Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Addressing Bullying in Schools: Theory and Practice

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Addressing Bullying in Schools: Theory and Practice

Article excerpt

Bullying in schools has become an issue of major importance among educators. However, interventions to reduce bullying have enjoyed only modest and limited success. This paper examines five different explanations for bullying. These emphasise, respectively:

1. developmental features;

2. individual differences;

3. a sociocultural perspective;

4. group and peer pressure; and

5. the rationale for restorative justice.

Each has had some impact on school policies and practices. The strengths and limitations of the different explanations are examined. It is concluded that none of them provides a comprehensive explanation for school-based bullying and that their value lies especially in suggesting actions that may be taken by schools in addressing particular bully/victim problems.

Adam Graycar



There is now widespread support for the view that schools should take action to counter bullying among students. Social researchers, beginning with Olweus' (1993) pioneering studies among boys in Scandinavia in the 1970s and 80s, led the way. In time, others followed, especially in parts of Europe and the United Kingdom, and then eventually in the 1990s in Australia (Rigby & Slee 1993). Educators began to ask how much bullying is actually going on in our schools, what kinds of bullying are occurring, and what harm is it doing.

Evidence has steadily accumulated about the negative consequences of student involvement in bully/victim problems. On the basis of longitudinal studies, it has been concluded that repeated exposure to being bullied can, and indeed often does, undermine the health and wellbeing of vulnerable students (Egan & Perry 1998; Rigby 1999). It is also known that the perpetrators of bullying not only tend to experience depression and engage in suicidal thinking but also, if not corrected at school, are more likely to act violently as adults in the home and workplace (Farrington 1993). Children who are both bullies and victims are seen as especially prone to mental illness.

Social science research findings often make little impact on what goes on in society, unless there is a social movement that actively seeks to make use of them. In the late twentieth century in Western society in particular, the Zeitgeist was one in which people were becoming increasingly attuned to the injustice of social discrimination, especially on gender and racial grounds. Bullying was, and still is in many minds, bracketed with harassment whose roots are in social prejudice. Currently, educational jurisdictions in Australia see their role as providing information to schools about bullying and advice on how they could counter it. Some of them have mandated that all schools have anti-bullying policies.

The Impact So Far

It has proved difficult to establish whether addressing bullying in schools has, in fact, resulted in actual reductions in bullying incidents. First, there are formidable problems associated with sampling. Selected schools must be representative of the general population of schools and assessments must be made on at least two occasions over a span of years. Identical questions must be asked at different time points. Unfortunately, it is quite possible that the meaning that bullying has for respondents may change over the years, probably in the direction of respondents including more phenomena in their identifying of bullying, especially nonobvious, indirect forms of bullying such as exclusion. Given these difficulties there appears to be only one published study, conducted in England, that has attempted to estimate changes over time, not associated with specified interventions (Smith & Shu 2000). They suggest that there has been a slight tendency towards a reduction in reported bullying.

Where specific intervention programs have been evaluated, the outcomes have been mixed. A program implemented in Norway, devised by Olweus (1993) claimed a 50 per cent reduction in reported bullying in the Bergen area. …

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