I was bullied at school

by Paul Phillips

Listening to the news tonight, I hear a guy who has created an app for kids who are being bullied at school.

In the same segment, someone responsible for investigating bullying talks about how ‘careful and thorough’ she has to be investigating allegations of bullying. It is a ‘long slow process’ of stitching together the bits and pieces of allegation, denial, whispers and gossip. She couldn’t afford to get it wrong.

I was bullied at primary school. I was kicked, punched, knocked to the floor and my clothes were ripped. This started with one boy, who ended up being joined by about a dozen others. It went on for weeks.

I’d try to avoid it by staying in the school building, but of course any adult who saw me would order me back outside. I, of course, told no-one, including my mother who kept wondering why I was scuffed, or frequently bruised.

It came to a head, though, with the clothes ripping. Clothes were expensive, and we were poor. By the time it got to the point where a third shirt had to be bought, my mother sat me down and dragged the truth out of me.

Naming and shaming

Within days – only two or three – the headmistress called as assembly. The entire school was there. Without pointing me out, or naming me, she said that a group of children had been bullying a younger child. She gave a speech on the evils of bullying. Then she called out six of the culprits – my main protaganists and his most loyal helpers. One of these was a girl.

And she caned them. Right there, in public, including the girl. And then she waved the cane around with an admonishment that this was what happened to bullies.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Not only the cane, but also the public humiliation. Truth is, the cane – and slapping, or slippering – were common currency back then. The cane was used throughout my schooling, and I frequently suffered it myself when the rebel in me emerged aged about 13.

But the point here is that it was dealt with quickly, efficiently and – by God – it didn’t happen again. Compare that with the mealy-mouthed approach that requires ‘stitching together’ events in a long, slow process, while the bullied either continues to suffer, or else is somehow coddled and protected in a manner that ostracises him/her from fellow students.

And an app! What have we come to when ‘in loco parentis’ has become so diluted that teachers and others in authority don’t have the confidence – or, frankly, the local knowledge – to tackle this stuff themselves?

Three footnotes:
1. It was my mother’s fault I was bullied. She sent me to school in a bow tie. Poor as we were, she had delusions of being middle class. She made me a target.

2. The boy who started the bullying eventually became my best friend. At secondary school we competed (I’m not kidding) to see who could get their name in the punishment book (caning) the most in a term.

3. I wasn’t scarred by the bullying (mentally). My stepfather stepped in where the bullies left off, and by the time I was 13, I was big enough to hit him back. I suppose I was intimidated, but once I struck back, I have never felt intimidated by anyone ever again.




  1. That’s it…cane the kids in the butt, just like in the old days. Only today, they’ll come to school the next morning and shoot you in the back.


  2. Hi Paul. Me too.

    This might be brief for now because I’m not sure that the ‘reply’ function is working, but I have a few views on this article.

    Firstly I think the App is great – don’t you? It’s not meant to solve everything but is another useful tool in teachers/carers armoury when dealing with safeguarding children. My dad taught in northern comprehensives for forty five years and during that time transitioned from an old-fashioned authoritarian to a much more nuanced and caring safeguarder of children – without sacrificing the authority of leadership. He would have welcomed the App as another way of gaining insight in order to help a child who felt threatened – especially the ones who are inclined to keep it to themselves. All the comments on the tootoot site seem to be from teachers who are extremely well versed in this area, but recognise that it’s a never ending issue played out in new arenas – who had heard of cyber bullying 15 years ago? The App also creates a digital trail, which can be accessed by the appropriate authorities and acted upon – so issues don’t get left to stagnate in dead ends, as well as leaving a trail of evidence. Surely this a good example of ‘in loco parentis’?

    On the other thing you mention – about the caning incident – I have this to offer. I witnessed a caning at school when I was ten, a friend of mine in assembly in front of me and everyone else. It was primal in it’s cruelty, shocking and upsetting (even now thinking about it) and I’m sure is the root of my conviction that violence in any form by an adult to a child is wrong. Full stop. Even if the child wants it to happen! I’ve seldom met anyone who gladly went on a mission to get caned more than someone else, and as your footnote suggests, those caned often reoffend, rendering it a blunt behavioural tool.

    And on the ‘heartbreaking in it’s good intent’ bow tie issue… I saw an interview with David Hockney recently where he discussed how his traditional northern working class father had reacted to his homosexuality, artistic oddness and individuality by instructing him not to take any notice of what the neighbours said or did, but to get on with it. That’s the answer surely, nurturing and standing behind enlightened views? My teachers encouraged me to wear jeans like the other kids rather than the more formal grey flannels that my mum kitted me out in and that I quite liked. It helped but I always viewed it as a victory for the bullies.


    • I wasn’t suggesting bringing back caning, but I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the end of physical punishment has lead to the climate where knives are routinely brought into UK schools. My own son was mugged twice in his first two weeks at secondary school, once with a knife. The school didn’t call the police. And it was one of Tony Blair’s vanguard Academies, the Head one of Blair’s education advisors.


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