Not every school’s anti-bullying program works – some may actually make bullying worse

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We need to look at this problem in its entirety and not just looking for bandaid solutions. Sometimes the best indicator for this is to look at how the students are doing and not just following what others are doing. How does your school deal with bullies? Write it below in the comments’ section.


School bullying can have serious consequences for victims including depressionpsychosisself-harm and suicide. With increasing evidence of harm, a groundswell of school anti-bullying programs and campaigns in Australia and internationally have vowed to stamp out bullying.

The schools’ intentions are good, but often these programs have not been properly evaluated for effectiveness, and studies show some types of programs can actually make bullying worse.


School programs

There is no shortage of anti-bullying programs offered to schools. The programs are varied and can include teaching resources and discipline plans, as well as student and teacher training, parent meetings and improved playground supervision.

Most programs cite a theoretical base to support their approach but not an evaluation of the specific program. For instance, educational campaigns in many countries, including Australia and New Zealand, emphasise the role of student bystanders in standing up against bullying.

Educational videos show students how they can make a big difference by standing up for the victim when they witness bullying.


There are several ways to explain these different findings. Firstly, in the observational study the effect on bullying was judged in the few seconds after the bystander action. We don’t know if bullying resumed the next day. The meta-analysis included studies that examined bullying weeks or months later. We know from previous research that actions that seem effective in the short-term can have harmful long-term effects.

There may also be crucial differences between naturally occurring bystander actions and those encouraged by schools. The effectiveness in natural situations may rely on who the student bystander is and their relationship with those involved in bullying. School programs may encourage students with poor skills to get involved which may escalate the situation.

Future research may explain differences between effective and ineffective bystander actions. In the meantime, schools should exercise caution in using this approach.


Difference among programs

The 2010 meta-analysis showed that, overall, school-based anti-bullying programs decrease bullying and victimisation by around 20 per cent, with similar reductions for cyber-bullying. But this and other meta-analyses report substantial differences betweenprograms.

Another recent meta-analysis looked separately at anti-bullying programs in primary schools and high schools. On average, programs in primary schools were effective. But in high schools, anti-bullying programs were just as likely to make bullying worse as they were to improve it. The exact reason for these differences is not known.

There are many reasons why efforts to change behaviour may have unintended negative effects. Perhaps the emphasis on stopping bullying in high schools provokes student who bully and undermines the reputation of students who are bullied.

So, which programs work?

The 2010 meta-analysis showed programs that reduce bullying are likely to take more time to implement, involve parent meetings, firm disciplinary methods and improved playground supervision.

It can be hard for schools to know what programs are effective because this takes a lot of time. There are independent scientific organisations that evaluate evidence for program effectiveness. These include Blueprints (US) and the Early Intervention Foundation (UK).

To really know if a program works, research needs to compare outcomes over time between students who receive the program and students who don’t. It is also best to randomly allocate students or schools to receiving the program or not, to help ensure the groups are equivalent in the first place. These types of studies are called randomised controlled trials.

Programs that have been shown to be effective by randomised controlled trials include the Friendly Schools Program and Positive Behaviour for Learning. The Friendly Schools Plus program helps schools build supportive practices, teach social skills and build partnerships with parents. A randomised controlled trial showed this program reduced victimisation and observations of bullying over three years.

Positive Behaviour for Learning helps schools improve discipline by teaching expected behaviour and establishing clear rewards and consequences. It is widely used in Australian schools. A randomised controlled trial found this program reduced bullying in primary schools.

Schools are under great pressure to visibly take action against bullying. However, caution is needed, especially in high schools, because many programs that sound like a good idea can make bullying worse. Schools should stick with what they know works and only adopt new programs that have been adequately evaluated.

Dr Karyn Healy is a researcher affiliated with the Parenting and Family Support Centre at The University of Queensland and a psychologist with many years experience working with schools and families to address bullying.


Original Article from :SBS


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