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Research finds schools can effectively prevent bullying

An evidence review has found that programmes to prevent bullying can have a positive impact on both the bully and the victim 

An evidence review by the Early Intervention Foundation (@TheEIFoundation), ‘Adolescent mental health: A systematic review on the effectiveness of school-based interventions’, has found that bullying prevention techniques in schools can and do work. The prevention programmes work to improve outcomes for both for the bullied and the bully. 

The review found that there is also good evidence that these programmes (which often draw on the social cognitive principles of behaviour-change with a focus on changing attitudes, altering group norms, and increasing self-efficacy), have a long-term effect on traditional bullying perpetration. 

The latest evidence suggests that a whole-school approach to intervention is particularly effective in reducing bullying behaviour and can have a long-term positive effect on traditional face-to-face bullying perpetration. There was also found to be promising evidence for whole-school approaches to improve bullying behaviour. 

A focus on social and emotional skill development and behavioural practice techniques appears to be a core component of effective violence and bullying prevention interventions. These findings highlight the importance of explicitly teaching these skills to prevent the onset of behaviour problems and reduce the likelihood that young people will engage in aggressive or bullying behaviour. 

The EIF review found that there is evidence that violence prevention interventions have a small but positive effect on aggressive behaviour in the short term. There is also evidence that these interventions can have a wider impact on other behavioural outcomes including bullying victimisation, school attendance and behaviour, and pupil wellbeing. 

Teachers have been shown to be equally as effective as external professionals in delivering bullying prevention programmes. This suggests that school staff, when appropriately trained, can respond effectively to bullying in schools as well as prevent bullying behaviour. However, teachers were less effective than technology experts when it came to providing cyberbullying prevention programmes.  

Example of an effective programme 

The UK-developed Learning Together whole-school intervention reported significant improvements in bullying and cyberbullying perpetration at 36 months follow-up. 

This programme adopts a whole-school approach to reducing bullying and aggressive behaviour. Results from a large cluster randomised control trial in England provide evidence of a small significant long-term effect (36 months follow-up) on bullying and cyberbullying perpetration, student observation of aggression by other students, and students’ own perpetration of aggressive behaviour in or outside school.  

Several secondary outcomes were detected, including improved psychological functioning, wellbeing and quality of life, and reductions in police contact, smoking and alcohol and drug use. Impact on broader education outcomes was also detected, including reduced participation in school disciplinary procedures and truancy.  

Dr Jo Casebourne, chief executive, Early Intervention Foundation commented: 

“Research shows bullying in the teenage years can lead to increased risk of suicide, getting in trouble with the police, anxiety disorders and a whole host of other negative outcomes. We know that both bully and the bullied can be adversely affected. The upside is we know that support in schools can be effective both for the bully and the victim. Support should be delivered in an approach that focuses on the whole school response and should focus on social and emotional skill development and behavioural practice techniques.” 

The report also found a lack of research on what works to prevent cyberbullying. With cyberbullying having increased significantly during the pandemic this is an area in urgent need of more research. Also, the EIF review found that evidence of long-term effects on cyberbullying is very limited. The research on cyberbullying generally lags behind knowledge of what works to tackle in-person bullying.  

Study methodology: 

The results are from a larger evidence review ‘Adolescent mental health: A systematic review on the effectiveness of school-based interventions’, which synthesises the results from 34 systematic reviews and 97 primary studies that evaluated the effects of school-based interventions on young people’s (age 12-18 years) wellbeing, mental health and behaviour.  

On bullying specifically, the review synthesized evidence from 28 evaluations of interventions aimed at preventing problems including antisocial or aggressive behaviour, bullying, misconduct, sexual violence or harassment. 

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