Experiences of School Bullying in Northern Ireland: Data from the Life and Times Survey

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Despite theoretical and methodological issues surrounding the exploration of bully/victim problems, the international literature on the subject has reached a stage whereby it is possible to explore the nature, prevalence, and correlates of such problems from a cross-national perspective (see Smith, Morita, Junger-Tas, Olweus, Catalano, & Slee, 1999 for a review). In their review of bully/victim problems in the Northern Ireland school system, Mc Guckin and Lewis (2003) note that while Northern Ireland may be geographically close to countries with reported national data (i.e., Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland), it is also the case that Northern Ireland is culturally distant from these countries. Of particular note is that Northern Ireland has endured over 35 years of violent ethnopolitical conflict. As such, the study of aggressive behavior in a region with an experience of cross-community conflict and division provides a chance to appraise the possible role of socioenvironmental factors in the development and expression of aggressive tendencies in children. However, research exploring the nature, incidence, and correlates of bully/victim problems among Northern Ireland school pupils has been somewhat sporadic.

Callaghan and Joseph (1995), utilizing Neary and Joseph's (1994) Peer Victimization Scale (PVS) and a single item "Are there any children who are bullied in the classroom?", reported victimization rates among a mixed-sex sample of 120 10 to 12-year-old pupils attending two post-primary schools in Northern Ireland. Seventy pupils (58.33%), including 13 (10.83%) self-identified victims were mentioned by at least one of their peers as someone who was bullied. The mean score of the 70 self- and peer-nominated victims on the PVS (Neary & Joseph, 1994) was significantly higher than the mean score for those pupils not identified as victims. Indeed, the difference found between the mean score of the 13 self-identified victims and the mean score of the 50 pupils not identified as victims was even greater.

Collins and Bell (1996) utilized Olweus' (1989) Bully/Victim Questionnaire (BVQ) among a mixed sample of 118 8 to 10-years pupils from three Belfast primary schools. Twenty-four percent (18% boys, 6% girls) of pupils were identified as bullies. Comparable figures for victims, bully/victims, and bystanders were not reported. They also reported a significant positive relationship between self-reports of bullying on the BVQ (Olweus, 1989) and peer-nominations given to bullies regarding aggressive-disruptive behavior on the Revised Class Play method (a measure of social reputation; Masten, Morison, & Pellegrini, 1985). Bullies also scored higher on all categories of the Self-Perception Profile for Children (SPPC: Harter, 1985) except for the Behavioral Conduct and Self-Competence sub-scales. Indeed, it was reported that bullies scored lower on the Behavioral Conduct sub-scale than victims and bystanders. Victims were reported to have had low levels of self-esteem on all sub-scales of the SPPC (Harter, 1985).

Taylor (1996), also utilizing the BVQ (Olweus, 1989), reported data from a study among a sample of 145 post-primary school pupils examining the efficacy of anti-bullying policies. Twenty-two percent of the pupils in schools with anti-bullying policies reported being bullied compared with 31% in the control schools with no policy in place. However, chi-square analysis of the data found no statistically significant difference between policy and no-policy schools.

Among 150 (82 boys, 68 girls) grade 6 primary school pupils, Grant (1996) found that in response to the question: "Have you ever been bullied?", 59.33% (n = 89; 68% of boys, 49% of girls) of the pupils responded that they had been bullied.

The findings of Callaghan and Joseph (1995), Collins and Bell (1996), Taylor (1996), and Grant (1996) were limited due to the small sample sizes. The work of Collins, Mc Aleavy, and Adamson (2002, 2004) sought to address this problem. …