Important Introduction

[The New Procedures (2013)

The new Procedures (2013) make it mandatory for all schools draw up an anti-bullying policy and display it on the school website where such exists. This must be done at latest by the end of the 2013-2014 schoolyear.  The poliicy must also be made available to parents when they request it]

It is highly probable that some form of bullying goes completely undetected in all schools

A General Talk on Bullying

Before any anti-bullying system is seriously considered in a school, the Principal should consider inviting in an expert to give a talk to staff, a talk to students and a talk to parents on the general question of the existence of bullying in schools. . The people who in my opinion are most expert in this domain in Ireland are Mr John Wills of Barnardos and Dr Brendan Byrne.

How I arrived at the Box and Interview method as A System to Stop Bullying

However, talks and consciousness raising, seminars and books, however good, will not stop the bullying that is happening right now.  I have listened to several radio interviews and have heard the question asked somewhere in the middle of the programme:  What can be done to stop it?  The answers to this question are not good.

When I was asked to devise a system for my own school I read the experts' opinions and came up with a number of recommendations, e.g. an anti-bullying week, an anti-bullying poster competition (with posters later displayed in classrooms), role play and drama, talks by Principal and individual teachers, one day seminar with invited speaker, use of video and tapes, night talks for parents. I named all of these to three neighbours' children who, I knew, were being bullied in three different schools and they stayed silent.  When I made the last recommendation - the Box and Interview method as described here, all three of them came to life and said "That's the one!"  The Box and Interview method comprised for me and for them as near as one could get to a watertight, fail-safe system.

Two Things necessary

In schools, it is absolutely necessary (1) to be aware that  the bullying exists and  (2) to have a tool available to stop it in its tracks. To have one of these two elements covered without the other is a waste of time and may even do more damage than good.

(1) In spite of the statistics for Ireland, many school Principals and staff are unaware that there is a problem in their own schools. How often do you hear in a staffroom: "One thing I'll say about this school is that we're blessed we don't have a bullying problem!".  The sad thing is that it is easy to be unaware of the problem but difficult to find out. The use of the Box, as described here, if faithfully and conscientiously followed, will uncover the bullying situation.

(2) How often, as in the Radio programmes mentioned above, do you hear the question asked "But how do you stop it?"   My answer is the Box and Interview as described here and the follow-up also described here.  Again, if the method is followed (and it has been tried out with success) it should work.

The first year or two will be the most difficult.  After all, the problem is an age-old one which has not been faced up to, because of the enormity of the task. It is not easy to turn back what has been accepted as normal for centuries. In a way, it is like attempting to turn back the sea.

At least, that is true at the beginning, and if everyone were not prepared to work at it. I mean by everyone the school principal, the vice-principal, all assistant principals, staff (teaching and other), parents, a healthy majority of the student body and above all, the Board of Management and Trustees.

Who Can Stop Bullying and Who Can destroy a System to Stop it?

I have seen many Principals and Vice-Principals take an admirable and courageous lead in stopping bullying.  Sadly there are some who do not.  Because it is so difficult to handle or tragically if they may even be implicated themselves, they sometimes adopt a stance of denial.  Imagine the frustration of the victims and their parents when a powerful figure like the Vice-Principal or Principal bars their human right to live without bullying.  Parents will invariably be supportive of a strong and fair anti-bullying system as will 90% of staff. The Board of Management and Trustees must be on board  from the beginning. The Chair of the Board should be completely independent of the school Principal.

The amazing thing about the student body is this: If you talk to any class about the unfairness of bullying, you will get almost 100% agreement that bullying should be stopped and that strong measures are needed to stop it.

In my opinion, a school that proclaims "There is no bullying in this school" is always sadly mistaken. 

A Principal who proclaims "bullying will not be tolerated in this school" - and then believes that this motto will stop all bullying - is also sadly mistaken.

I know of schools that have gone along for years under the mistaken impression that somehow they had miraculously achieved the impossible, i.e. achieving zero bullying without even trying.   The impression has more recenly been about that fostering "a positive influence" among students would eliminate bullying without using any intervention method. In my experience schools that adopted this attitude became very unsafe havens for children of all ages.

Of course it is good to foster a positive influence in students bu the tragic mistake in my experience is for a school to purport that positive influences alone are the solution to school bullying.

Who Does the Bullying?

Where bullying is concerned nothing can be assumed or taken for granted.  Sometimes, the most personable students, the ones who offer to go on errands,  the trusted ones, the most popular in the class, the best sportspeople etc may turn out to be the most sinister of bullies. This is a disappointing discovery for any teacher or Principal but it is a most important one. Also it is true that sometimes school "troublemakers" are, in fact, undergoing the most severe forms of bullying from a peer, undetected. The question is: How do you find out?


Many schools use the phrase "Whenever someone makes a complaint that he or she is beng bullied, the school does evrything possible to bring the bullying to an end". Even some experts may use this kind of phraseology.  They seem to think that victims are able or willing or both able and willing to report to people in authority that they (the victims)  are being bullied.

Schools are packed with victims (about 30% in every class) but no victim is capable of telling about the bullying they undergo.  The reasons are so obvious that I'm always amazed that they are not understood: if a victim tells, the bulying will increase, sometimes almost immediately but always in the short or long term.


To prevent this, SOMEONE ELSE MUST TELL ON BEHALF OF THE VICTIM.  Those someones are the victim's peer group.  Not singly but in bulk.  Not anonymously but confidentially.  The peer group needs encouragement and an easy method to help them do this.  The Box and Interview Method is the only intervention method that allows the peer group the encouragenment, the easy availability and  an easy routine to blow the whistle on the fact of victimhood within a school.


Bullying is like a tide.  Sometimes the wind blows stronger and the tide wreaks havoc on everything in its path.  The culture of bullying is so strong that it's extremely difficult to stop it.  It demands courage strength and tenacity.

Using  the Box and Interview method, you will uncover the state of a school with the load of unexpected information that turns up in the boxes in the first week or weeks.  Knowledge is power. Within one school year period  Principal and staff will build up a very definite picture of the state of bullying within a school. Over the same period, they have done a lot to turn back the tide. The first year is therefore crucial.

The method I am about to describe is not original in all its details but may be if taken in its entirety. If you want a quick summary of it before you read it in detail, it can be found here. Also the Anti-Bullying Code in Appendix 1 adds to the summary information and  itself forms an essential part of the Box and Interview Method.

After three years in operation, the system was endorsed unanimously by staff at a one-day seminar on bullying within the school in which it was first employed with Dr Brendan Butler in the chair.

The Anti-Bullying Code was also given the highest praise, from a legal standpoint, by the legal representative of the ASTI  when he reviewed the school rules which included this Code.

[This page last edited 20 March 2014]