An Ofsted report into school approaches to bullying has suggested teachers do not always feel able to tackle issues like homophobic bullying and derogatory language and that most schools are not ‘sharp’ enough on their analysis of bullying behaviour.

The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills report, No Place for Bullying, noted that disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs, and pupils who are, or are perceived to be, gay, were most at risk of bullying.

It said terms which were derogatory towards those groups were often used casually by children in playgrounds but that it could “spill into” the classroom.

Teachers said they did not always feel they had the strategies to address such language, while many said they had never encountered it with their pupils.

The report said children reported the words ‘mong’, ‘spazzer’ or ‘spaz’ and ‘retard’ being used at 25 of the 37 primary schools and 12 of the 19 secondary schools inspected to refer to someone who was perceived to lack ability.

In 25 primary schools and 15 secondary schools, ‘gay’ was used to refer to something being ‘rubbish’.

Staff members in most of the schools said they heard the word ‘gay’ being used in this way on a weekly basis.

The report continued: “In two of the primary schools and 11 of the secondary schools, although pupils knew that certain language, such as the examples given in earlier paragraphs, was generally inappropriate, if the words were used between friends they were seen as ‘banter’ or ‘just joking’ or ‘messing about’, which pupils thought made their use acceptable.

“This generally did not extend to racism (which was almost universally seen as the worst insult and as unacceptable) but always included ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ and often included words related to disability and appearance.”

Most of the schools, however, had a “positive culture” and pupils demonstrated consideration for their peers, but it warned that opportunities to teach about diversity were missed.

The report also noted that “analysis of behaviour and bullying was not as sharp as it should be” in most schools, whereas some other schools had developed specific materials to deal with homophobic bullying and others had brought in speakers from outside the school to talk to pupils about the issues.

Director, Education and Care, Susan Gregory said: “Schools must develop a positive culture so all pupils learn in a happy and safe environment. Teachers should receive the right training and support so they have the skills and confidence to teach pupils about diversity and the effects of bullying.

“This report shows many examples where action to tackle bullying has been very effective and I hope this best practice can be emulated by other schools.”

The study was based on discussions with 1,357 pupils and 797 staff.

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