring environment in which relationships are valued and principles of nonviolence are promoted.

Research shows that social problems are multiply determined and that there are many different pathways that result in a child becoming violent. From this perspective, specific causal models will always fail to fit well, because no single model captures the many different pathways that culminate in violence.

Through taking stock of the evidence that has accumulated across disciplines and over time, we propose the value and necessity of a whole school approach when introducing strategies of intervention to counteract violence. Understanding peer relationships is a crucial starting point. This is achieved through establishing positive relationships with peers, teachers, parents, and other people who are significant to the young person and through certain educational activities.

There are certain examples of positive interventions used in the United Kingdom that have effectively taught young people alternatives to violence and strategies for conflict resolution. These include emotional intelligence, Circle Time, peer support, conflict resolution, and restorative practice.

Emotional intelligence (EI) method of intervention is identified by five key features: understanding feelings, managing feelings, self-motivation, handling relationships, and empathy. Numerous courses and conferences on the theme of EI have taken place in educational contexts.

At the heart of the EI approach is the recognition of the importance of the culture of the whole school and of the active involvement of all pupils and adults in this community. It is argued that in recent years our society has seen a decline in emotional literacy and that this has resulted in an increase in cynicism, social pathology, and violence.

He maintains that we have overemphasized intelligence at the expense of emotional skills, such as empathy, responsibility, persistence, caring for others, and the control of anger. He believes that society must help children to recognize and understand their emotions and the emotions of others so that they will be more able to control themselves in positive ways. The emotions play a key role in the ways that adults and children work, interact, and learn together.

Researchers have concluded that the Second Step curriculum leads to moderate decreases in aggression and increases in neutral and prosocial behavior in school. These changes assume greater significance when compared with those in the control schools. Without the Second Step curriculum, students' school behaviors deteriorated, and they showed more physical and verbal aggression as the year progressed.

The children who had experienced EI were more likely to prefer prosocial goals, to report satisfaction with negotiated outcomes to conflict, to behave less aggressively, and, among girls, to behave more cooperatively.

Circle time approach involves a time set aside each week in which teachers and pupils sit in a circle and take part in activities, games, and discussion. It gives young people the opportunity to discuss matters of personal concern, to explore relationships with adults and peers, to develop a sense of being members of a community, and to learn about the experience of reflection and silence.

The positive atmosphere that is generated in the well-managed circle has been shown to counteract violent behavior in school. Circle Time is often highly structured with each pupil being invited to speak without interruption on a particular topic, sometimes with the help of an object that is passed around.

Those who do not want to contribute simply say pass. Such structure encourages vocal pupils to wait till their turn and to stick to the theme rather than react impulsively to the previous statement while providing quieter pupils with a safe and productive environment in which to speak. Although circle Time was initially developed in primary schools, positive feedback has been reported from pupils and staff about the effectiveness of Circle Time in secondary schools.

Peer support systems harness the power of the peer group to prevent bullying and violence. This includes naturally occurring social changes in the life of an adolescent where, with increasing age, the safety net of family tends to be challenged and the values of the peer group take over. Peer support systems build on the resources that friends spontaneously offer one another and create opportunities for young people to be active, responsible members of their school community by, for example, supporting peers who are the victims of violence.

Peer support takes a number of forms, including befriending, mediation/ conflict resolution, and counseling-based approaches. Peer supporters are usually volunteers, often self-nominated, and members of the peer group play a part in their selection. Through the use of basic listening skills, empathy for the other's point of view is encouraged and positive peer relations are facilitated. Where programs have been evaluated, the responses are positive.

These methods are reported to result in a substantial decrease in the incidence of violence. Studies have found that pupils were more likely to tell someone that they were being bullied in schools where there was a well-established system of peer support in place. In addition, both the school climate and the quality of pupils' relationships improved. Overall, peer support schemes have become increasingly widespread and are strongly supported by practitioners.

Furthermore, there is compelling evidence that peer support helps victims and peer supporters (many of whom are previous victims) to improve their self-esteem. Through encouraging a sense of social responsibility, it unites the bullies, victims, and the bystanders in the same space and focuses them on a common goal of creating a positive school environment for all.

Conflict resolution/mediation methods are becoming increasingly popular in schools these days especially in UK. For example, Leap Confronting Conflict explores the causes and consequences of conflict and violence in young people's lives and aims to ensure that the active processes of conflict resolution and mediation lie at the heart of personal, social, and health education (PSHE and Citizenship) for young people.

To this end, they have developed a range of projects including Confronting Conflict in Schools, a project that currently involves a rolling program of conflict training in secondary schools in inner city areas that are negatively affected by high levels of conflict and violence in the local community. Evaluation of the effectiveness of conflict resolution schemes is generally positive. Bullying rates decrease and the frequency of disputes that involve the intervention of a teacher drop.

Restorative practice techniques used to address school violence and those used in the criminal justice system are beginning to influence one another, and restorative practice within the school setting has continued to increase in popularity. Restorative practice, such as peer mediation, changes the language from crime control to offender/victim participation and harm minimization.

The original concept of restorative practice came from peace-keeping practices adopted by Maori, Aboriginal, and Native American populations. Most academic research speaks highly of such an approach in reducing reoffending, and ensuring that both victims and offenders are the key participants in determining any future action.

In May 2000, the Youth Justice Board (YJB) for England and Wales launched a pilot initiative in two schools in London, using restorative justice conferences to tackle exclusions, truancy, bullying, violence, and other forms of antisocial behavior. This pilot was successful and was extended to include schools across the United Kingdom involving nine youth offending teams (YOTs) and 26 schools, all taking different approaches to the introduction of restorative practices.

This was evaluated by the Youth Justice Board in 2004. Initial reports demonstrated that the introduction of restorative practices within the school environment were both beneficial and successful. It is still in its embryonic stages as a nationwide initiative and currently its future is unpredictable, although it offers much that is promising.

A school is not an isolated place; rather, it is located in a community. The level and type of violence in a school will interact with the level and type of violence in that community but has the potential to both transcend and resist it if a whole school approach is adopted. Of course, the solutions to school violence must include solutions to juvenile violence in the community in which the school is located, and the authors acknowledge that methods that aim to foster emotional intelligence do not always work in very challenging contexts.

For example, in schools with high levels of aggression, approaches that attempt to foster positive peer relations, on their own, may not be strong enough to prevail against bullies. For instance, in some circumstances, perhaps where interpersonal relationships are difficult, teachers may not be skilled enough to facilitate good communication during Circle Time. Young people cannot always be brought to a win-win position though mediation.

But what all these methods that we have outlined in this article have in common is a willingness to create opportunities for young people and the adults who work with them to connect with one another rather than closing down avenues of communication through prejudice and lack of understanding. This, we argue, has a chance of being achieved in the microcosm of society that we find in schools.

Young people can be taught the skills of building relationships grounded in trust and tolerance. Whole school policy, founded on the promotion of principles of EI and nonviolent methods directed at conflict resolution, has proved to be a promising method for reducing school violence. In this article, we have focused on the most important studies of whole school interventions to give most emphasis on well-documented examples of good practice that have been systematically evaluated.

Within both the social sciences and the legal profession, there is a movement toward adopting more mediating and restorative approaches to resolving violence in schools. Furthermore, the community and the school would benefit from sharing best practice between them, and there is some evidence that this is already happening.

Ultimately, this article not only acknowledges the need to regulate violence but also highlights that the necessity of ensuring responsibility for preventing violence lies with the whole school and the community. One may conclude if violence is to be effectively regulated; a whole school approach is the need of the hour.

Acknowledgement: "Taking Stock of Violence in UK Schools"- Helen Cowie et al


Vibe said...

So long as the "Powers that Be" think that the attempt to coerce good behavior back into our youth in spite of the poor examples they them selves are presenting has any shot of working things will continue to only get worse. The "Do as I say, not as I do" approach has never worked - proven again by still another failed attempt.

And the need to attempt to shift the blame to the tools used is really wearing thin.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the Academic would agree that students should take care not to plagiarize. This work, of course, may be quoted, but proper citation and attribution should be used.

Anonymous said...

The author somehow omitted his final thoughts as expressed at this thread

(post #182)

when his final argument was

"I would like to conclude by saying that they can GTH."

Priceless! :D

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