A plethora of 'branded' anti-bullying programmes are on offer but do they work? And are they more effective than in-school practices?
Anti-bullying interventions are big business. Over the past 20 years, I have been asked to review numerous classroom-based resources, videos, DVDs and programmes that have sought to reduce bullying in schools. Sometimes these were free of charge. Sometimes they were not. Prices ranged from a few pounds sterling to several hundred, if not thousands. Then there are the charitable organisations that provide support to schools and colleges, having spent years refining their resources. But how successful are these training events or resources in tackling bullying?
In 2011, the UK Department for Education published a review by Fran Thompson and Peter K.Smith of Goldsmiths, University of London, which considered the effectiveness of the myriad anti-bullying interventions now available to schools. In the same year, Maria Ttofiand David Farrington of the University of Cambridge published their meta-analysis of the results of various interventions. The Thompson-Smith review focused primarily on teachers' reports of the success of such interventions, while Ttofiand Farrington were interested in the reported reductions in the incidences of bullying and victimisation. Both found elements common to successful interventions, and discovered that some intervention styles were more appropriate for younger children, while others were more suited to older students.
So what really works? The starting point, according to both reports, is a long-term and intensive in-school commitment to challenge bullying. One- off remedies may relieve an acute problem but they are not usually effective in changing long-term culture. A whole-school commitment is needed that involves parents and governors, as well as staff and students.
Thompson and Smith suggest that programmes that embed anti-bullying work into the curriculum are also helpful. They recommend personal, social and health education or citizenship as relevant subjects in which to do this in secondary schools (for children aged 11-18), while in primary schools (ages 4-11) the behaviour skills programme Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning is seen as an effective platform. Teachers rated staff training and the modelling of positive relationships and communication strategies as highly effective. And both reports found that liaising with parents and carers on bullying issues was a useful and important way of involving them in school policy.
The school playground was identified as a key risk area for bullying and it was suggested that training for playground supervisors on how to spot, and stop, such tormenting was highly effective. Ttofiand Farrington found that sanctions such as having "serious talks" with bullies, sending them to the principal or keeping them in class during breaks or lunchtimes were effective - although the evidence supporting this was primarily drawn from the Olweus programme that originated in Norway in the 1970s and has been widely used across Europe and North America.
So what action can you take without calling in external professionals? According to the Thompson-Smith report, using assemblies to reinforce anti-bullying policies is pivotal. Teachers also reported that school councils were useful occasions for hearing student views, although at times their opinions were seen as challenging.
In primary schools, "circle" time has been rated highly effective in resolving conflict. …