How far would YOU go to stop your own child being bullied? In Anti-Bullying Week we speak to the parents who have taken measures into their own hands to protect their children from school bullies.. By Kelly Strange.
Watching her son walk through the school gates, Stacey Winfindale bit her nails anxiously. He turned around and gave her his bravest smile, but she knew deep down that his tummy was doing somersaults, just like hers.
Stacey, 37, experienced the same torment every morning ever since a bully beat up Jed, 14, last year.
"When the school phoned me I could hardly believe it," she says.
"He was as white as a sheet and crying like a little boy. He didn't understand why they picked on him. When we got home I sat him down and asked what happened."
Jed was in his technology class at Maltby Academy in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, when a classmate started misbehaving.
The teacher sent him out and as he went to get help, the boy came back in and turned on Jed, while the other pupils sat in shock.
After he'd battered Jed, he simply walked out of the class, leaving Jed in a heap on the floor.
"He had bruised arms and ribs and his neck and shoulders were swollen," says Stacey, a barmaid and a cleaner, who was even more furious when the boy was only suspended for two days.
"Two days is nothing," she says. There was no way Jed could go back to school while that bully was still there so I kicked up a stink and eventually they excluded him.
"But it was still weeks before Jed could return. He'd wake up in the middle of the night crying and screaming, 'leave me alone'.
"The school should have done more. They didn't even give him first aid and I had to phone them to get an explanation. So I decided to take legal action."
In September, Rotherham Borough Council was ordered to pay a four-figure sum for negligence and breach of statutory duty, making Jed the first child in the country to receive compensation after being attacked by a bully.
"I'm proud that I stood up for Jed," says Stacey. "But then things got worse. When he went back to school the bully's mates turned on him.
"They blamed him for their friend getting kicked out and called him names. I had to walk him to school to make sure he didn't get beaten up, but there was nothing I could do once he was inside."
Jed would meet up with his big sister Chloe, 15, at lunchtime, but the bullies targeted her, too.
"They sent her threatening text messages and spread rumours about her," says Stacey.
"Then my younger two, Caitlin, eight, and Benjamin, five, were sworn and shouted at while I walked them to primary school.
"It got to the point where all four of my kids were scared of going to school.
"I wrote to both and had a meeting with the head and the governors at the academy, but nothing was done."
Eventually, Stacey removed all her children from school and says they won't return until she's satisfied they're safe.
"I've had to rearrange my shifts at work so I can teach them at home," she says.
"They're much happier, but they should be at school. Chloe should be studying for her GCSEs."
Stacey and her husband Gareth, 30, have also written to David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove for help.
"This is a huge issue and something needs to be done," she says.
"When a child commits suicide, maybe someone will take notice." But Stacey's experience is far from unique.
A mother was spared jail in September after leaping on to a school bus and confronting her son's bullies with a baseball bat.
Natasha Haley, 30, from Dartford, Kent, said she was frustrated because she felt that nothing was being done by the school to protect her son.
Her lawyer claimed Natasha had contacted teachers and police after he was beaten and robbed without any repercussion.
According to police, the school considered the matter dealt with. Natasha was given a six-month suspended sentence and 150 hours of unpaid work. She now plans to sue the school for allowing the bullying to continue.
So why aren't schools doing more to protect pupils?
Anastasia de Waal, who works for the Family Lives charity and www.bullying.co.uk is concerned that schools already stretched to the brink just don't have the resources available to respond immediately.
She says: "There's a fantastic teaching workforce out there with policies in place, but the question is whether they can cope with implementing it?" She says the key to tackling bullying is persistence.
"Attempting to tackle it yourself isn't really going to solve the problem," she says.
"If parents feel their concerns are falling on deaf ears they need to be persistent."
But 39-year-old mum Sam from South London says she'd already tried these tactics - to no avail.
"My nine-year-old daughter had been coming home with small wounds.
"At first she said they were cuts from the playground," she says.
"But eventually she admitted another girl was bullying her."
Sam says that after several meetings with teachers, including an agreement that the head would discuss the problem with the bully's mother, the attacks continued.
Meanwhile, the school signed up to a national bullying campaign.
I"My daughter was coming home with marks where she'd been stabbed with a pencil or keys and scratches on her face," she says.
"I could see all the bullying posters around the school yet I got the impression they weren't taking it seriously. We felt helpless."
Things came to a dramatic climax when Sam discovered her daughter trying to hang herself in her bedroom with her dressing gown cord. "My little girl wanted to kill herself rather than go back," says Sam. "I had no choice but to sort it out myself."
The following morning Sam walked into the school and tore down every anti-bullying poster before dumping them in the head teacher's office.
Then she threatened to go into the playground and sort the bully out herself. "I was prepared for it to get physical," she admits.
The head pleaded with her not to and promised to end the bullying once and for all. "From that day on things improved," she says. "I've no idea what he did but I only wish he'd done it sooner, before it got to the stage where my girl wanted to die."
Despite an end to the bullying Sam lost so much confidence in the school that she took her daughter out anyway.
Poor communication is one of the biggest problems when tackling bullying, says Peter Bradley from charity Kidscape. He runs support groups for parents and offers assertiveness classes for victims.
"We recently had a group of kids, two of which had attempted suicide and one who had surgery to her ears to deter taunts," he says.
Suicide due to bullying is now such a problem that it's been given its own label - bullycide.
Peter says: "It's completely understandable they want to take matters in their own hands, but it needs to be done in a way that doesn't involve a baseball bat."
'WE HAVE CLEAR POLICIES'
David Sutton, principal of Jed's old school, Maltby Academy, told us: "We have clear policies and procedures to deal with all instances of bullying and anti-social behaviour.
"There is an extensive range of student support structures within the academy and across the Maltby learning community to meet the needs of all students. In this case, the academy has communicated regularly with the family and responded appropriately to all the allegations made. Our priority is to safeguard all our young people and therefore we feel it inappropriate to comment further."
A spokesman for Rotherham Council said: "We take all allegations of bullying seriously and our schools are equally robust in tackling it.
"All our schools have anti-bullying policies and these will be followed in this and every other case. A lot of work is done pro-actively with pupils. Many schools sign up to a voluntary scheme where anti-bullying measures are assessed by the council."
How to tackle bullies
Take it seriously and find out all the facts
Don't agree to keep it a secret
Talk with a teacher or the school head
Give your child the chance to vent their feelings about bullying
Get other parents together and discuss ways to stop it
Talk to the parent-governors at the school and suggest a policy on tackling bullying in the classroom
Meet your child if they are being bullied on their way to or from school
Ask your children if they would like to attend self defence classes in order to boost their confidence
Check whether your child is inviting the bully to focus on them through a bad habit that draws attention to them
Keep a diary of all incidents
SNAPPED: Natasha Haley used a baseball bat to stop bullying STRUGGLE: Stacey and son Jed, a victim of sick bullies