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Mothers set up group to beat bullying in schools

Three mothers have joined forces to speak out against bullying in schools, with one of them demanding the resignation of an assistant head who she claims intimidated her daughter by calling her a “silly little girl”.

Sylvana Brannon, Valerie Brincat and Dianne Vella Gregory felt they should speak up to raise awareness that treating children disrespectfully should not be tolerated.

Ms Brannon set up a closed Facebook anti-bullying group – called Mothers Against Violence in Schools – after her eight-year-old daughter felt bullied by one of the two assistant heads at her school.

Eva started going home after school in a bad mood and would cry for no reason, Ms Brannon said of her daughter. She eventually told her mother she was being bullied by a student. Her mother called a meeting with the government school her daughter attends.

The assistant head, who was present for the meeting, said she would look into the bullying. Later that day, the assistant head complained to Ms Brannon that Eva was not doing her homework. Mr Brannon argued this was a poss-ible symptom of the bullying.

Then, a few days later, Eva was called into the assistant head’s office again for a telling off for not doing her English homework, Ms Brannon said.

She found out about this later at home when she came across a note from her daughter – calling out for help. The note read: “Ma, Ms … told me: ‘you are nothing but a silly little girl!’ Do something please!”

Ms Brannon had been aware about the missing English homework because Eva had hold her she could not remember what it was.

Eva had been taken to the office where she was confronted by the headmaster, two assistant heads and her teacher.

“She described it to me as: ‘I could feel my face on fire, I thought the blood was going to come out. I was so afraid, my heart was beating very fast, I was shaking and I could feel my feet trembling like they show them in the movies and I thought I was going to fall to the floor’,” Ms Brannon said.

It turned out that the assistant head kept shouting and later told Eva: “You are nothing but a silly little girl,” she added.

“This was a demeaning, disres-pectful and disempowering comment … Eva expressed to me how she felt shamed and embarrassed, crying in class, unsuccessfully trying to hide it from her classmates. And that’s when she wrote me the note.”

Ms Brannon immediately called a meeting with the headmaster who is looking into the allegations of bullying – by the student and the assistant head.

She wants the assistant head to apologise to her daughter to transmit the message that the girl did nothing wrong by speaking up. She also thinks the assistant head, who spoke to children disrespectfully, should be removed.

The assistant head has admitted to using those words but insisted that “this happened in a context which the complainant does not mention” and it was not ethically correct to give more details.

Ms Brannon has been recently called in for a meeting with the school principal. While satisfied with the way the class bullying was handled, she was not happy about the other issue.

Ms Brincat, who sat by Ms Brannon in solidarity, said there was need to train school management across the board. Last year her 11-year-old autistic son ended up having to leave the State school he attends for lack of staff training to deal with his condition.

When he threw a tantrum, and accidentally hit people close to him, school staff did not know how to handle him.

Ms Vella Gregory, who wanted to support the other two mothers, felt that, unfortunately, there was still the mentality that respect at school was a one-way street with only children having to show respect towards teachers and school staff.

The Education Ministry’s views

The education authorities have confirmed they received a complaint that “an assistant head bullied a primary school student”, an Education Ministry spokesman said.

The complaint included allegations of bullying among students and alleged bullying by an adult on students. The school and the college it forms part of immediately looked into the matter and called in support services.

The allegation of class bullying is being handled. It must be pointed out that what emerged from the investigations was different from the allegations made, the spokesman noted.

“With reference to the alleg-ation that the assistant head bullied the child, it appears that when she spoke to the child, other persons were present. While the phrase ‘you are behaving like a silly little girl’ was actually used, this happened in a context that the complainant does not mention.

“It is not ethically correct to give more details concerning minors, in their own best interests. The mother has been called in for a meeting and full feedback has been given,” the spokesman said.

He said the ministry and the directorate never received a report from Ms Brincat.

Heads and assistant heads were given extensive training on a variety of issues, including disability issues, he added.

Student services were in place, consisting of counsellors and guidance teachers for children to refer to if they felt they were being treated badly by anyone in any way. Anti-bullying procedures were also applicable to all schools, the spokesman said.

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