Several of you may recall that upon arrival into the Ystwyth Valley, for a couple of years, I was occupied as an exuberant Community Cricket Coach across mid Wales. This rewarding role took me into scores of Ceredigion and Powys schools, leisure centres, and sports clubs - a job that provided not only fast-track assimilation into the region’s delightful Welsh culture, but also a useful glimpse into the workings of the local education system.
Learned plenty, not least how multifaceted, stressful, and thankless the jobs of teacher and of prif can be in these parts. Forged relationships with staff, pupils, and parents that persist to this day. Effectively salved a difficult episode in my otherwise joyous personal existence, a gig focussed on the wellbeing of children that kept me fit, grounded, and productive. My brief time as ‘Coach’ was a personal lifesaver that will always be thought of as a vocational highlight.
Such a positive experience was why, late last year, I was caught off guard by worrying data indicating a 150 per cent increase in reported bullying at Ceredigion secondary schools - blimey - genuinely thought we were better at protecting our children than this. So I began discussing bullying with families who have school-age children and the upshot of these numerous conversations was that for many parents, these statistics might shock but come as little surprise.
I found almost every family reluctantly tell a scarring story of when at least one of their children were the subject of unchallenged bullying. Even more troubling was that I could not find a single child of colour who has not suffered extended periods of persistent racial abuse not only in local schools, but also while attending local sports clubs. Most distressing was hearing of incidents of racism from teachers and sports coaches. For I remember complaining about a steady stream of racism from a teacher in the late 1970s, was pleased to see action taken and the abuse stop. Infuriating to hear much the same thing happening in 2024 to some of the non-white children of mid Wales.
But most worrying of all, whether white, Black, or brown, family after family claimed that educational leadership and sports club management regularly downplay complaints of bullying. Children and families expected to accept suffering, rage, and sleepless nights as the result of: a bit of banter; only words; not serious when perpetrated by otherwise ‘good kids’. On occasion, victims and their families have been cast as the villains, themselves coming under scrutiny, and in some cases threatened with sanction for not accepting continuing harassment and abuse.
The shameful reality, as recent events demonstrate, is that in mid Wales, white adults garner considerably more sympathy and enjoy far greater protection from harassment than children. One anti-English note left for a man from Birmingham (in itself, probably not a criminal offence) generates widespread outrage, numerous headlines, and an immediate investigation by Dyfed-Powys Police.
The same force handed screenshots taken from a series of overtly racist WhatsApp messages sent to a local school-aged child (certainly a criminal offence), casually dismissed the report as a problem for the school. But hang on, when racist messages were shown to the school, then the local authority, consequential action was taken by neither - so the bullying continues. Persistent inaction by the relevant bodies is the only reason such incidents are presented to the police at all.
One might imagine the recent spike in reported bullying (and I suspect ‘reported’ bullying is the tip of a fast growing bullying iceberg) would suggest that now is the time to get a firm grip on an obviously worsening situation. Yet, it appears that the instinctive reaction to increasing bullying in schools and sports-clubs, especially awkward when racial, sexual orientation, or gender based, is to slip complaints into the bin marked ‘nothing to see here’.
The leadership of our region’s education and sports establishments should be ashamed that they have never effectively dealt with the issue of bullying. Ashamed that children in this region are still having to go into school, onto a sports-field, or open their phones and be subject to repeated abuse. For it only takes a few unchecked individuals to make learning impossible, sport unpleasant, lives a misery for our children. We know this. And bullying without consequences results in more bullying. We know this too.
This is why the families I have spoken with are demanding real, consistent, and significant consequences for bullying and abuse, both for the individuals who are responsible and for the leaders who fail to get a grip of bullying within their particular school or club. Only meaningful consequences change unacceptable behaviour.
So, as a matter of urgency, Ceredigion Schools and Education Department, parents, teachers, prifs, school governors, along with sports-club members and committees must demand audits of their bullying complaint procedures to ensure complaints pathways are well marked, robust and effective, are consequential, inspire confidence, and do not promote a permissive environment where abuse is tolerated.
And if needed, there is plenty of motivation to improve these procedures, motivation provided by legal precedents suggesting that ignoring or suppressing complaints of bullying, especially where protected characteristics are involved, is a clear dereliction of duty of care responsibilities, a costly mistake being paid for by an increasing number of organisations, most notably Yorkshire Cricket Club and the Met Police.
And although it is too late to save the children and families I have spoken to from their distress, in order to change this intolerable situation for future students, subjects of bullying and their parents must always find the courage and energy required to report each and every incident of harassment or abuse, whether faced in person or online. We must never do nothing.
Easier said than done. I know from personal experience how exhausting it is to detect that subtle sigh, to watch the eyes roll, lids droop, how frustrating it is to have one’s complaint belittled and befuddled. Sometimes feels simpler to suck it all up and let the abuse go - to turn the other cheek. Hell no! Those days are long gone.
Each and every incident of bullying, inform the teacher or coach, talk with your whole family, knock politely on the Prif’s door. Be loud and persistent. Still no action? Then contact your Schools and Education Department as well as the Cambrian News. For if we expect our educational and sporting establishments to operate a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying, we, those subject to abuse, those witnessing or being informed of harassment, must also adopt a zero-tolerance stance against bullying.
Finally, I feel well placed to suggest more sport for your children. For expending surplus energy in high-pitched competition - cooperating to win - undoubtedly improves general behaviour. Clearly, cricket is best, but all offerings of supervised sport within our schools and clubs - sport in itself - when well administered, can and should serve as an effective pre-emptive strike against all forms of bullying. So drag your kids down - they will love it.