As part of our ‘Boards Against Bullying’ campaign, we caught up with Penny Catchpole, Chair of Governors at The Westgate School, an all-through school in Winchester, Hampshire. Read on to discover how Penny’s board has tackled bullying incidents and continues to nurture an inclusive, safe school environment.

About me

I’ve been a governor since 2010 and have just been re-elected as Chair for a fifth year. In 2013, we opened our lower school and expanded Westgate into an all-through school. There’s also a nursery on site, meaning the school offers five key stages and a unique educational experience compared to standard primary and secondary schools. We’ve worked hard to ensure the school doesn’t feel too divided and maintains a supportive environment for pupils and staff. In fact, a recent staff survey demonstrated that staff feel positive about the school.

Upskilling staff and governors

As a board, we make sure staff have the time and budget they need to complete any relevant training, including topics such as wellbeing and bullying prevention and response. Although we have specialists on hand to provide some in-house training, such as the Lead Child and Family Support Practioner, the board remains mindful of the need for external opportunities and can provide valuable networking opportunities for staff.

Training and upskilling aren’t just for staff, however. I am always looking for opportunities to improve my knowledge of governance-related topics. For example, I’m keen to get to know more about online safety so I can confidently hold the school to account. I recently participated in a session on monitoring and filtering to help me assess the efficacy of our online safety processes. It also raised additional lines of questioning, such as how we address online safety when pupils have 4G devices that can bypass the school internet. Such issues could warrant school policy updates and we’ll always adapt the policy review cycle if we need to make urgent amendments.

In addition to Governors for Schools’ topical and insightful webinars, I attend Judicium’s free online Sofa Sessions each week. These informative events cover a diverse range of specific topics, providing plenty of helpful detail. Finally, I would recommend Andrew Hall’s free weekly safeguarding briefings. Each of these sources also offers paid-for services, but the ones I access are free and very useful.

Reporting when things aren’t right

We have established a programme entitled ‘Call it Out’ to encourage pupils to report sensitive issues such as bullying. To ensure issues are promptly addressed, pupils have access to a ‘Call it Out’ button on their learning dashboards, allowing them to send information to staff quickly and easily.

Pupil surveys tell us that pupils lose confidence in the school’s ability to help them when issues aren’t tackled quickly. As such, the board carefully monitors the efficacy of systems such as ‘Call it Out’, ensuring they have a positive impact on pupils’ experiences.

Fortunately, most pupils at the school feel confident speaking up about their problems with trusted adults – something I observed when visiting the school. As our most recent Ofsted report states, “pupils understand and value the importance of equality and treating everyone with kindness. They appreciate the fact that the school is an inclusive community, where they can be themselves without being judged by others. Pupils feel reassured that even though bullying is very rare, leaders speak to them about it and make clear it is not tolerated.”

We have re-introduced the practice of inviting groups of pupils to attend full governing board meetings to tell us about their experiences, including their views on bullying and the school’s approach to the problem.

We’ve consulted pupils on our policies and they’ve made valuable suggestions. For example, a pupil working group noted that the terminology in our online policy didn’t match the language to which they were accustomed, allowing us to update the policy.

Parents as Partners in Learning

We work hard to build strong relationships with parents through a programme called ‘Partners in Learning’, allowing them to air their concerns and work with us to tackle issues like bullying.

We hold face-to-face meetings with parents wherever possible and ensure there are clear procedures in place to give parents as much relevant and up-to-date information as possible. As a board, we make sure staff are given the time they need to conduct these meetings properly.

Developing an inclusive, compassionate culture  

Our school values are to be kind, responsible and respectful and the board is careful to monitor whether these values are woven into the curriculum. For example, we hold small philosophy sessions for pupils, often based on topical issues such as an incidence of bullying. This approach has proved very effective and allowed pupils to explore different perspectives on a variety of issues.

The school also holds regular sessions called ‘Stories Worth Sharing’, in which pupils tell their peers about personal experiences. For example, a pupil with autism recently hosted a session explaining what the classroom looks like to them. In so doing, we build on our efforts to build empathy in pupils and encourage them to engage with matters of diversion and inclusion.

Our inclusion efforts have been so successful that most of the pupils in the lower school could reel off a list of protected characteristics by heart!

Understanding what our pupils need

The school curriculum covers a range of online safety topics to keep children safe from harm. While issues like online bullying primarily affect upper school pupils, we’ve noticed pupils obtaining access to devices at an increasingly young age in recent years. To address this trend, our board has taken steps to monitor online safety trends in lower years.

We’re acutely aware of the ways in which transitioning between key stages can affect pupils’ behaviour and mental health. As such, the school recently introduced a 6-8 week programme to support pupils’ transition into Year 7, wherever necessary.

There are 60 ‘legacy’ pupils in our upper school (i.e., those who started in the lower school). We also have around 180 pupils joining from other primary settings, who sometimes struggle to adapt to a school environment in which friendship groups are already well-established. To foster inclusion, cooperation, and bonding, the school hosts a series of events for all Year 7 pupils, including a summer camp in the run-up to the new academic year and a further two overnight campouts during the first weekends in September.

All governors monitor safeguarding

Safeguarding is everyone’s business – not just the safeguarding governor. To ensure the board remains vigilant, we’ve included a safeguarding section at the top of every governor monitoring form, allowing governors to comment on issues such as pupil behaviour and wellbeing. All governors make sure to speak to pupils during visits and everyone understands their duty to report incidents using the appropriate process.

We’re provided with a table of recent incidents during every full board meeting, allowing us to analyse trends and ensure the school addresses problems early. For example, incidents tend to rise in the run-up to Christmas as pupils grow restless and prepare for the holidays. To tackle this issue, the board ensures the school is as prepared as possible and responds appropriately when incidents occur.

Engaging with the wider community

The board has developed a good working relationship with the local Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), who often come into the school to speak with pupils.

The school also regularly hosts a meeting of local secondary schools and parents to tackle issues like bullying. These meetings are collaborative and may include guest speakers and special events. Additionally, the schools arrange joint letters on current trends, typically focusing on safeguarding issues.

Summary of how the governors at Westgate are tackling bullying:

  • Helping to nurture a culture of inclusion and openness that respects pupils’ voices and places importance on speaking out when things aren’t right.
  • Valuing parents as Partners in Learning and communicating with them at an early stage of the problem-handling process.
  • Giving staff the time they need to deal with issues and communicate with parents.
  • Ensuring the curriculum is strong and features diversity, inclusion, respect for others, and online safety.
  • Supporting the recruitment and appointment of staff with specialist training and knowledge, as well as the ability to disseminate information to colleagues.
  • Ensuring the budget supports training needs and release time for staff upskilling.
  • Monitoring the processes in place to support the transition between key stages and other key points of vulnerability for pupils.
  • Ensuring safeguarding is part of every governor monitoring visit.
  • Supporting the development of relationships with relevant members of the local community, e.g. police and other schools.
  • Receiving reports on incidents such as bullying at every full board meeting to monitor trends and the school’s response.
  • Utilising opportunities to hear from pupils – e.g. speaking to them during visits, having pupils speak at board meetings, scrutinising the results of pupil surveys, and involving them in developing the relevant policies.
  • Accessing training for governors to address knowledge gaps, particularly in areas that can rapidly change, such as online safety.
  • Proactively updating policies when needed regardless of the policy cycle – e.g. when new learning or technologies emerge.

Feeling inspired to tackle bullying in local schools? Volunteer as a governor today!

As Penny’s story demonstrates, there are plenty of ways governors can get involved with anti-bullying strategies and make a real difference in their communities. If you’re keen to use your skills to help younger generations, register your details with Governors for Schools today. One of our friendly team members will help match you with a local school.