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School perspectives on bullying and

preventative strategies: An exploratory


study
Ken Rigby
First Published January 16, 2017 research-article

Abstract
Despite the continual rise in research into school bullying worldwide, comparatively little has
been reported on actions that have been taken by schools to counter the problem. This article
reports on a small-scale, exploratory study that was designed to provide an account of
strategies that were being undertaken in 25 Australian government schools catering for
mainstream students. It examines the reported use of both proactive and reactive strategies,
and their frequency and perceived effectiveness. It reveals a wide diversity of practices.
Strengths and limitations of teacher-directed activities are described, comparisons are made
with anti-bullying strategies employed outside Australia, and suggestions are made to
enhance the effectiveness of anti-bullying practices.

Keywords Peer relationships, bullying, policy implementation, inservice teacher training,


interventions, prevention, school, students

Introduction
Although a great deal of research has been undertaken on bullying in schools over the last 25
years, especially on the causes and consequences of bullying (Smith, 2014), and numerous
accounts have been provided of the effectiveness of particular anti-bullying programs (Ttofi
& Farrington, 2011), there have been comparatively few accounts of what schools say that
they are doing. An exception is a British government report by Thompson and Smith (2011)
which drew upon survey results provided by teachers at a sample of schools in England. A
similar exploratory survey conducted on a smaller scale in Australia by Rigby and Johnson
(2016) involving 25 schools has provided further information about the work of schools in
addressing bullying. This article draws principally on that source.

Bullying has been conceived broadly as the systematic abuse of power (Smith & Sharp,
1994). It is seen as occurring in situations in which there is an imbalance of power such that a
targeted individual is unable to defend himself or herself adequately. Typically the bullying
behaviour is repeated over time. A wide variety of negative behaviours have been identified
as potentially constituting bullying. These include direct aggressive acts such as physical
and/or verbal abuse and indirect aggressive acts such as spreading malicious rumours and
deliberate exclusion or avoidance. More recently the use of cyber communication to hurt or
threaten others has been widely conceived as a form of bullying (Baldry, Farrington, &
Sorrentino, 2015).

Background to school bullying in Australia

Following the first study on bullying in Australian schools by Rigby and Slee (1991) the
Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and
Training published a well-publicised booklet entitled Sticks and stones: A report on violence
in Australian schools. In it, the authors opined: While overt acts of violence causing physical
harm and damage may not be the overriding feature of Australian schools, the Committee is
concerned at the apparent high levels of violence of bullying behaviours (Australian
Government, 1994, p. 11). With the growing recognition of the problem came the recognition
of the need to take action.

An important milestone on the pathway to action was the publication in Australia of the
National Safe Schools Framework (Ministerial Council on Education, Early Childhood
Development and Youth Affairs, 2004). This framework was developed under the aegis of the
Australian Department of Education, Science and Training through contributions from
consultants in the area of bullying and school safety. It included an agreed set of guiding
principles for promoting safe school environments and suggestions for strategies that schools
might utilise. It was intended as a practical resource for schools in addressing problems
associated with bullying and violence.

Since then, various initiatives have been undertaken to promote more effective interventions
in schools. These have included the continual development of the government funded
Bullying Noway! website (www.bullyingnoway.gov/au) to provide evidence-based
information and support for schools and the Friendly Schools anti-bullying program (Cross,
Waters, Pearce, & Hamilton, 2012). There is some evidence that the prevalence of bullying
has been reducing in many countries including Australia (Rigby & Smith, 2011). However,
little is known about what is currently being done in Australian schools to address the
problem of bullying and how the strategies to address this issue by schools are evaluated.

Aim of the study

Based upon information provided by teachers, the present article seeks to give an account of
actions taken by a sample of Australian schools in 2015 to counter bullying and their
perceived effectiveness.

Method
Data for the research reported in this article formed part of a larger government funded study
of the prevalence and effectiveness of anti-bullying strategies employed in Australian
government schools (Rigby & Johnson, 2016). While that larger study collected data online
from teachers, students, parents and educational administrators, the present article focuses
specifically on the information provided by teachers of the schools in the survey.
Approval to conduct the research was obtained from the Ethics Committee of the University
of South Australia and from each of the six educational jurisdictions in which the research
was conducted.

Procedure

Contacting schools in the main study was facilitated by Principals Australia Institute (PAI)
through their newsletter which went to all schools in Australia inviting them to participate. It
was explained that participation would involve school representatives selected by the school
principal, meeting together and answering a questionnaire on behalf of the school. It was left
to the judgement of the Principal to select those who could best represent the school in
providing information about how the school was addressing bullying at the school. At a group
meeting, the representatives discussed the questions and provided an agreed response. To
safeguard the anonymity of respondents no questions were asked regarding gender or age, nor
were responses to any of the questions made mandatory.

The data

In total 25 schools self-selected to participate in the study, including 16 primary schools, five
secondary and four combined schools, the latter catering for both primary and secondary
students. These schools were located in the six States or Territories from which permission to
undertake the research had been given by the relevant government jurisdiction. No further
data were collected about the school such as its student enrolment, numbers of staff or the
socio-economic status of the schools catchment area,

The questionnaire

The questionnaire used in the study was first piloted in six schools in South Australia, namely
four metropolitan (a high school, a primary school, and two combined schools) and two
country schools (a high school and a combined school). After examining the results and
receiving feedback from staff at the schools, minor changes were made to the questionnaire.

Given that the focus of the study was on bullying at school, a description of what was meant
by bullying was provided as follows:

Bullying occurs when a more powerful person or group of persons repeatedly seek to upset,
hurt or intimidate somebody. It may take place in the school grounds, in class, on the way to
school, on the way home or by electronic means. Remember this is NOT the same thing as
occasional quarrelling or fighting between people who are about equally matched. With
bullying one person or group is more powerful in some way and the target cannot effectively
defend himself or herself.

This was followed by a series of questions about (i) the nature and prevalence of bullying at
the school; (ii) school policy on bullying; (iii) proactive or preventive steps taken by the
school, including work in classrooms with students and promoting peer support; (iv) the
evaluation of specific actions to prevent bullying; (v) school policy on reporting bullying; (vi)
how cases of bullying are handled; (vii) forms of direct sanctions used by schools in cases of
bullying; (viii) reported circumstances in which the school uses particular intervention
methods; (ix) training of teachers in intervention methods; (x) how teachers monitored and
evaluated interventions; (xi) perceived overall effectiveness of interventions; and (xii)
education and training needed in countering bullying. The actual wording of questions can be
found in Rigby and Johnson (2016).

Data analyses and reporting of results

Analyses undertaken to examine differences in responses from different types of school made
use of the Barnard Exact test rather than the more commonly used Chi Square for which
expected frequencies were inadequate (Barnard, 1947). Only results for the differences found
to be non-trivial (i.e. p<.05) are given. Correlational analyses employed the non-parametric
Spearman rank order correlation statistic, given that interval scaling could not be assumed
(Hollander & Wolfe, 1973). Related samples t-tests were employed to compare the rated
effectiveness of different intervention methods in cases of bullying (Rice, 1988). As the
number of schools (N=25) in the survey was relatively low, reported figures describing how
schools responded to questions are given as numbers rather than as percentages.

Results
Perceived bullying prevalence

Results indicated that bullying by individual students occurred at all 25 schools at least
sometimes with two schools reporting that bullying by groups never occurred. The most
commonly occurring form of bullying across all 25 schools was 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.

Estimates of the number of students being bullied every few weeks or more often varied
widely between schools, from no students at one school to 50 per cent of students at another.
Overall 16 of the 25 schools estimated that less than 10 per cent of their students were bullied
every few weeks or more often.

Anti-bullying policy

All 25 schools indicated that they had a written anti-bullying policy. Responses provided by
schools regarding their anti-bullying policy are given in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Action reported by school in relation to their anti-bullying policy (N=25 schools).

Notably, the schools in the sample were evenly divided as to whether or not the National Safe
Schools Framework had been used. With few exceptions, schools indicated that they had
discussed the anti-bullying policy with their staff, students and school council/board.
However, over one-third of the schools had not discussed the policy with parents or made the
policy available on the school website. These results did not differ significantly between
primary and secondary/combined schools.

Twelve of the 25 schools had conducted a student survey of bullying. The results of the
surveys were shared with staff at eleven schools, with the school council at 10 schools, with
students at nine schools and with parents at eight schools. Eighteen of the schools indicated
that they had addressed bullying at meetings either at the whole-school or whole-year level.
Professional development sessions for staff members were held at 11 schools. In addition,
four schools indicated that they had received relevant advice from a non-school education
department advisor, a further 10 were unsure and four reported that this had not been the
case.

Classroom action addressing bullying

With only two exceptions, each of the responding schools indicated that teachers were
expected to talk and discuss the issue of bullying in class. The reported content of classroom
work on bullying is summarised in Table 1.

Table 1. Reported extent of use of classroom anti-bullying


activities by type of school (n=25 schools).
Table 1. Reported extent of use of classroom anti-bullying activities by type of school (n=25
schools).

*Difference between types of school significant by Barnards test, p<.05.

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The results in Table 1 indicate that most schools report putting in a substantial effort into
reducing bullying through work with students in classrooms with the exception of
cyberbullying in primary schools. Here, more than half the schools report doing little or no
class work in this area.

The proportion of primary schools which conducted various classroom activities to address
bullying was generally greater for primary schools than Secondary or Combined schools.
Differences were significant (p<.05) with respect to the promotion of inclusiveness,
empathy, positive bystander behaviour and providing instruction on what to do if bullied.

Peer support

Although a majority of schools (60%) indicated that they promoted peer support, the support
was provided mainly in primary schools. Thirteen of the 16 primary schools indicated that
they did, compared with two of the nine non-primary schools. Barnards test: Wald statistic=
2.89, p<.01 indicates that this difference is significant.

Peer mediation training was provided in a minority of the 25 schools, namely five primary
and two other schools. Comments from teachers from both primary and secondary schools
indicated that in some cases a buddy system was employed whereby younger students were
buddied with older ones so that support could be provided by the older students.

Evaluations of specific actions to prevent bullying

In each case respondents were asked to indicate whether each of eight actions (listed in
Figure 2) undertaken at their school had had a positive effect (decreased bullying), a negative
effect (increased bullying) or had nil effect (made no difference). Results were provided by
25 schools. One strategy (peer mediation) was rated by 22 schools only.
Figure 2. Schools (n=2425) rating actions to reduce bullying from negative to very
positive.

As indicated, the majority of schools rated each action as positive or very positive in stopping
bullying. Classroom management was unique in being rated as positive or very positive by all
the schools. Overall, addresses given at assemblies and peer mediation were the actions that
were the least highly rated.

School policy on reporting bullying

All 25 schools reported that students were instructed to report any incidents of bullying to a
teacher or counsellor. At 19 schools, students were advised that they could report an incident
without going directly to a school staff member, for instance by sending a message using a
bully box made available to them.

Asked to say under what circumstances they would take action if the bullying took place
outside the school, 19 schools indicated that they would do so if the bullying took place on
the way home from school, 16 if it happened between home and school on public transport,
and seven if it happened during the weekend or on a school holiday. Twenty-four schools
reported that they actively encouraged students to report cases of cyberbullying occurring
outside the school and that they would investigate whether the students were also being
bullied at school. Twenty of the schools indicated that they had in this way identified the
perpetrators.

How cases of bullying are handled


In seeking to identify ways in which schools handled cases of bullying, the questionnaire
included the following brief descriptions of six intervention methods, as identified by Rigby
(2012):

1. Direct sanctions involve the use of penalties, punishments or consequences


administered in accordance with school rules after bullying has taken place.

2. Strengthening the victim involves helping the victim to acquire and employ social and
assertiveness skills in order to cope more effectively, especially with verbal forms of
bullying.

3. Mediation involves inviting two persons in conflict to meet with a mediator to resolve
any dispute or difference that may underlie or fuel any bullying behaviour. The
mediator a staff member or trained peer mediator remains neutral and refrains
from imposing a solution.

4. Restorative practice involves a meeting which includes the identified offender(s)


and the victim. The former are required to reflect on the harm that has been done,
experience a sense of remorse and act restoratively, for instance to apologise.

5. The Support Group Method is a non-punitive method which involves a meeting first
with the victim, then with those identified by the victim as students who are doing the
bullying. The meeting includes other students who are expected to be supportive of
the victim. The victim is not present. The practitioner shares knowledge of the
victims distress and requires each person present to state how they will help the
person who has been bullied. The situation is then carefully monitored.

6. The Method of Shared Concern is a non-punitive method that begins with one-to-one
interviews with students who are suspected of bullying someone. After the
practitioner has shared a concern for the victim, each suspected student is asked to
indicate how he or she will act to improve the situation. The outcomes are then
monitored. Subsequently the suspected bullies are required to meet as a group with
the practitioner to determine how the problem is to be resolved. A final meeting is
held, this time including the victim, to reach an agreed and sustainable resolution.

Respondents were asked to indicate how often the method had been used by their school in
cases of bullying over the last 12 months. Response categories were never, once or twice,
several times, quite often and very often. Perceived effectiveness of the methods was
reported on a five point scale, namely, (1) very negative effect, (2) negative effect, (3) no
effect, (4) positive effect and (5) very positive effect. Frequencies of use, employing pooled
categories as indicated, are given in Table 2, together with mean rated effects using a five-
point scale.

Table 2. Frequency and perceived effectiveness of bullying


interventions in cases undertaken in the last 12 months (n=25
schools).
Table 2. Frequency and perceived effectiveness of bullying interventions in cases undertaken
in the last 12 months (n=25 schools).

aThe mean effect was computed from results obtained from school ratings of the
effectiveness of the bullying intervention at their school. The scoring was: Very negative
effect (increased bullying)=1; Negative effect=2; No effect=3; Positive effect=4; Very
positive effect (decreased bullying)=5. Numbers for each intervention are given in
parentheses.

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Results showed marked differences in frequencies with which methods of intervention were
used, whereby the Support Group Method and the Method of Shared Concern were used far
less often than the other methods. The schools commonly did not rely exclusively on one
method.

Spearman correlations between the frequencies of particular methods being employed by


schools were in some cases substantial. Thus, the correlation (r) between the Method of
Shared Concern and the Support Group Method was 0.77 (p<.001); between Direct
Sanctions and Strengthening the Victim, the correlation was 0.50 (p<.01). The correlation
between the Method of Shared Concern and the Support Group Method was 0.77 (p<.001),
the correlation between Strengthening the Victim and Mediation was 0.71 (p<.001) while the
correlation between Direct Sanctions and Strengthening the Victim was a bit lower at 0.50 but
still non-trivial (p<.01).

Ratings of the effectiveness of the intervention methods were highest for Restorative Practice
and lowest for Direct Sanctions. Mean ratings for the different methods were compared using
a related samples t-test. Based on results which were provided by the same schools only one
comparison produced significant results whereby Restorative Practice (mean: 4.10, SD=
0.45) was rated significantly more effectively than Direct Sanctions (mean 3.75, SD=0.64; t
value=2.33, df=19, p<.05).

No significant differences were found either in terms of use of methods of intervention or


ratings of effectiveness between primary schools and secondary/combined schools.

Forms of direct sanctions used by schools in cases of bullying

Figure 3 shows that direct sanctions were reported as being employed in cases of bullying at
times by all or most of the schools (N=24 or 25). The most commonly used sanctions were
verbal reprimands, withdrawal of privileges, temporary removal from the classroom and
internal detention. Community service was less commonly used. Cases of suspension for
bullying were relatively rare. However, slightly more than half the schools had reported cases
to the police.

Figure 3. Reported use of direct sanctions in cases of bullying in 25 schools.

Reported circumstances in which the school used particular intervention methods

Comments made by respondents indicated differences in when the methods were used in
different schools, with some specifying particular circumstances for which specific methods
were used; some indicating that more than one method was used in addressing some cases;
and some stating that only one method was used in all cases.

Direct sanctions

Some reported that direct sanctions were used when bullying was particularly severe and also
when other forms of intervention such as counselling and restorative practice had not been
successful. Others applied the method more broadly, for instance when incidents are
reported, suspected or observed and when there is direct evidence of bullying.

Strengthening the victim

This method was generally used where a pattern had emerged indicating a history of a student
being a victim and also when it was apparent that the victimised child lacked the capacity to
cope due to a deficit in social skills, especially in low-level forms of bullying such as
exclusion.

Mediation

The main circumstance identified by teachers was when students involved in one-on-one
conflict agreed to the mediation to resolve their interpersonal problems. There were, however,
important differences between respondents. Some reported that mediation was used when the
bullying was severe, when groups or gangs were involved, and when restorative practice and
circle time had been tried and failed. Some specified that it was used when individuals of the
same age were involved in low-level bullying incidents. Peer mediation was used by some
schools with younger children involving small issues and when children might feel
intimidated by teacher intervention. Finally, some respondents stated that mediation was used
in all cases of bullying.

Restorative practice

Generally, restorative practice was used with more severe and persistent forms of bullying
and as a means of restoring damaged relationships. Some reported that it was used in all
cases, for example when incidents [of bullying] occur and as often as possible. One school
used it after a student has been suspended.

Support group method

This approach was used when groups or gangs of students were involved, and especially with
students at a primary level and in cases of relatively low severity. It was seen as particularly
relevant when the victim was distressed, the names of the bullies were known and the school
wanted to find out more clearly what had happened. One respondent opined that it was used
to address deep-seated, entrenched behaviours or family behaviours. Another respondent
specified that the support group method was used only when parents and students wished to
be involved.

Method of shared concern

Four circumstances were identified as determining its use: when ongoing bullying is
happening with a group picking on one particular student; when a small group of friends
had reported low level malicious or spiteful behaviour; in the case of repeat offenders; and
when a person involved in the bullying is identified and his/her parents are contacted.

Training of teachers in intervention methods

Schools were asked what training or instruction (if any) had been received by staff members
in the use of these intervention methods. It was specified that training could include reading
about the approach, viewing videos or using interactive modules. Responses were provided
by between 22 and 24 of the schools, depending on the intervention method. Training in
Restorative Practice was reported by 83.3 per cent of the schools, followed by Mediation
(75.0%), Strengthening the Victim (73.9%), Direct Sanctions (68.2%), the Support Group
Method (30.4%) and the Method of Shared Concern (30.4%).

How teachers monitored and evaluated interventions?

Monitoring was reported as more likely in very severe cases. Thus, 18 schools reported that
they always monitored such cases, 10 did so in moderately severe cases and six in non-
severe cases. The monitoring was reported as taking place for several weeks by nine schools,
around a month by seven schools and for several months by eight schools. All schools
indicated that they always or usually kept an eye on things, most commonly by consulting
the relevant teachers (21), followed by interviewing the bullied child (20), questioning
bystanders (17), interviewing the parents of the victim (13) and interviewing the parents of
the bully (10).

Perceived overall effectiveness of interventions


Perceived effectiveness was assessed by asking schools to estimate whether interventions in
cases contributed to a decrease or increase in the bullying. Schools varied greatly in their
estimations of outcomes, with decreases ranging from 35 to 100 per cent, increases from zero
to 20 per cent and staying the same from zero to 55 per cent. The average percentage of cases
reported by the 25 schools in which a decrease in bullying was observed was 77 per cent,
with 19 per cent of cases staying the same, and 4 per cent of cases showing an actual increase
in the bullying. Asked to look back over the last two years, 15 schools reported a decrease in
physical bullying while approximately half indicated that verbal and indirect bullying (12 and
13 respectively) had remained at the same level. Also about half the schools (12) had
perceived an increase in cyberbullying.

Education and training in countering bullying

Schools were asked to rate the quality of the training that they had received to counter
bullying during pre-service training, through professional development sessions at their
school and through training provided by organisations outside the school, such as the
National Centre against Bullying (NCAB). Responses from none received to excellent are
indicated in Table 3.

Table 3. Ratings for training relevant to bullying received by


teachers at the schools.

Table 3. Ratings for training relevant to bullying received by teachers at the schools.

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Five areas in which training was thought to be most important (i.e. mean rating above 4 on a
five-point scale) were (a) dealing effectively with actual cases (mean=4.8), (b) classroom
management (mean=4.8), (c) providing emotional support for victimised children (mean=
4.6), (d) working well with parents on bullying issues (mean=4.6) and (e) helping children to
cope with aggressive peers (mean=4.6).

Discussion
This study has explored a variety of ways in which a self-selected sample of Australian
schools sought to counter bullying between students. Given the limitations of the study in
terms of sample size and representativeness it does not purport to provide definitive
conclusions relating to Australian schools, but rather to describe the kinds of actions that are
being taken in Australian government schools, how they are being evaluated by teachers, and
also to comment upon what is being done by schools in the light of other reported studies.
First, all schools in the study (n=25) acknowledged that bullying of different kinds was
occurring at their school, although estimates of its prevalence differed widely. This result
suggests that school perceptions of bullying frequency are not uniform and in fact not
consistent with data obtained from students in Australian schools, which indicate little
variation between schools in bullying prevalence (Shaw & Cross, 2012). Average school
estimations of 63 per cent of students being bullied at school at least once over the previous
year and 19 per cent of students being bullied every few weeks or more suggest that
Australian teachers are well aware of the prevalence of bullying at their schools. In fact, their
estimates slightly exceed those reported by students (Rigby & Johnson, 2016).

The schools reported having taken numerous proactive or preventive steps to address the
problem of bullying, in part in response to directives from their state/territory educational
jurisdictions, and in part by selecting and implementing strategies they think would work at
their schools. Each of the 25 schools had developed a written anti-bullying policy which was
discussed with the majority of stakeholders, namely, teachers or school counsellors at the
school, school councils, parents and students. With only two exceptions, the school had
required that issues of bullying be discussed with students in class.

A detailed examination of the reported work of schools reveals some notable variations in
what schools do. Whilst most schools claim that they discuss their anti-bullying policy with
parents, seven of the 25 schools did not do so. Given the importance of teacherparent
cooperation in preventing bullying and effectively addressing cases of bullying, the failure to
involve parents at some schools would appear to limit the policys effectiveness (Axford
et al., 2015). The claim that in almost all of the school students were involved in discussions
of the policy implies that schools were actively seeking the collaboration of students in
addressing bullying. However, further research in Australian government schools by Rigby
and Johnson (2016) with 1,618 students in Years 5 to 10 indicated that 50.8 per cent of them
were either unaware that the school had a written policy on bullying or thought that it had
not. Among parents (N=163) the corresponding figure was 34.8 per cent. This suggests that
the anti-bullying policy in many schools is not being communicated adequately to
stakeholders. Based on research undertaken in England, Woods and Wolke (2003) noted that
anti-bullying policies have limited effectiveness in reducing bullying if they are not fully
implemented. Optimum implementation entails effective communication and discussion with
both students and parents.

It was clear that most schools put considerable emphasis on the development of attitudes and
skills that were thought to be helpful in reducing bullying. This is consistent with the current
orthodoxy in thinking about how bullying can be prevented, as reflected in the enthusiasm
among researchers for employing packages such as Social and Emotional Aspects of
Learning (SEAL) internationally (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymniki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011;
Humphrey, 2013). It is theorised that students can be taught emotional and social skills that
can help to keep them and others safe from bullying. Highest priority was assigned to
promoting respect for others and including students who could be marginalised or excluded.
Some of the attitudes and skills were general in nature such as being empathic, acting
cooperatively and coping. Some were specific to bullying such as what to do if bullied and
how to act as a bystander of bullying. Given the rising importance of cyberbullying, the
relatively low priority given to this type of bullying was surprising with 11 of the 25 schools
doing comparatively little to address cyber safety through class work.
Schools differed greatly on some of the things they did. The small subsamples of primary and
non-primary schools provided limited scope for comparisons. However, it was notable that, in
general, more classroom work on bullying was reported in primary schools, particularly with
respect to promoting inclusiveness and empathy, positive bystander behaviour and instruction
on what to do if bullied. Although it might be argued that the social development of younger
children is of particular concern in primary schools, it is not clear whether work with older
students of a similar nature would not be equally justified to address bullying at the
secondary level.

Judgements about the value of strategies that were used in schools to address bullying ranged
from talks at school assembles the least positively rated to effective classroom
management, the most positively rated. Strong evidence confirming the effectiveness of such
strategies in reducing bullying is generally lacking, although Roland and Galloway (2002)
reported strong support for the positive effects of classroom management, and one study
provided evidence supporting the use of positive bystander behaviour (Salmivalli, Voeten, &
Poskiparta, 2011). Again, there were notable variations between schools on the effectiveness
of some strategies, for example three schools believed that class discussions had no effects
on bullying behaviour and two that the effects in reducing bullying were very positive.

Strategies for dealing with cases of bullying were examined by asking teachers to consider
their use of six different methods. In general, schools employed more than one form of
intervention. As in the study conducted in England by Thompson and Smith (2011), the most
frequently used methods of intervention were restorative practice, mediation, direct sanctions
and strengthening the victim; the least used were the Method of Shared Concern and the
Support Group Method. Consistent with their relatively high usage, restorative practice,
mediation and strengthening the victim were rated most positively. However, despite
comparatively frequent use of a range of direct sanctions, ranging in severity from verbal
reprimands to suspension from school, as a method, direct sanctions was rated as the least
effective, notably significantly less effective than restorative practice. Similar observations
have been made in a study in the USA of 213 school psychologists as reported by Sherer and
Nickerson (2010). They observed that Using disciplinary consequences with bullies was one
of the most frequently implemented strategies in respondents schools despite being perceived
as one of the most ineffective strategies (2010, p. 225). One possible explanation for this
inconsistency is that teachers continue to respond in the traditional way to bullying incidents
despite a growing awareness not yet translated into action that the use of sanctions is
often ineffective in stopping the bullying.

Of particular interest are the judgements of schools regarding when to employ particular
methods of intervention. Whilst there was some general agreement that direct sanctions were
used in more severe cases of bullying and that the Support Group Method and the Method of
Shared Concern could be used for bullying involving groups, there were disagreements with
respect to the use of some other methods. This was particularly evident for mediation. It is
generally held among researchers that mediation may be usefully employed in cases in which
both or all the students involved wish to be assisted over matters in dispute a relatively rare
occurrence in cases of bullying according to Cremin (2007). Nevertheless, some schools saw
this approach as relevant to resolving all forms of bullying including cases of extreme
severity. Most schools indicated a readiness to use several intervention methods in addressing
some cases, for example, both direct sanctions and strengthening the victim. The finding that
three quarters (77%) of the 24 schools reported a decrease in the bullying behaviour on the
part of the student perpetrator may be compared with findings from a similar study conducted
in England by Thompson and Smith (2011). The latter study which was based on reported
outcomes from 274 treated incidents indicated a decrease in 87 per cent of cases. While
relatively small size of the Australian sample and differences in assessing outcomes in the
two studies reduces the comparability of these results, they can be taken as some evidence
that schools appear to be aware of the limitations of the effectiveness of their attempts to
reduce bullying in a substantial number of cases. Data obtained directly from Australian
students (N=331) who have been bullied at school and sought help from teachers suggest
that bullying was reduced in 69 per cent of cases (Rigby & Johnson, 2016). Arguably
outcomes reported by students may be somewhat less positive than those reported by schools.

The need for training to address bullying was generally recognised. Training provided
through professional development meetings led by staff members was rated as most helpful.
Pre-service training on the topic of bullying was seen by a large proportion of teachers as
poor and inadequate, a finding consistent with reports from the USA by Bauman and Del Rio
(2005) and from England by Nicolaides, Toda, and Smith (2002). The training most highly
valued was how to deal effectively with actual cases of bullying.

Limitations
As a survey of what Australian schools are doing about bullying this study has limitations.
First, it drew exclusively upon data provided by government jurisdictions and schools in
Australia that were interested in taking part. Although it was possible to obtain data from a
range of primary, secondary and combined schools in six of the eight government
jurisdictions, the sample cannot be considered as representative. The small size of the sample,
25 schools, further limits the generalisability of the findings. It must therefore be regarded as
an exploratory study with very preliminary results that provide a basis for a larger, more
representative inquiry.

Conclusions
Responses from the 25 government schools involved in the study indicate that a range of anti-
bullying strategies both proactive and reactive in kind are used, to counter bullying.
Results showed a considerable diversity in terms of the specific strategies that were applied
and schools gave varied opinions regarding the strategies effectiveness.

In no cases were proactive strategies entirely successful in preventing cases of bullying from
occurring completely, although schools generally reported a substantial degree of
effectiveness. Similarly, reactive strategies were reported as being only partially successful in
reducing bullying. Schools indicated a need for more effective training in the uses of anti-
bullying methods, especially in tackling cases of actual bullying.

Declaration of conflicting interests


The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article. The article is based upon data generated through a study funded and supported by
the Australian Department of Education and Training and was undertaken under the auspices
of the School of Education at the University of South Australia in 20142015.

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