What can we do to make school a safe place?
The children and young people were asked to consider what we can do to make school a safe place. While some of the contributors said that school was generally a place they did feel safe, for others feeling unsafe and experiencing violence, threats or harassment is also a reality. Nine of the participating projects responded.
Children and young people shared personal experiences. Here we present an overall picture of what young people told us separated into 4 parts as follows:
- Places within the school where young people feel safe and don’t feel safe
- People who play a role in making schools safe
- Fighting and bullying particularly make young people anxious
- Strategies within school that can make the experience of schooling safer
In pulling together the views of children and young people we use a number of pieces of text or art work which they have sent. To see more artworks and larger versions please go to the Groups Taking Part pages.
Particular places are identified as unsafe. These include:
- Toilets, particularly between classes: One primary pupil said “I don’t feel safe in the toilets, there are bullies”. There were also general comments about toilets being unsafe simply in terms of standards of cleanliness.
- Corridors are unsafe. One young girl described what can happen: “You get caught in the rush and people bang your head off the wall. You get called names as people pass”. Crannog Central/secondary pupil
Changing rooms, when unsupervised, were seen as unsafe places.
- Crossing the school grounds to get to other classes/buildings was problematic. Young people identified that staff supervision is needed at these times.
- For many young people playgrounds were considered unsafe, this was where fights happened for the most part. One group also identified that used injecting equipment found in the playground could pose a risk.
- For one young person the very condition of school buildings was seen as compromising safety: “School isn’t safe because it’s falling apart”. XL club
- School buses, or in general taking the bus to get home, were times where people can feel unsafe.
- The route to school was identified as unsafe for some young people. One young person said “if someone was going to batter you they can get you”. Crannog Central/secondary pupil
When in school, some children and young people find the very experience of being in a busy environment difficult to manage. Contributors highlighted that the very experience of being in a group was stressful.
One young person said: “I feel generally people feel safer outside school than inside school”. Crannog Central/secondary pupil
Teachers and ancillary staff, including janitors/caretakers and kitchen staff, were central to the descriptions of a safer school given by contributors.
By far the clearest message from young people is that they only feel safe when there is adult supervision. The group of primary pupils from Quarriers Quest said in their poster about safe places that a safe place is “anywhere there are teachers or adults around”.
Having someone to talk to, and be heard by, is identified by children and young people as an essential element of the safe school, they identified the need to be taken seriously when they tell an adult something.
Another strategy is to stick with friends, in groups. There was a suggestion from some young people that adult supervision should be discreet, but for most the presence of an adult equalled safety. Some of the contributors identified very specific places, very close to adults, as the safest places. This included the adult supervision that was available outside the secretary’s office and in the head teacher’s office, as well as in the school library.
For some children and young people a member of the school’s management team – head teacher, head of guidance – were those with whom a good individual relationship had been built. For young people at Right Track Guidance staff and prefects were identified as being people who could help schools feel safer.
In particular, children and young people were anxious about fighting and bullying. As one young person identified “Bullying is one of the things that makes school unsafe”
In one group discussion (Crannog West) about strategies to tackle bullying the young people recognised that asking for help was the “most sensible” course of action, but they felt this rarely got results and so suggested the best thing to do was “to hit the bully as this was the only way to stop them”.
Children and young people also talked about bullying they had perpetuated themselves, as one young man in S3 (Canonmills/Cairnpark) stated: “I was a bully so people were frightened of me, bullying is one of the man things that makes school unsafe.” There were also worries about the carrying of weapons in the school environment.
The children and young people identified a number of strategies, some already in place, and others that might help promote school safety:
- Some of the contributors described a need for clear boundaries and a teacher who is in control of the classroom. One boy said this helped pupils “know where you stand”. An older pupil (S3 male Canonmills/Cairnpark) said young people need “decent teachers who don’t let kids take advantage. If teachers don’t stand up for themselves kids think they are soft. Then others in the class don’t feel safe because the teacher is too soft”.
- Some young people identified that they cope better with smaller classes. Part of the desire for smaller groups is about feeling safe. One participant in an XL club said that when classes are small “the teacher can see all”.
- There should be more things to do at social and break times – one boy suggested having animals in the school grounds that pupils could help care for.
- There were mixed views on teacher’s supervision of playgrounds, with some children seeing it as essential and others feeling that this was intrusive. For the primary pupils at Quarriers Quest project there was a request for supervision “like you have in shops when you don’t know people are watching you”.
- Better management of corridors was suggested. One young female (Crannog Central/secondary pupil) explored some possible responses “They could be safer if people were in charge, like teachers. They’ve got cameras but they don’t work. And if lessons didn’t all change at once, or if you stayed in the same class more of the time”. It was also suggested that corridors should be one-way.
- One group (S3/4 boys Cairnpark/Canonmills) suggested that single toilets, rather than large blocks or shared toilets, would make them safer.
- More teacher supervision of canteens, particularly queues, at breaks and lunchtime was proposed.
- There should be dedicated places where pupils can go, as one girl suggested “when things get too much for you”.
- Buddy schemes were identified as enhancing feelings of safety. As one primary pupil commented (boy/Shelter): “I feel safe when my buddy stays with me in the playground because nobody will start a fight”“School buddies help P1’s not get bullied” (Matrix) It was suggested that buddy schemes that supported the younger children should be extended to help everyone.
- One group identified that friendship groups would help people make friends and feel safer.
- In one group the children (all aged 9) proposed that an adult should come to speak to children on a regular basis to talk with them about issues such as drugs, alcohol and being safe in school and in the community. They felt that the best person to talk to them, both collectively and individually was not a teacher but another person who would work in the school.
- There should always be someone who a concerned pupil can talk to confidentially.
- Routes to school could be made safer by community wardens who patrolled them.
- One young person suggested “I would put up high fences and locked gates around the school to keep people out” but they were also conscious of the consequence of obvious security measures and said “No barbed wire though ‘cos this will just look like a prison”. Canonmills/Cairnpark
- As part of requests for increased supervision CCTV in and out of school buildings was suggested as a way to increase safety.
- Schools should be cash free, if people had cards with credits on then people would not steal money form others.
- School lockers, outside the head teacher’s room, would be a place to leave personal belongings and prevent them form being stolen.
- Metal detectors at doors might stop people bringing knives into school.
- Near all schools there should be traffic calming measures to slow cars down.
Responses to bullying played a part in discussion in one group (Canonmills/Cairnpark).
The young people talked about the lack of effective intervention by teachers, and a sense of having to fight back yourself to stop a bully.
There was a desire to have bullies “ken what it feels like” (S4 boy) and that bullies be excluded. But there was also some recognition that “someone should work one to one with bullies, some bullies have been battered by their mum and dad so a package of work needs to be done but still not come back”. (S4 boy)
In reading young people’s contributions there is little sense of the role pupils have in making schools safer. This could be interpreted as a lack of insight into issues of personal responsibility. It could also be interpreted as a realistic evaluation of the experience of having no power to make a difference.
There were a few pupils who thought they could make a difference. One young man in the Right Track group stated in his poster: “If you see someone getting bullied go over to them and tell the bully to stop it”. Another young man in this group stated: “Care for each other”. However this was rare.
What does emerge from contributions is the request that adults need to listen to young people and respond once they have listened.
One young person (Crannog Central/secondary pupil) said about school: “I don’t think you can make them safer. Young people need to be listened to more and taken seriously when they tell you something”. The young person continued: “There’s too much time spent on paperwork instead of dealing with issues”.