How and to what extent can bullying be reduced in schools

How and to what extent can bullying be reduced in schools







Bullying is a serious problem all over the world and evidence suggest it is getting worse and even going cyber as the world enters the digital and social networking era (Banerjee et al 2011). Studies of more than 5000 Canadian school children aged between 5 and 14 showed that 38 percent reported cases of being bullied at least once or twice during the course of their school term (O’Connell et al 1999). In the UK, 46 percent of children say they have been bullied at some point at school with another 66 percent claiming to have seen others being bullied (Simpson 2010).

What is bullying?

Some literature asserts bullying is simply the systematic abuse of power (Smith and Elliott 2010; Smith and Elliott 2011) while others say it is negative action (physical or verbal) with hostile intent repeated over time and involving a power differential where one person with power victimises another who cannot defend themselves (O’Connell et al 1999). In many cases where bullying occurs, there is always an imbalance in strength between the bully and the victim, what Olweus (1993) termed as a asymmetric power relationship. Simpson (2010) further added that situations where social power is used negatively to victimize because of perceived ‘difference’ can also be termed as bullying.

Smith and Elliott (2010: 2011) offer examples of bullying which can be in any form such hitting other people (physical), teasing and abuse of other people (verbal), excluding other people socially or telling peers not to play with someone (social exclusion), and harm through mobile phone or the internet or what Banerjee (2011) refers to as cyber bullying. Picture below shows the most common types of bullying reported in the UK and verbal bullying like calling people bad names is the worst.

Picture 1: Bullying in UK schools

Bullying in the UK schools


1.0 Actions to reduce bullying effectively

Olweus (1993) calls for two ways to reduce bullying based on the simple method of implementing anti-bullying measures at school level, class level and individual level.
1.1 The School Level Measures
At this level, Olweus (1993) recommends school to do things like forming coordination and supervision groups as well as having positive modelling from adult staff to lead by example. Many schools are also encouraged to have playground policies that can help target bullying on the playground. Since 1999 schools in England and Wales are required to have anti-bullying policies that talk about actions that they will take when bullying occurs. 
Smith and Elliott (2010; 2011) argue that adult modelling of positive relationships can to help reduce bullying. This is when school staff are trained to act as positive role models for the children. The staff can act as examples by showing students respect empathy when talking with them and teach them social skills through watching or apprentice.
Another school level measure is to playground supervision strategies that involve things like dividing the playground based on age, gender and activity. An example of this is like having a quiet zone for those that want to just relax in peace while also having an action area for those students that want action. This can to involve constructing things like football pitch, basketball hoops or gardens. The only problem is that it is very expensive for the school and will cost lots of money to do this. But this can be made more economical by having supervisors to interact with students as they play or just anti-bully supervisors to look out for bullying hot spots and intervene (Smith and Elliott 2010).
Simpson (2010) says that the most effective anti-bullying school level measures are improved playground supervision, school conferences, classroom rules and classroom management. When schools implement all these measures with high focus that shows they mean business, bullying has been shown to be reduced greatly. This is why Olweus (1993) says that the most effective way to reduce bullying depends on implementing a “whole school” approach with intensity using all resources available at the disposal of the school to target the bullying. Using just one approach will not be effective at all but by using a lot of approaches, bullying can to a great extent be reduced.
1.2 The Class Level Measures
At the class level, Olweus (1993) recommends school to implement simple measures like introducing anti-bullying rules to students warning everyone bullying will not be tolerated within the school environment. This can also involve talking with students as well as requesting meetings with parents to discuss issues that concern their children. Smith and Elliott (2011) talk about using a curriculum that educates children about bullying and discusses issues that help to stop it. Most schools for example in the UK have some sort of classroom measure like curriculums and cooperative groups that they use to reduce bullying. Many schools note it is very economical to use and effective, which explains why they use classroom strategies to reduce bullying. Picture 2.5 (below) shows survey results on percentage of schools that use classroom methodologies and how they see it in terms of effectiveness.
Class level measures to deal with bullying in UK schools

While a curriculum uses teaching in the class to educate students and tell them not to bully other people, cooperative groups rally students together in workshops where they mix people who bully with other victims so that they learn to socialise and not fight other people. It is like ‘circle time’ which brings students together and asks them to sit in circles and talk openly about bullying. Many schools say circle time is “particularly effective after lunchtime or as an issue is bubbling - prevents incidents on the playground” (Smith and Elliott 2011 p24). The only problem is schools have noted that cooperative groups and circle time need lot of time which they often don’t have sometimes.

1.3 The Individual Level Measures

At the individual level, Olweus (1993) declares schools can use some measures to stop bullying especially when it has happened and they need to reduce it once and for all. One such method is to talk with the person who is bullying and their victim, warning the bully that such behaviour will not be tolerated in school. This can also be supplemented with asking parents of the children to intervene and warn them that bullying from children will lead to action. This is what Smith and Elliott (2011) calls ‘direct sanctions’ which can involve direct action like warnings, removal of school privileges such as playtime, picking rubbish as punishment, detention and if all else fails, outright eviction from school. The message is to send a clear warning that bullying will not be tolerated at any cost.

O’Connell et al (1999) adds that bullying occurs in many schools and it is not reduced because “bullies are seldom punished for their aggressive behaviour: peers and teachers were observed intervening in only 11% and 4% of episodes, respectively”. If people think they can bully others and get away with it, it will consequently encourage peopl to become bullies but if they believe the consequences are very serious, with known examples of bully being expelled from school, no one will resort to bully behaviour, fearing the consequences (O’Connell et al 1999; Olweus 1993; Smith and Elliott 2010; Smith and Elliott 2011; Simpson 2010).

While this method can help reduce bullying, only 62 percent of schools in the UK admit direct sanctions help in reducing bullying and it is mostly used in secondary schools in incidences of physical/racial/homophobic bullying. This is why Simpson (2010) argues it is vitally important to involve parents in the process. Individual level measures can also involve talking to parents and giving them resources such as anti-bullying training. Simpson (2010) says that talking and providing training to parents is often very effective, more than other methods like just warning students because parents act as role models for their children. This is not surprising given the fact that many of the underlying causes of bullying are primarily because children have relationships with parents that are “characterised by poor communication and the threat of violence” (ibid: p15).

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2.0 The Advent of Cyber Bullying and How to Stop it

The last form of bullying that is reported to be on the increase as mobile technology becomes prevalent is cyber bullying. Banerjee et al (2011) defines it as any form of bullying that involves mobile phones and the internet. One way to deal with this form of bullying is to have cyber mentor schemes where those that are experiencing this type of bullying can be supported and helped. This is done online through websites where incidences of such bullying e.g. Facebook posts of homophobic abuse, are recorded and the bully followed for punishment. This method is unfortunately not very effective at reducing cyber bullying because it’s more of a support job than a proactive preventative measure.



There is no single magic bullet measure that one can claim is able to stop bullying completely out of everyday life as well as in school environments. What has been found to work is a combination of methodologies.

Much of the literature argues that the extent to which bullying can be reduced in schools depends on how many approaches are used (multidimensional approach), how much involvement of various people (teachers, parents and children) well as the focus and duration of any such programmes. In other words, just using one method will not be very effective in stopping or reducing bullying nor will just involving children while neglecting their parents from any approach used.

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Banerjee, R, Tolmie, A., & Boyle, J (2011) Educational psychology: Problems and interventions In G. Davey (Ed.), Introduction to applied psychology (pp. 363-384). Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley.

O’Connell, P, Pepler, D., & Craig, W (1999) Peer involvement in bullying: Insights and challenges for intervention., Journal of Adolescence, 22, pp. 437-452.

Smith, P. K., & Elliott, J (2011) Social problems in schools In A. Slater & G. Bremner (Eds.), An introduction to developmental psychology (pp. 649-680)Chichester, West Sussex:  Wiley.

Thompson, F & Smith, P. K. (2011) The use and effectiveness of Anti-bullying Strategies in schools, DFE Research Report RR098. London: Department for Education.

Thompson, F & Smith, P. K (2010) Bullying in Schools, Wiley

Simpson Rob (2010) Reducing bullying amongst the worst affected, Wiley

Olweus, D. (1993) Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do, Oxford University Press


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