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Study Help

This information is intended to help students who are studying or researching the topic of bullying in schools. Before 1990, this was not an issue which had attracted much attention in Scotland or other parts of the UK, but since then numerous studies have been carried out. These have ranged from government-funded projects, through PhD theses to surveys carried out by young people in individual schools. These studies have increased our knowledge and understanding of the nature and extent of bullying and have helped to create the climate of concern which is needed if effective Anti-Bullying strategies are to be developed.

Who should carry out studies into bullying?
Anyone can do this. You do not have to be an 'expert'. Some school students have helped to raise awareness of the problem in their own schools by carrying out questionnaire surveys. Others have found out about different anti-bullying strategies by reading books and sending away for information. Students in further and higher education have carried out comparative studies in a number of schools and have used statistical techniques to check the validity of their results. Students of Psychology have studied the behaviour of bullies, victims and of others in the community who may be affected by bullying. Some student teachers and teachers undertaking in-service courses have been able to carry out action research: implementing particular anti-bullying strategies during their teaching practice and then evaluating the results of their intervention.

Why carry out research into bullying?
People are motivated to find out more about bullying for a number of reasons including the following:
  • They may have personal experience of it which has prompted them to become involved in its study.
  • They may be engaged on a course which requires them to carry out a piece of research.
  • They may be teachers or psychologists who are expected to deal with the consequences of bullying as part of their work.
  • They may wish to increase knowledge about the nature, extent and consequences of bullying.

Ultimately, all research into bullying is likely to be aimed at either helping people to understand its causes or helping school communities to tackle it more effectively.

How can bullying be studied?
There are a number of ways of finding out more about bullying and its reduction.
  • Studying books, articles and other sources of information, such as the Internet, is an excellent way of finding out what has already been achieved. The first research into bullying in Scottish schools used material which had been developed in Scandinavia, thereby saving a lot of time and shortcutting the process of developing anti-bullying strategies. Sheets giving details of useful references and web sits have been listed.
  • Detailed case studies of episodes of bullying are a useful way of helping us to understand the nature of the problem, although it can be difficult to gain access to all the sources of information needed if you are going to produce a truly impartial piece of research. If you decide to use this method, try to obtain information from as many people as possible, including bullies as well as victims, by-standers, parents, teachers and anyone else involved. Remember that an episode of bullying can continue for months or years and that it may be wise to chose another method if your time is short.
  • Interviews and questionnaire surveys are excellent ways of gathering a lot of information in a shot time but careful planning is needed. Advice about using questionnaires is included in ‘Spotlight 43 – Finding out about Bullying’ which is available on-line from SCRE here.
  • Action research is needed if the level of bullying in schools is to be reduced. Good teachers constantly try to find better ways of doing their jobs. They go through a process of identifying a problem, trying to understand it, discussing possible solutions with colleagues, implementing new strategies and evaluating them. Although few teachers would call this process ‘research’ it has much in common with action research. If it were analysed, recorded and made available to others then it could be called just that. Students and pupils have fewer opportunities to initiate such research but young people always take part in the process (they are the subjects of it) so there is no reason why they should not be more actively involved. More and more schools are establishing student or pupil councils. These provide an opportunity for young people to identify problems in their schools and to initiate changes. They can also help to evaluate and report on the success of these interventions.

For information on action research see:

  • Teachers Investigate their Work: An Introduction to the Methods of Action Research, Altrichter H, Posch P, Somekh B (1993), London: Routledge
  • Curriculum Action Research, McKernan J (1996), London: Kogan Page

See also The International Journal of Education Action Research

See also the following publications available from SCRE:

  • So You Want to Do Research?: A guide for teachers on how to formulate research questions, by Ian Lewis and Pamela Munn
  • Using Observations in Small-Scale Research: A Beginner’s Guide, by Mary Simpson and Jennifer Tuson
  • Using Questionnaires in Small-Scale Research, by Pamela Munn and Eric Drever
  • Using Semi-Structured Interviews in Small-Scale Research: A Teacher’s Guide, by Eric Drever.

Asking questions
Often, the hardest part of a piece of research is finding suitable questions to ask. Developing clear research questions is a key stage in any research. Some of the questions which are frequently asked about bullying cannot be answered. For example, "Is the level of bullying worse than it was in 1960?" would be a reasonable question to ask if there were studies of the level of bullying in our schools which had been carried out in 1960 (there are not) and if there were any reliable way of measuring the actual, rather than the perceived, level of bullying in schools.

Some studies have used observation techniques while others rely on interviews of diary-keeping by a sample of pupils. Most studies which have attempted to measure levels of bullying have actually measured people’s perceptions of what has happened. A question such as "have you been bullied?" will produce only the answers that children are prepared to admit to you – and to themselves. Another problem with such a seemingly simple question relates to definitions: the word "bullying" means different things to different people. Great care must be taken to ensure that young people completing a questionnaire understand the definition which is being used. It must be written in a style that is unambiguous and easy to understand. (See Spotlight 43).

Questions can be posed at different levels and for a range of purposes:

  • asking "where is bullying most common?" can help to identify problem areas in a school, and
  • asking "who would you tell if you were being bullied?" can point to whether or not a school has an ethos of openness.
  • asking "what are the characteristics of bullies and victims?" can help us understand why people bully.
What should be done with the findings of studies?
Plan carefully how you intend to disseminate (let other people know about) the findings of your study. Here are some questions to consider:
  • People who have helped you by answering questions or completing a questionnaire have trusted you with confidential and sensitive information about themselves. How can you inform them of the results of your survey in an appropriate way?
  • A study of an individual school may identify strengths and weaknesses in the way that the school tackles bullying. How can you ensure that your findings are discussed openly in a way that acknowledges successes and addresses problems positively?
  • Are your findings suitable for a wider audience? Do not assume that because you are not a professional researcher your findings are of no value outside your own school or college. The study of bullying is still in its infancy. Nobody has all the answers.
  • Why not send a copy of your findings to the Anti-Bullying Network? You could help us by adding to our database.
Other sources of help or information
If you are reading this you have probably already contacted the Anti-Bullying Network but you are free to contact us again if you have further questions. Students in further or higher education should seek advice from their own supervisors and use the libraries in their own institutions in the first instance. Students in Scottish schools should ask their teachers for the Anti-Bullying materials which have been distributed freely by the Scottish Executive. These include most of the materials produced by the Scottish Council for Research in Education (SCRE) and by Moray House Institute of Education.

Questions about government policy should be directed to the Scottish Executive, Victoria Quay, Edinburgh, EH6 6QQ.

Literature available from the Anti-Bullying Network includes
  • A leaflet describing Discipline and Anti-Bullying materials published by SCRE
  • A leaflet describing Discipline and Anti-Bullying materials published by Moray House Institute of Education
  • Spotlight 23’ and ‘Spotlight 43
  • A leaflet about the Ethos Network [their website is here]

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