Some 17 percent of children in the study had been hit, 18 percent had suffered sexual harassment (being undressed, forced kissing, touching) and 16 percent had been given a demeaning nickname. One in four said they had been insulted, with seven percent saying they’d been subject to racial abuse. According to the study, there is no more violence in the ‘ZEP’ schools in problem areas than there is in others. Some 67 percent of the violence was carried out by boys, 12 percent by girls and 12 percent mixed, the study found.
In a first for France, ministers have taken up the issue. Education minister Luc Chatel has launched a conseil scientifique contre les discriminations à l’école, an advisory board given the task of combating discrimination and bullying. Chatel has asked Francois Héran, director of the Institut National d’études démographiques, to submit a report in the autumn offering practical suggestions based on experiences and initiatives in France and abroad.Schools do not operate anti-bullying policies
News of the board will come as relief to expat parents as English-speaking children in French schools can find themselves the targets of bullies. Jean-Pierre Bellon, president of the anti-bullying association pour la prévention des phénomènes de harcélèment entre élèves and philosophy teacher at a lycée, says some children pick on others who they see as ‘different’. ‘Foreign children can be subject to bullying, and it could be for pretty much anything – having an accent, for example,’ Bellon says. Threads on online expat community notice-boards talk about children being subject to comments such as ‘the anglais don’t belong here’ and ‘should go back to where they came from’. Clare Lawson, in the Dordogne, was horrified to find that her son was being badly bullied when the family first moved to France. ‘He joined collège half-way through sixième where he was the only English child and hardly spoke any French’ she says. ‘He was seen as being different and was horribly bullied in the playground. He didn’t say anything to us as he is a quiet child and didn’t want to make a fuss but I noticed one day when he came back that he had bruises up both arms. The older kids had been pulling his arms through the metal fencing and pushing them backwards. He couldn’t fight back with words and isn’t the sort of child who would get in a fight. He was terribly upset as he wanted to settle in and make friends.’
The Lawsons told the teacher who said she was appalled. ‘But we also got the “well there are 400 kids in the playground, we can’t keep an eye on all of them,” Lawson says. Nothing was done at the school, however, as there was no anti-bullying policy and so it carried on for several months.
‘Luckily, in cinquième it fizzled out and he made friends. In every other respect, the school has been fantastic and the bullying had no long-term effect on him but he was desperately unhappy that first year. I think French schools and playgrounds are very much survival of the fittest – you see kids hitting and kicking one another. I would advise other parents to go straight to the directeur and bypass the teacher. We should’ve done that in hindsight but we’d only been in France six months and were still finding out feet. You’ve got to get into the school and get it sorted – don’t hold back even if you’ve just got here. It’s also important to know that kids do come out the other side and that bullying doesn’t just happen here.’
Whilst the board is a start, France still has a long way to go; teachers do not receive training to deal with bullying, schools do not operate anti-bullying policies and the issue is not covered during cours d’éducation civique."We’re starting from zero. It’s the first time that ministers have got involved"
‘At the moment, we’re starting from zero. It’s the first time that ministers have got involved, which is something, but France is considerably behind the rest of Europe when it comes to dealing with bullying – countries such as Spain and Great Britain have policies in place. It worries us that we don’t,’ Bellon says. ‘There is no training for teachers to deal with it. We’d like to see awareness groups in schools, support for the families who come to us distraught as the schools aren’t helping, and a free helpline for advice. Why is France behind? I believe we’ve long seen violence as something that happens in difficult areas and not outside your front door. But bullying happens in every sector of society, every social class. If a child has come to you to speak about it than that is already a good thing. You need to contact the school immediately. If the head teacher is not willing to do anything, go higher to the académie or local education authorities.’
This article by Rebecca Lawn first appeared in theFrenchPaper