Byline: ZOE CHAMBERLAIN
BEING a school bully can lead to a lifetime of crime.
Young Voice, the Anti-Bullying Alliance Network for the West Midlands, found that bullies are SIX TIMES more likely than classmates to have a criminal record by the age of 24.
They also discovered that bully girls are three times more likely to try drugs.
Yet the research showed bullies themselves have also been victims.
Half of boys and a quarter of girls said they had been threatened with physical violence at school themselves.
Most disturbingly, many bullies think violence gets them what they want as a result of behaviour learned at home.
Adrienne Katz, the alliance's anti-bullying co-ordinator, says: "Children who are bullies are more likely to become involved in gangs, misuse drugs and get into trouble with the law.
"They are much more likely to be depressed and take drugs because they say: 'This gets me out of it.'
"It is important not to think of the victims as angels and the bullies as devils. There's a grey area between the two.
"Some children bully as a defence - a form of protection because they feel in a vulnerable position themselves.
"Many bullies have been bullied themselves and don't want to be the victim, so they end up bullying others to feel like a powerful person."
Last year, 65 Birmingham secondary school pupils were expelled for bullying, 59 of them for physical abuse and six for sexually inappropriate behaviour.
Yet the figure is a dramatic reduction on last year, when 105 students were kicked out.
So it does seem that schemes, such as peer mediating and support groups, where designated pupils help prevent bullying by encouraging everyone to play together, are having an impact.
For the individuals affected, bullying can have far-reaching consequences.
In September 2004, teenager Amy Rose Tipton took an overdose of anti-depressants after being bullied at school.
Amy, who was just 14 and from Kidderminster, Worcestershire, had left letters to her family saying she felt 'unpopular' and did not have many friends.
Katherine Bamber was just 16 when she hung herself in the garage of her Kidderminster home in 1992. Her family said her death was also as a result of bullying.
Her plight led to a national anti-bullying campaign by TV presenter Esther Rantzen.
"Schools and anyone else trying to tackle bullying should ask themselves four questions when dealing with the problem," Adrienne says.
"Firstly, is my intervention making the victim safer? "Secondly, has it changed the bully's behaviour?
"Thirdly, if there was prejudice or racism involved, has that been tackled?
"Finally, have we as a group learnt something from what's happened?
"If you cannot answer yes to all four questions, then the intervention is not working.
"Just sending individuals to the headteacher is like sending them down a cul-de-sac. It gets them nowhere."
The alliance organised a singing contest last November in Birmingham as part of Anti-Bullying Week. Youngsters wrote and performed songs about bullying and were judged by Brum singing star Lhamea.
Lhamea herself was bullied physically and verbally for three years at secondary school until her parents moved her.
She wrote about her own experiences and became such an inspiration to her peers that she was awarded the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Award for Young People.
Lhamea chose Holly Hodgkiss and Ellis Sodon, from Tamworth, Staffordshire as winners of the song competition, and the pair are now having their song professionally recorded.
"Music has a remarkable power which young people can use to express how they feel about bullying," says Adrienne. "Holly and Ellis will make a difference to so many children who hear their song. …