Bullying in schools: how well is it being addressed?

Upset child HUMANITIES

A new report from UniSA reveals that while school bullying has reduced somewhat in recent years and schools are responding positively to the problem, it remains a serious issue with more work needed at a school level.

UniSA Adjunct Professor Ken Rigby.UniSA Adjunct Professor Ken Rigby.

The report, funded by the Federal Government, is the first of its kind in Australia to draw upon the experiences and perceptions of a range of stakeholders associated with Australian schools including teachers, parents and students.

Report authors UniSA Adjunct Professor Ken Rigby and Dr Kaye Johnson reveal that the evidence suggests the good work being done by schools in trying to prevent bullying through classroom work is generally well recognised by students and parents.

“There is however much more that needs to be done,” Prof Rigby says.

“There remains a lack of awareness from students and parents around school anti-bullying policies, and many students who need help are reluctant to go to teachers or counsellors.

“In our research, about 15 per cent of students between Years 5 and 10 reported they were currently being bullied at school.

“And the harm done by bullying according to both students and parents is disturbing.”

According to bullied students:

  • 51 per cent reported being upset by it;

  • 14 per cent had stayed away from school at least once because of bullying; and

  • 36 per cent reported that bullying had made it hard for them to do their school work well.

Each of the 25 schools consulted had a written anti-bullying policy but around 50 per cent of students and 30 per cent of parents were unaware their school had such a policy, which Prof Rigby says indicates the policies need to be discussed to ensure they are understood.

“Actual interventions in bullying cases also need to be improved,” Prof Rigby says.

“Students reported that they were most likely to go to other students for help, followed by their parents, and they were least likely to go to a teacher or counsellor.

“The success rate of stopping the bullying for students who sought help from teachers or school counsellors was 36 per cent for primary school students and 22 per cent for secondary students.

“In some cases students reported that teacher interventions made matters worse.

“Many students need to be convinced that seeking help from the school if they are bullied will be helpful.”

Evaluations received by parents of bullied children on how cases are treated by schools tended to be very negative.

“They (parents) were especially concerned about schools not acting promptly, not recognising the serious effects of covert bullying, not informing them of what they were doing about it and generally achieving less satisfactory outcomes for their children,” Prof Rigby says.

“Teachers were in general strongly motivated (according to students) to try to stop the bullying.

“However, the teachers felt they had not been trained adequately in dealing with bullying in their pre-service education.

“Many were trying hard to overcome this disadvantage by in-service training by staff members.”

Knowledge of bullying among staff, based on research findings, was quite limited, with many teachers holding contradictory beliefs.

“Teachers reported that instruction and training in methods of dealing with cases of bullying was especially needed,” Prof Rigby says.

“Some well validated methods such as the Support Group Method and the Method of Shared Concern were largely unknown.

School bullying report“Schools have in recent years been able to access more relevant sources to address bullying but need more direction in deciding how it can be employed.

“What comes out of this report is that it’s important for people to think about what schools are doing, whether it is working and what needs to be improved.”

Data was collected in 2015 in six States/Territories from 1688 students, 25 schools, 167 parents and 451 teachers.

The report was undertaken through a grant provided by the Australian Department of Education and Training under the aegis of the School of Education at UniSA. Report authors Prof Ken Rigby and Dr Kaye Johnson had assistance provided by co-researcher Greg Cox and by PhD student Alex Stretton.

The full report is available online.