Apologies for the long posting – this is partially due to the response from the old school… but do read on…
Last year as part of Anti Bullying week, I took the opportunity to write to the headmaster of my old school, Ballymena Academy, to seek clarity on the school’s policy on bullying, particularly homophobic bullying.
I didn’t hear back from him, so in January I wrote again, but still heard nothing until this morning I got a response from him. It seems that the letter I wrote in November never arrived and that the letter that I wrote in January got lost in the depths of Royal Mail. However, the response is as follows:
22nd September, 2011
Dear Mr Campbell,
I am replying to your letter, received 21st September, 2011 but dated 13th January, 2011. There has not been any previous communication on this matter from you.
You raise several issus in your enquiry about the school’s measures to prevent homophobic bullying.
I will begin with pupils.
- In the 21st Century, Ballymena Academy takes all forms of bullying seriously and seeks to ensure that all our pupils benefit from their education, enjoy the experience of their schooling and feel that the school does value them as individuals and treats them with respect.
- As the Anti-Bullying policy’s name suggests, it is the framework for the school’s approach to this important work. That policy is kept under review, various key groups are consulted on an annual basis and the point which you have made about the wording of a specific section will be part of the review process carried out in the course of this school year. The policy is not the whole story, however, despite its importance. The realisation of the school’s caring ethos, in and out of the classroom, is much more significant.
- School Councils are a valuable feature of school life and enable the “pupil voice” to be heard. Young people are enabled to express their own concerns, or those of their peers. Homophobic bullying has not been raised, although there have been opportunities to do so. We recognise that children and young adults may be reluctant to raise such issues in a public forum but it should be said there is an openness and candour about the approach in the School Council meetings.
- There is a very well-developed Pastoral Care system, with a Vice-Principal having oversight, seven Heads of Year – assisted by Pastoral Assistants – and, in addition, a Senior Teacher with direct responsibilities in the Sixth Form. All classes have a Form Tutor and there are Peer Mentors from Years 13 and 14 with classes in the Junior School. All pastoral staff and peer mentors are trained and the detection, prevention and elimination of all forms of bullying have priority. This is not a matter which is taken lightly and we seek to discharge our responsibilities fully and well.
- There is an independent counselling service for pupils, funded by the Department of Education and whilst the discourse between counsellor and client in undisclosed, if the Counsellor became aware that homophobic bullying was occurring she would let us know about it, without naming of identifying any individual, just to ensure we are aware and can keep a particularly close watch on things.
- The school emphasises the ‘respect agenda’. We are well aware of human tendencies, however, and would not suggest that bullying has been eliminated from this school. We can, however, say with confidence, that we have gone to great lengths to reduce bullying, to increase awareness of its unacceptability and to deal with it appropriately when it does occur. We have also gone to great lengths to find any signs and to measure the extent to which the steps taken by the school are successful.It is in that context that the school, at its own expense, makes use of the Kirkland Rowell surveys – Education Perceptions Monitor – of pupils, parents and staff perspectives. In the March 2011 survey, 1156 pupils out of 1200 responded anonymously. The pupils’ response perception of the school’s anti-bullying policy was rated as ‘outstanding’. Parental confidence was equally high. Parents commended the school’s efforts to self-evaluate and the Education and Training Inspectorate, in their 2009 Inspection Report referred to
– the outstanding culture of self-evaluation that guides and supports the development work of the school and action to promote involvement;
– the very good quality of care, guidance and support for the individual needs of the pupils.
- The school also makes use of ALIS (A-Level Information System) based at the University of Durham. One feature of the ALIS programme is the extended questionnaire which asks Year 14 leavers about their experience of the school, specifically about bullying. Pupil responses here endorse the school’s approaches and indicate that where bullying occurs it is infrequent and at relatively low levels.
- You state that at the time of your attendance in Ballymena Academy
no one seemed that bothered about the homophobic bullying that was going on.
That is your perspective, but I have no reason to doubt the impression you have formed. We now live in a different world, with different imperatives and different educational priorities.
- When parents and/or pupils are dissatisfied with any aspect of the service provided by this school there is a complaints procedure which ensures their concerns are drawn to the attention of the Board of Governors which is obliged, by law, to provide a full explanation of its findings.
Secondly, staff –
The Salary and Appointments Policy has a clear focus on equality and compliance with employment law.
Staff may appeal any decision of the Board of Governors in relation to salary placement and appointment to posts.
Grievance and Harassment Policies are available if Staff believe they are being treated unfairly or subjected to improper treatment or are not protected against such treatment.
Disrespectful treatment of any member of Staff by a pupil is regarded as a very serious matter indeed, meriting disciplinary action.
In the Kirkland Rowell survey, Staff rated their morale as outstanding. Matters such as equal opportunities and handling of personal issues were also rated very highly indeed.
Please do not take the previous paragraphs as either arrogant or complacent; this school is conscious of its responsibilities to its pupils and staff and is seeking to improve upon its previous best.
You feel you have a
responsibility to the pupils of today to be concerned for their welfare.
We, who have statutory, as well as professional and moral, obligations to safeguard all those entrusted to our care, are held accountable by the relevant authorities and it is in that context that this letter is written.
This has proven to be a lengthy communication but it is an honest and open response to your enquiry. I trust that you find it of some assistance in understanding the school’s approach.
J R Hassard (Principal)
I am pleased that it seems that my old school has moved on quite a bit from where it was when I was a pupil. However, in some respects it hasn’t really, yet.
When one consults its website and clicks on ‘Hall of Fame’ in the menu, it seems that the only fame that one can have is by being a ‘Head Boy’ or ‘Head Girl’ or by being good at sports. As one who was neither of these: it seems that other things are not important.
It would, of course, be quite wrong of me to suggest that LGBT pupils are not good – and have not been in the past – good at sport. However, it is not just sport at which Ballymena Academy old pupils have excelled as the names below illustrate. I am sure that there are many, many others, but just by thinking off the top of my head, I can think of a musician whose name lives on in the name of the Music Department of the school:
and also of some politicians…
In the first mandate of the Northern Ireland Assembly after the Belfast Agreement there were quite a few Old Boys of Ballymena Academy amongst its members principally, of course, The Lord Alderdice, first Speaker.
Of course in the early 1980s there was Edgar Graham who was murdered at the age of 29.
And further back in the twentieth century,
Sir Roger Casement, CMG, who was a British diplomat and early human rights campaigner for the Congolese, turned Irish revolutionary, hanged in 1916 under the Treason Act.
Other than that Wikipedia suggests other notable former pupils including:
The Rev’d William Booth CVO, who had been Sub-Dean of the Chapel Royal.
The Armed Forces
Air Vice-Marshal William Harbison, CB, CBE, AFC, FBIM
Commandant Vonla McBride CB, Director from 1976-9 of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS)
Albert McConnell, Provost of Trinity College, Dublin from 1952-74, and Professor of Natural Philosophy from 1930 at the University of Dublin.
Prof James Sayers, Professor of Electron Physics from 1946-72 at the University of Birmingham, from 1939-43 developed the cavity magnetron which was essential for centimetric radar, and later worked from 1943-5 on theManhattan Project.
- New York boy, 14, kills himself after anti-gay bullying (pinkbananaworld.com)
- Boy who was beaten by bullies speaking out to help others (philly.com)