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What are the best ways of tackling bullying in school?

A Scottish anti-bullying pack for schools ('Bullyproofing Our School') points out that the atmosphere and character of a school (broadly speaking its ethos) is very important in preventing and tackling bullying. A school can create the right ethos by: sending clear and consistent messages that bullying will not be tolerated; asking staff, pupils and parents to agree on a definition of bullying; thinking about things in the school which might encourage bullying and finally making sure that the behaviour of teachers and staff structures do not act as models for bullying behaviour.
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Article details

A McLean (1994) 'Background Reading for Schools', Book 8 in the pack 'Bullyproofing Our School. Promoting Positive Relationships', Strathclyde Regional Council, Department of Education. 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.

According to the anti-bullying pack ('Action Against Bullying') which was sent to all schools in Scotland, the most important thing a school can do to tackle bullying is to have a clear policy which pupils, staff and parents support. A school can also use the curriculum to raise awareness and to get the message across that bullying is unacceptable. A key message of the pack is to encourage a feeling of openness in the school, one which encourages children to speak up if they are being bullied.
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Article details

M Johnstone, P Munn and L Edwards (1992) 'Action Against Bullying: a support pack for schools', Edinburgh: Scottish Council for Research in Education.
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Pamela MunnAuthor details

Professor Pamela Munn is Dean of Moray House School of Education at The University of Edinburgh. She is also Director of the Anti-Bullying Network and the Scottish Schools Ethos Network, which are both based at The University of Edinburgh. She has been involved in research projects on bullying, discipline and truancy for a number years. Among her many publications on these topics are two major anti-bullying support packs which were sent to all schools in Scotland and which have received enthusiastic international attention. You may visit the website of Moray House School of Education and also the website of the Scottish Schools Ethos Network.

An important message to come out of a Scottish study is that if a school is to reduce bullying it must encourage openness and encourage children to tell if they are being bullied. This would involve letting children see that if they do speak up, it will be taken seriously and will make a difference. It is pointed out that if this is to work, the children must feel part of things, they should be asked about what is going on and this should feed into the school policy.
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Article details

A Mellor (1997) 'Finding Out About Bullying'. SCRE Spotlight, Number 43, Edinburgh: Scottish Council for Research in Education. This paper can be downloaded here.
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Andrew MellorAuthor details

At the time of the study, Andrew Mellor was a practising teacher who had received funding from the Scottish Education Department to carry out this project. He has been actively involved in anti-bullying work in Scotland for almost 15 years, speaking at conferences, writing for academic and non-academic audiences and running in-service courses for teachers. He is now manager of the Anti-Bullying Network, which is funded by the Scottish Executive and based at The University of Edinburgh.

An approach which is used in many schools in Scotland is the Praise and Reward System. Teachers have reported that the system has had a positive effect on pupil behaviour and the general atmosphere of the school. As the name suggests, there is a special emphasis on rewarding good behaviour and effort. This would involve formal and public recognition, for example receiving an award at a school assembly. The system also includes punishments for unacceptable behaviour. A successful system would usually involve teachers and pupils agreeing on a short list of rules for the school and the classroom. Pupils might also be involved in drawing up a list of sanctions and punishments to be applied if the rules were broken. Although the Praise and Reward System is not specifically aimed at bullying, it can help to discourage it by creating a positive school ethos, which encourages children to value themselves and others.
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Article details

P Munn (2000) 'Information About Praise and Reward Systems', Information Sheet Number 12, Edinburgh: The Anti-Bullying Network. This information sheet can be downloaded here.
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Pamela MunnAuthor details

Professor Pamela Munn is Dean of Moray House School of Education at The University of Edinburgh. She is also Director of the Anti-Bullying Network and the Scottish Schools Ethos Network, which are both based at The University of Edinburgh. She has been involved in research projects on bullying, discipline and truancy for a number years. Among her many publications on these topics are two major anti-bullying support packs which were sent to all schools in Scotland and which have received enthusiastic international attention. You may visit the website of Moray House School of Education and also the website of the Scottish Schools Ethos Network.

One of the most widely used anti-bullying programmes is the 'Bullying Prevention Programme' designed by Dan Olweus. There are a number of different parts to this programme including: the involvement of adults, the use of the Bully/Victim questionnaire to find out about bullying in the school, a school conference day, better supervision at break times, class rules about bullying, regular class meetings, serious talks with bullies, victims and parents of involved pupils. To succeed, it is very important for the school to have very clear limits regarding unacceptable behaviour, and to make it a positive place where caring, prosocial behaviour is encouraged and bullying is firmly discouraged. The programme has had dramatic results. Bully/victim problems were cut by at least half and general anti-social behaviour (eg truancy and vandalism) was also reduced. There were also great improvements in discipline, pupil relationships and attitudes to school work and to the school generally.
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Comment

The Olweus programme, unlike others, has been extensively evaluated in Scandinavia. This has been possible because of the high profile the issue has had there for the last 30 years. Researchers in other countries have found it difficult to attract the level of funding which would allow them to carry out such an extensive research programme. However, the Scandinavian work has inspired many similar, albeit smaller, programmes to be set up across the globe. In most cases, these have been adapted to take account of organisational and cultural differences.

The development of anti-bullying strategies is a dynamic process which has benefited hugely from international co-operation but it seems unlikely (Professor Olweus might disagree!) that any one programme will satisfy the needs of all schools in all countries.
(Andrew Mellor)

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Article details

D Olweus, S Limber and S F Mihalic 'History and Description of the Bullying Prevention Program' in 'Blueprints for Violence Prevention', The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA. This paper can be downloaded here. Click on 'video segment' for an interesting video clip about the project.

The information in this paper was taken from D Olweus, S Limber and S F Mihalic (1999) 'Blueprints for Violence Prevention. Book Nine: Bullying Prevention Program', Boulder, CO: Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.
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Professor Dan OlweusAuthor details

Professor Dan Olweus was the first person to carry out a thorough research project on bullying. This large, long term study which began in Sweden in 1970, was to provide the inspiration for many who felt that bullying in schools should be challenged rather than accepted. Since the 1970s, his work in this area had continued with force. Indeed, in 1997-99, he led a group in a large project which introduced the widely respected Olweus (anti-bullying) programme to schools in Norway. Professor Olweus is based at the Research Centre for Health Promotion, University of Bergen in Norway and can be contacted by email.

In the early 1990s, a number of schools took part in a large study which looked at anti-bullying work in the schools and whether it was making a difference. The main part of the programme in each school was the anti-bullying policy. Other ways of tackling bullying included training lunchtime supervisors, drama work, assertiveness training and the playground environment. It was found that after introducing the anti-bullying policy and at least one of the other approaches, bullying levels did decrease (particularly at primary school level). Results found that of the extra interventions, the training of lunchtime supervisors was seen as the most important. This was followed by drama work, assertiveness training, playground environment, video work, Pikas approach (a specific, non judgmental way of handling group bullying), quality circles, literature and peer counselling.
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Article details

P K Smith (1999) 'England and Wales', chapter in the book 'The Nature of School Bullying: a cross-national perspective', London: Routledge. Click the book graphic to buy this book online.
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Peter SmithAuthor details

Professor 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.

In the early 1990s, 16,000 children from primary and secondary schools in Strathclyde, Scotland answered questions about bullying. They described what they thought schools could and should be doing to prevent and tackle bullying. Their suggestions for preventing bullying included: taking it seriously, encouraging pupils to report it, encouraging discussion about it, improving supervision in the playground and within the school building, making break times more enjoyable and safer, improving communication and relationships between pupils and between teachers and pupils, introduce code of behaviour and dress. Their suggestions for reacting to bullying included support for the victims. While some pupils suggested punishing the bullies, others suggested taking a supportive role and felt that punishment would only make matters worse.
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Article details

A McLean (1997) 'Bullyproofing Our School: what do the pupils think?', Topic 2, Issue 17. National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). 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.

It has been suggested that one way of tackling bullying in schools is to focus and work on the behaviour and role of not just the bully and victim, but of all those pupils who are around when bullying takes place. These could be pupils who are directly encouraging the aggressive behaviour, those who are standing back and letting it happen and those who are actively trying to stop it. The children are given information about how groups operate and are encouraged to look at their own behaviour and role within the group, and to consider if it might somehow be encouraging the bully. Through role-play and drama (possibly using peer helpers) they can explore the feelings of those involved and develop assertiveness techniques to help them take a stand against bullying. It has been suggested that peer helpers could also be important as counsellors, who would offer support to the victims and encourage all those involved to say no to the bullies.
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Article details

C Salmivalli (1999) 'Participant Role Approach to School Bullying: implications for interventions' in 'Journal of Adolescence', Volume 22, pages 453-459.
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Christian SalmivalliAuthor details

Dr Christian Salmivalli works at the Department of Psychology in the University of Turku, Finland. Her research interests include aggression in children and young people, bullying in school and interventions to prevent it and also self-esteem and social skills.

For more information go here.

Circle time is used in many schools across Britain. During a circle time session, pupils and teacher sit in a circle and in an open, positive atmosphere each person is given a turn (taken only if desired) to contribute to the discussion. It not only encourages children to discuss issues (for example bullying) and but also to come up with solutions. In the case of bullying it can be used to help schools prevent it or to deal with a particular problem as it occurs. As part of a school's anti-bullying programme, circle time is used to raise pupil awareness and understanding of the problem, and to come up with ways of tackling it. A very important part of circle time is that it helps children learn how to listen and how to consider the feelings of others. These skills not only help the individual children but help to make the whole school a more caring, positive place.
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Article details

A Mellor (2000) 'Information for Teachers About the Use of Circle Time', Information Sheet Number 11, Edinburgh: The Anti-Bullying Network. This sheet can be downloaded here.
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Andrew MellorAuthor details

At the time of the study, Andrew Mellor was a practising teacher who had received funding from the Scottish Education Department to carry out this project. He has been actively involved in anti-bullying work in Scotland for almost 15 years, speaking at conferences, writing for academic and non-academic audiences and running in-service courses for teachers. He is now manager of the Anti-Bullying Network, which is funded by the Scottish Executive and based at The University of Edinburgh.

A technique which can be used to tackle bullying in school is the No Blame Approach. As the name suggests, one of the most important things about this approach is that it deliberately avoids accusations, blame and punishment. The first step is to interview the victim, with the aim of finding out how he/she feels. The child will be asked to draw a picture or write something to communicate his/her distress. With the child's full knowledge and approval, the next step involves getting together the children involved in the bullying (including bystanders) and perhaps some non-involved children. This group (which does not include the victim) will then be made aware of the victim's distress and will be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and to come up with ideas for making the bullied person feel happier. It should be mentioned that the No Blame Approach (which may mistakenly be viewed as a technique which condones bullying) can also be described as the Support Group Approach.
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Comment

It is difficult to argue that serious, intentional, repeated, physical bullying should not be met with the imposition of some sort of sanctions. Indeed physical violence such as this is a crime - and schools are subject to the law of the land. However, this type of bullying is far less common than name-calling and exclusion, although we know from the testimony of victims the hurt which can be caused by being taunted and deliberately isolated.

Many parents, pupils and teachers expect "bullies" to be punished, but in many cases punishment will be ineffective or inappropriate - and children cannot be punished for refusing to play with another child. That is why schools are increasingly adopting new reactive strategies such as No Blame, (which is now often called the Support Group approach) and the related Shared Concern method. These strategies allow effective intervention in situations where guilt cannot be proved, or where it is unclear whether what has happened is bullying or a relationship problem.

The 'shared concern' method is a Swedish technique which has much in common with the "No Blame Approach". It has not been widely used in Britain, perhaps because it is more elaborate and time consuming. Both of these methods have been criticised for failing to allocate blame but both aim to bring an early end to episodes of bullying and to encourage young people to accept responsibility for their actions.

It should be noted that the No Blame Approach is particularly useful in dealing with group bullying and name-calling. However, it may be an inappropriate response to other types of bullying. It should only be applied with the full agreement of the bullied child and after a professional judgement has been made about whether the bullying children are capable of understanding the hurt they have caused. A small number of children who bully others have serious social, emotional and behavioural problems. In such cases, the No Blame Approach could expose the victim to the possibility of even more bullying.
(Andrew Mellor)

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Article details

Research article by S Young (1998), 'Educational Psychology in Practice', volume 14. Reproduced here.

PeaceBuilders is an American/Australian programme for primary schools which aims to reduce and prevent violence. By helping to encourage positive behaviour and by helping children to develop academic and life skills in their early years, it aims to reduce aggressive behaviour not only in the school years but beyond. PeaceBuilders has 5 main messages: give up put-downs; praise people; seek wise people; notice hurts and right wrongs.
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Article details

S Petrie and G Christie (1998) 'Reducing Violence through Community-based Programs: a case for PeaceBuilders'. The article can be found on the PeaceBuilders website (see the list of article titles).

Many schools in Scotland have introduced ways of encouraging positive behaviour and discipline. Each school's approach is different, as is the place of anti-bullying work in each school. A recent publication describes the action taken by a number of Scottish schools to promote positive discipline. In most of the reports from schools there is only a brief reference to bullying, but it would be surprising if a marked improvement in behaviour generally did not also have an impact on bullying. For example, one of the reports describes how two primary schools focused on playground activities, equipment and supervision. As a result, there was a large fall in the number of playground fights. Another school, which has also improved the playground environment, specifically mentions a drop in bullying levels as a result. Yet another school describes its work on positive discipline. In its report it identifies six main features of its work (including rewards for good behaviour and also new ways of dealing with cases of indiscipline). Although not specifically mentioned in this first list, the school does identify anti-bullying work as an important future area of the broader positive behaviour programme. For another two schools however, tackling bullying was an early priority when the school reviewed its discipline policy. Also the report from a local authority lists a number of features which can promote positive behaviour and discipline in schools. One of these key features is anti-bullying work.
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Article details

P Munn (editor) (1999) 'Promoting Positive Discipline: whole school approaches to tackling low level disruption', Edinburgh: Moray House Publications. This is now out of print, but a copy can be downloaded here.
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Author details

Pamela MunnProfessor Pamela Munn is Dean of Moray House School of Education at The University of Edinburgh. She is also Director of the Anti-Bullying Network and the Scottish Schools Ethos Network, which are both based at The University of Edinburgh. She has been involved in research projects on bullying, discipline and truancy for a number years. Among her many publications on these topics are two major anti-bullying support packs which were sent to all schools in Scotland and which have received enthusiastic international attention. You may visit the website of Moray House School of Education and also the website of the Scottish Schools Ethos Network.
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