This week, the Department for Education (DfE) published the report Reducing Bullying Amongst the Worst Affected.
Yet its publication is something of a mystery, appearing in the DFE archives rather than as a new publication. Is it just that the report was commissioned by the previous government (although such documents are usually published as "new" and contain the caveat that the "findings do not necessarily reflect current government policy").
Or does it mean the government wishes to distance itself from the findings of the report. Either way, we'll probably never know.
However, whatever the background to the decision it's a pity a report like this was buried in the archives. On initial reading I don't think it's one that particularly links to previous policy; or makes substantial recommendations for future strategy. It simply seems a reasonable attempt to draw together available research and information sources.
The first thing to note about the content of the report is that, for such a big subject, it really is rather brief (28 pages). It is also, however, clear on its evidence sources and methodology - and generally careful to qualify its conclusions where necessary. It provides a usefully full set of references.
One of the report's key conclusions, which hasn't been so much emphasised in other materials on bullying, is the direct influence that perceptions about its frequency and pervasiveness have on bullying behaviour; essentially, the more bullying is seen as the norm in an institution or social setting, the greater will be the tendency for children and young people to bully.
It may seem an obvious finding, but linked to one of the report's other main points about bullying's roots in the exercise of social power, it makes a more persuasive argument for the kind of education and information programmes that highlight the actual facts about a relevant group's (say a school population) behaviour and views on the acceptability of bullying - rather than what may be the commonly held perceptions about its frequency or its acceptance amongst peers.
This is all particularly relevant, because the report points to the school as the "epicentre" for bullying.
On a more detailed note, the report again emphasises the way perceived "difference" contributes to the groups more likely to be bullied - including those with special needs. On this, it's depressing to learn the evidence suggests that, whilst other groups of bullied children experience declining levels of bullying as they grow older, this applies much less so, to SEN pupils.
The other depressing finding is how much of bullying is based on "looks".
Overall, the report provides a useful eight point executive summary; a discussion on the definition of bullying; detail on the characteristics of children affected; an analysis of the impact of bullying; a discussion on its causes; and sections on the role of bystanders, and (with examples) on the importance of communication programmes.
All of this makes the DfE's decision to "hide" the report all the more puzzling. After all, there's very little in the report that would provoke such a reaction.
This blog is based on an editorial written for CareKnowledge by its editor, Jim Kennedy. CareKnowledge is a sister web publication of the Journal of Family Health Care.