NI: New NI legislation set to define bullying by next year

Education Minister John O'Dowd
Education Minister John O’Dowd

New legislation that creates a legal definition of bullying and new responsibilities for public authorities in a bid to crack down on bullying in schools has been introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Addressing Bullying in Schools Bill defines bullying as “the repeated use of a verbal, written or electronic communication or a physical act (or a combination of those)” by a pupil or group of pupils against another pupil or group of pupils with the “intention of causing physical or emotional harm to that pupil or group of pupils”.

The law will require Boards of Governors of a grant-aided school to take action to prevent bullying, as well as creating a legal duty to keep a record of all incidents or alleged incidents of bullying at school.

Speaking as he introduced the bill, Education Minister John O’Dowd said: “I am delighted that this Bill is now on the way to becoming law early next year.

“Addressing bullying in schools is an issue which has always attracted widespread interest and support from MLAs across all parties; and I know many of my colleagues, in particular those on the Education Committee, are as pleased as I am to see this Bill come to the floor of the Assembly today.

“Although bullying is a commonly understood concept, having a clear common definition will help schools, parents and pupils to recognise when bullying is occurring and will support more consistent practice across all of our schools.

“The recording of incidents will help schools to monitor the scale of the problem and how effective they are in addressing incidents. Placing a duty on Boards of Governors will increase their focus on the issue and encourage the use of best practice within each school.”

The second stage of the bill is due to take place in the Assembly on 8 December 2015.

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