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Racket and threats towards a new pupil in specialized education

  • Direct bullying
  • Non-especific

When and how the event started, how the school detected it.

The events have happened at the beginning of the school year 2011-2012, in a second class of secondary special education. This type of education receives pupils with a mental and/or behavioural handicap.
The class is only made of boys, older than 15 years.
A new pupil has joined the class. He smokes and offers the other pupils cigarettes in a friendly way, thinking that he will also receive some in return.
Quickly this friendly offer turns into a recurrent demand from three boys “give me a cigarette”.
The phenomenon amplifies, 3, 4, 5 times a day (before school in the street, at 10 o’clock, at midday and after the school), without never getting one cigarette back.
The victim starts to be fed up with this situation, but he does not know how to express it. He becomes nervous, uncommunicative, and he destroys his own work at the workroom.
An educator notices the situation and intervenes to make it stop.
Then bullying events become more discrete and threats appear: « if you talk about it, I will beat you ».
Yet, the victim talks to his mother who contacts the headmaster. She tells the headmaster that her son endures “racket”.

In order to solve the problem, the headmaster calls the “citizenship council” set up in the school.
Anxious to channel violence and decided to stop this phenomenon, having respect for human rights, this school has set up a “civic school” device. In this approach, the pupils pass laws and make them respect thanks to a “citizenship council” democratically elected.

Time period

The bullying events have been detected on the 20th September 2011. They have lasted two weeks.

Main actors involved

One victim. We will call him Dorian.
Three bullies, one of them is the main author. We will call him Kevin.

Bullies’ profile
The first bully, the main author Kevin, has a difficult past. Just before school holidays, he arrived from a Public Institution of Youth Protection (centre for re-socialization of juvenile offenders). He is supervised by an educator of integration for his return in his family and for school integration.
At home, he is alone. He has found a “gang” that influences him in a negative manner and protects him.
At school, he has to be irreproachable (arriving on time, taking part in the lessons, behaving properly…) otherwise he could be sent back to the centre for re-socialization of juvenile offenders.
The second bully is impressive because he is tall and strong. He has a reputation for being a gang leader. But he does not really act so even if he is intimidating.
The third bully is a “follower”. He is not as intellectually gifted as his fellows.

Type of bullying acts carried out

Racket, threats.


Which actions have been undertaken ? Which strategies have been implemented to combat school bullying in this case ?

The headmaster meets Dorian and explains him the working of the “citizenship council”. He comforts him, because this one is afraid to be an “informer”.
The educator also tries to convince Dorian to take part in the « citizenship council ».
The educator wants to warn off the bullies. First, it is out of question sanctioning, but preventing.

Dorian arrives at the « citizenship council » very nervous. A discussion is led around the table. He is confronted with his racketeers, one after the other. He expresses his feeling: he would also like to be offered a cigarette sometimes. The educator bets on the aggressors’ sense of right and sincerity.
These ones admit the facts. Nevertheless, Kevin takes it badly because he is supervised by his educator of insertion and he knows he could be sent back to the centre for re-socialization of juvenile offenders. He will go on bullying. The second bully promises to make an effort. During the day, he apologizes to Dorian and shakes his hand. The third bully, the follower, also says he will make an effort.

Following this first « citizenship council », the “black karabiners” (the good citizens of the “civic school”) take care of Dorian. From a distance, they look after him and, someway, they are his guardians.

A second « citizenship council » is organised on the 29th September in the absence of the victim and the aggressors. Are present: the teachers, the educators, the “black karabiners”. These ones confirm that bullying goes on. They decided to speak about that with Kevin, but without success. The educator also confirms the escalation of the situation. Then the council decides to proceed to a phase of sanction.

To do so, a third « citizenship council » is convened. Are present: the headmaster, the educator, the tenured teacher, some teachers and especially the workroom teacher (Kevin spends almost 20 hours a week with him) who had supported Kevin, as well as the educator of insertion and Kevin.
They remind him the events as well as the warning he received.
With the help of the educator of insertion, the council makes him understand that his behaviour is unacceptable, but it optimizes his school work.
A sanction/reparation is imposed to him. He has to apologize to Dorian in a sincere way and to accept the legitimacy of Dorian’s action with the “citizenship council”. He must acknowledge he has done something wrong. Furthermore he will be supervised by the educator of insertion. If he bullies again, he risks a lot: he could be sent back to a centre for re-socialization of juvenile offenders.
At the end of the council, Kevin has realised his own acts and he has repaired. Since then, everything is ok in the class.
Kevin has even put his name down on the electoral roll for the next “citizenship council” to represent the pupils of the second cycle during one year. He is also ready to accept not to be elected.

The prevention and intervention device set up in the school

It is thanks to the « civic school” device that the problem could be gently solved.
This device stakes on the intervention of a “citizenship council”. This council is made of elected representatives: 4 pupils, 2 teachers, 1 educator, 2 coordinators, the headmaster as well as 3 “black karabiners”: “irreproachable pupils who have all the needed behavioural skills”. One year and a half is necessary to become a “black karabiner” and to play a role within the school. Initially, you are a “grey karabiner”.
Within the council, the school tries to keep equity between pupils and adults. It emphasizes that a pupil’s word equals an adult’s one. There is a debate around the table and everyone is heard.
The origin of this project is to preventively react to violence by directly involving the pupils. They will quicker respect the rules that they have set up themselves rather than those that are imposed.


Impact of the bullying acts on the didactical pathway and on the students’ motivation

Dorian, the victim, has expressed bad feeling by his nervousness, his isolation and his wish for not going to school again. School dropping out has showed through the destruction of his work at the workroom.
Kevin has not modified his behaviour and his school results have not changed.

Impact on active citizenship and school environment

The victim and the bullies have been quickly supported thanks to a “civic school” approach established in the school.
The « citizenship council » has been asked to convene repeatedly and the “black karabiners” have acted as mediators.


Perception of the causes of the bullying acts

The fact of being a new pupil.

Did he inform anybody ?

He has informed his mother who has directly warned the headmaster.

What help did he need and from whom ?

« The black karabiners » have supported him and more especially one of them, a member of his class. They have also made Dorian express his problem with the help of the educator (after the contact between the mother and the headmaster) when they saw him so nervous.
No one has been followed by the CPMS (psycho-medico-social centre).


What was their motivation ? Why did they choose the victim ?

The bullies wanted to show the new pupil « who they are », that they are gang leaders in the school.

Did they feel remorse ?

No. They did not show empathy towards the victim.
But they have sincerely apologized and realized the seriousness of their acts.
The second and the third bullies have stopped bullying as soon as they have received the first warning from the citizenship council. Only Kevin has not understood the message, blinded by the fear to be sent back to a centre for re-socialization of juvenile offenders.


Were they aware of what was happening ?
What did they do and why ?

The « black karabiners » were perfectly aware of the problem. They have supported the victim. They have taken the initiative in trying to solve the problem. They have informed the responsible persons of the school that their mediation was not a success.

What is their perception of the causes?

The aggressors abuse Dorian because he is a new one. A way to show him who they are and to intimidate him, maybe because they have gone themselves through the same stage!?


Were they aware of the situation ? How did they manage to understand what was happening ? What did they do ?

The tenured teacher is a member of the « citizenship council ». He has taken part in the whole process of the problem resolution.
The teacher of workroom has first taken the aggressor’s side because he was one of the pupils who had already problems. He has trivialized the events: “just some cigarettes!”

Which cooperation did they receive from the other teachers and from the headmaster ?

The teacher of workroom has been invited to the “citizenship council” and he has joined to the decisions taken.


Were they aware of what was happening ? What did they do to address the episode ?

The headmaster has been the first one to be informed about the bullying events. He has asked the “citizenship council” to solve the problem. This one has accepted. He has taken part in the “citizenship council”.


Did they notice what was happening ? Did they get informed and by who ?

The victim’s mother has been informed by her son. She directly got in touch with the headmaster.
The bully’s mother has been informed by the educator of integration.

Did they have the possibility to modify the situation and how ?

The parents have not intervened in the problem resolution. They are informed about the “civic school” approach set up by the school.


Having set up a « civic school » approach, the school has not called for external counsellors, except the main bully’s educator of integration.
This educator has joined the whole process of the problem resolution and has contributed to its success.


The school authorities have not been informed about the bullying event.


Concerning the veracity of the bullying event?

It is a real bullying event (racket, threats, intention to harm the weakest one), but it has lasted a short length of time (15 days).
Concerning the causes and the mechanism that has allowed the event to occur?
The arrival of a new pupil, in a school where the three bullies are renowned to swagger about, has triggered the bullying event.
The phenomenon has quickly amplified, because the events have gone on outside the school and out of control.
About the answer brought by the school ?
The « civic school » approach is interesting because it allows a gently resolution of the problem. The search for solution is made in a progressive way and with mutual respect.
The school sets the limits while preserving and searching for every pupil’s worth. First of all, the sanction is a tool used to make the pupils aware of their own responsibilities, for individual progress, for the awareness of the events, of their seriousness and of their consequences. When the sanction has been achieved, it shows everybody that the pupil has understood his fault.
The adults have to work more in a preventive way without trivializing details that are also very important subsequently. We have to be coherent and just, to manage a dialog for awareness and to remain firm too. This way, the youths understand better their faults and they accept the sanction more easily as well as the reparation that shows their understanding, through a good action toward the society.
The reparation may seem light. But, for the responsible persons of the school, it can be light and have a great effect, if it comes from the aggressor himself.
If the school had chosen a more traditional management of the complaint, this one would probably have led to an exclusion of the main aggressor, Kevin. He would probably have not understood and would maybe have gone on bullying outside the school area. The consequences for the victim would probably have been even more serious and maybe more painful. There would probably have been less problems in the school, but the responsible ones would have simply moved the problems without really coping with their educational work.

Concerning the type of answer brought by the school (disciplinary or educative)?

The school has chosen a strictly educative way. This innovating device seems to be fruitful.
We have to underline the crucial function of the insertion educator, external counsellor who has been associated to the whole process.

The lessons brought from the experience and the devices set up to prevent the phenomenon
The school tries as much as it can to remain in prevention and in the same way of acting in such situations.
The school always advices the pupils against solving their troubles alone because that leads the most of the time to the “Lex Talionis”, an eye for an eye.
Thus it thinks about an information project for the pupils (in particular in the lower cycle), about the right way to behave and the right way to act in case of problem.
Information sessions about racket, drugs and cutting weapons are also organised by external actors (for instance the police) who know well the ground realities. These actors can better raise the pupils’ awareness about the reactions to show, but also about the consequences of these reactions or of the “unspoken”.
The school could set up a welcome or vigilance device beyond the first year. For instance, in collaboration with the referent educator.
Would the “civic school” device be more efficient with a complementary approach carried out by the psycho-social counsellors?


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Comments about this Case Study

Date: 13.03.2012

Type of school: « VIRGIL MADGEARU » High School IAŞI
Country: ROMANIA

The case discussed in this study by the Belgian partners is new to me because in my 10 years as a teacher I have never come across a similar situation. I will therefore try and see this case by looking at my personal experience as a teacher and by trying to imagine myself being in a similar situation .
I think that the steps that the school took in order to solve this situation were pertinent .I appreciate the fact that the school principal got involved from the beginning and that he was actively participating until a final solution was found. The idea of creating a „civic council” where students could take part is worthy of praise and represents a viable and creative solution to make them more aware of their responsibilities. Were I to be in the same situation, being in charge of solving a conflict of this nature, I think I would have called upon the parents of the students that were involved and then the school administration. Together with them and the school counselor, we would have tried to find the best alternatives to mend the conflict: round table discussions, role play, informative sessions, etc. If the parents would have refused to cooperate of if we would have failed to solve the conflict, I would have called the local authorities , especially the police who deal with this type of situations on a daily basis and who would have certainly found the most appropriate solution.
I also appreciate the fact that the school did not give up on the aggressor, Kevin, and their decision to solve the problem step by step, with patience and in a just manner towards all those involved. This way, Kevin will not become a „lost cause” and has a chance to learn from his mistakes in order to not repeat them in the future.
This case study has enriched my knowledge of what it means to be a teacher and will help me understand students who are going through various stages and situations of conflict, different from the ones they have previously known. I also learned that the traditional and drastic methods are not always the right ones for such students, especially for those with a difficult past or for those who come from dysfunctional families. They must be helped, reclaimed and reintegrated because only in this case they will be able to evolve and become people.

Date: 11.03.2012

Posted by: Phil Ormerod
Type of school: Special School (for students with 'Learning Difficulties'
Country: United Kingdom

There are a number of issues about this case which cause me concern, not least the fact that nowhere in this Case Study is there a reference to the issue of smoking. Most schools in the UK have a 'no smoking policy' and any students found smoking on site would be subject to sanction for that alone, before looking at the bullying issue.

Turning to the bullying actions, we too are a school dealing with students with 'Special Educational Needs' and the area of integration for new students coming into the school, particularly when they come in at an older age, to an already established peer group, is one which we address very carefully, ensuring there is good communication between the transfering school and ourselves, so that we have a good background knowledge of the student and his/her abilities and strengths/weaknesses.

We too have an 'anti-bullying group' but in the UK the name 'black karabiners' would have a rather sinister connotation (because of possible links to a 'police type' group) and we certainly would not use a name of this type, instead using a name such as the 'student council', 'anti-bullying group'.

I am a little disappointed that the students only route to deal with the problem was through his mother and then on to the school's Headteacher. We have other lines of communication which might have worked in this instance e.g. providing the new student with a 'buddy' (a trusted other student) who they can talk to during the first few days/weeks of arriving at their new school. We also have a professional school counsellor, employed by the school, on site, available to help students with their personal problems. After the incident had been dealt with, we would still ensure contact with the counsellor for a little while longer to make absolutely certain all is well.

Restorative Justice and taking the student direct to the whole 'citizenship council' would not we find, work in all cases as many of our students would be intimidated by having to meet their bullies face to face and separate meetings with the council for the victim and then the bullies would be more the norm, before a meeting with everyone present.

I also feel that the lack of support from Kevin's 'workroom teacher' was disappointing because it is important, when dealing with bullying and trying to stop it happening, that everyone sends out the same message.

Finally the incident at our school might have led in the first instance to a temporary one or two day exclusion for Kevin as the 'ringleader' and this mught have helped him to think about the possibility of the far more serious consequence of a return to what we would call a 'Young Offenders Institute'. Then, before he came back into school he would have had a 're-integration' meeting at which he would have to promise not to do anything like this again.

Date: 12.02.2012

Posted by: Diana Nikolova
Type of school: Specialized school
Country: Bulgaria

This case resembles the one discussed at our school – physical violence I n the gym during and after a game of volleyball. Here just like in our case, one boy, unpopular among the strong ones, allows himself to join the game and to request some attention, attracts the negative attention of the bullies, who attack him quite directly. The approach of the “civil school” and the “civil council”, which governs and pacifies the relationships in school quite peacefully is very successful and could be useful for multiplication in our country. At our school we mainly use preventive measures and the results are visible. To a great extent the students feel members of a “civil community” of the same kind as those described in this case – with clear behavior rules and responsibilities towards the other members.
A lecture course on prevention and popularizing of the importance of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect, as well as the negative effects, which inadequate behavior could have both on the victim and on the bully, would be very useful for the teachers, the school psychologists and pedagogic advisors.

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