Children who are bullied need support, yet recently published research from University of South Australia (UniSA) shows disappointing outcomes for anti-bullying strategies, meaning help for vulnerable children is often not there.
The national definition of bullying for Australian schools is an ‘ongoing misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that causes physical and/or psychological harm that can happen in person or online’.
UniSA Adjunct Professor in the School of Education and global expert in the prevention of bullying in schools, Ken Rigby, says that while a great deal of research has been undertaken over the last 25 years there have been comparatively few accounts of what schools say they are doing and how effective it all is.
“In Australia, approximately one student in five is bullied at school every few weeks or more often and many of these students suffer serious emotional and psychological harm, such as persistent anxiety, depression and suicidal thinking, and are unable to concentrate on their school work,” Rigby says.
“These children clearly need help yet my recent research published in the Australian Journal of Education showed mixed results from both reactive and proactive anti-bullying strategies currently being adopted in Australian schools.
“While all schools in the study acknowledged that bullying of different kinds was occurring, estimates of its prevalence differed widely.
“Bullying included students being ignored or left out, followed by being teased in a hurtful way, having nasty stories told about one, being kicked, made to feel afraid, having cruel things said about the victim online, being racially harassed, being harassed online and being sexually harassed.
“My research showed that proactive anti-bullying strategies were never entirely successful in preventing cases of bullying from occurring completely, although schools generally reported a substantial degree of effectiveness.
“Similarly, reactive strategies were only partially successful in reducing bullying and schools indicated a need for more effective training in the application of anti-bullying methods, especially in tackling cases of actual bullying.”
School communities should be encouraged to share anti-bullying policies, strategies and programs, something Rigby’s research shows is often not happening. Most schools claimed that they discuss their anti-bullying policy with parents, but 28 per cent of schools in the survey actually did not do so.
“Given the importance of teacher–parent cooperation in preventing bullying and effectively addressing cases of bullying, the failure to involve parents at some schools limits the effectiveness of this example of a proactive strategy.
“Judgements about the value of strategies that were used in schools to address bullying ranged from talks at school assemblies being the least positively rated to effective classroom management being the most positively rated.
Schools indicated that more effective training in using anti-bullying methods, especially in tackling cases of actual bullying, would be welcomed.