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Is bullying usually carried out by an individual or group?

Over 2,000 pupils (10 - 14 years) took part in this 1997 study about bullying in England. When the victims were asked about the number of people who had bullied them, the most common answer (almost 50%) was 'mainly two or three'. Fewer (27.3%) reported that they had been bullied by 'mainly one' person. It was far less likely to be bullied by between four to nine pupils and hardly ever by more than nine. When the bullies were asked about numbers involved, the most common answer was again with one or two others, then with another three or eight students or on their own. Again it was very unusual to bully in a group of more than eight others.
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Article details

P K Smith and Shu Shu (2000) 'What Good Schools Can Do About Bullying: findings from a survey in English schools after a decade of research and action' in 'Childhood', Volume 7, (2).
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Author details

Peter SmithProfessor Peter K Smith is Head of the Unit for School and Family Studies, Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, London. He has been involved in bullying research for a number of years and has published widely on this topic.

Peter Smith may be contacted by email, and the website of the Unit for School and Family Studies at Goldsmiths College may be found here.

When young people in Scotland took part in a national crime survey they answered questions about bullying. According to the victims, bullying was usually carried out by a group. A quarter had been bullied by a mixed group of boys and girls, 21% by a group of boys and 20% by a group of girls. Just over a third said they had been bullied by an individual rather than a group.
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Article details

The Scottish Executive, 'Chapter 3: Young People as Victims of Crime' in 'Young People and Crime in Scotland: findings from the 2000 Scottish Crime Survey'. Available to read online here.

Over 16,000 children in Strathclyde, Scotland were asked about bullying in school. Their answers revealed that in primary school it was more likely that bullying would be carried out by an individual rather than a group. This was true for both girls and boys. However in secondary it was more likely for bullying to be carried out by a group rather than an individual. Again this was true for boys and girls.
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Article details

A McLean (about 1994) 'Bullyproofing Our School: what do the pupils think?', unpublished report. Reference copy held by the Anti-Bullying Network. This article can be viewed here.
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Alan McLeanAuthor details

At the time of this study, Alan McLean was Principal Psychologist based at the Education Department Psychological Service in the former Strathclyde Regional Council. His particular interests in the area of bullying include: links between bullying and motivation; the thinking processes and self-esteem of the bully.

He can be contacted at by email.

In the 1990s, a study of 25 secondary schools in England found that peers can encourage bullying and so make the situation worse (Glover and others, 2000). It was found that it was three times more likely for a group of boys to carry out a physical or verbal attack than a boy on his own. Girl bullies were twice as likely to operate in a group than on their own.
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Article details

D Glover, G Gough, M Johnstone and N Cartwright (2000) 'Bullying in 25 Secondary Schools: incidence, impact and intervention' in 'Educational Research', Volume 42, Number 2, Summer.

When over 6,000 Maltese primary and secondary schoolchildren were asked about bullying it was found that most bullying is carried out by one person (53.4%). However, this is closely followed by bullying with the support of a group. Bullying with a single friend is the least common. It was also found that the most common type of bullying carried out by the individual bully is physically violent.
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Article details

M G Borg (1999) 'The Extent and Nature of Bullying Among Primary and Secondary Schoolchildren' in 'Educational Research', Volume 41, Number 2, Summer.
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