A Whole-school approach to bullying prevention

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Why a whole-school approach to bullying?

Evidence now shows that bullying is more than an interaction between individuals, but is a socio-ecological phenomenon that occurs because of what happens in peer groups, families, schools, communities and the wider social environment. This means that schools need to have solutions, for example a whole-school approach, which focus on a range of elements to prevent and respond to bullying. 

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Wellbeing@School: Building a safe & caring school climate that deters bullying

Download the 'Wellbeing@School: Building a safe and caring school climate that deters bullying Overview paper' written by Sally Boyd

What is a whole-school approach?

A whole-school approach covers all aspects of the school experience, including policies, culture and classroom practice. Bullying prevention strategies are most effective when they are integrated into a broad range of activities that promote a positive, inclusive learning environment. Strong leadership and staff who model these positive values and behaviours are essential.

A whole-school approach brings everyone together — the Board, school staff, students, parents and whanau, and the broader community — to work on creating a safe, inclusive and accepting school environment where everyone feels a sense of belonigng. Raising awareness and having a shared understanding of what bullying is gives everyone the knowledge to take positive action to prevent bullying and respond effectively when it does occur. In a whole-school approach, bullying prevention is everyone’s business, making sure everyone knows and supports their school’s strategies and approach to bullying.

Importance of a whole-school approach

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Whole-school approaches

A range of evidence based resources are available to support schools to develop and implement a whole-school approach. See links below for more information.

Bullying prevention - What works?

Anti-bullying programmes have been shown to reduce bullying by around 20 to 23% and victimisation by 17 to 20%. (Ttofi and Farrington’s (2011). Research, both in New Zealand and overseas, identifies the following combination of actions as most likely to prevent and reduce bullying.

  • A universal whole-school approach over a long period of time that includes a range of measures such as teacher training, parent information, and a whole-school anti-bullying policy, rather than one single component.
  • A whole school detailed policy that addresses bullying behaviour.
  • The promotion of a positive school environment that provides safety, security and support for students and promotes positive relationships and student wellbeing.
  • Effective methods of behaviour management that are consistently applied and are non-punitive.
  • Encouraging and developing skills for all students (especially bystanders) to respond effectively to bullying behaviour and support students who are bullied.
  • An increased awareness of bullying in the school community through student-owned plans and activities.

Each school is different. No one approach will meet the needs of every school and every situation. The best approach found has been to use different parts from several programmes, not just one single specific programme (Swedish National Agency for Education’s 2011 evaluation report on anti-bullying methods). Measures to combating bully should be developed in response to the identified individual needs of a school using evidence-based approaches.

The key elements of an effective bullying prevention approach include:

  1. Bullying prevention that is a permanent part of the school environment, not a temporary remedial programme.
  2. Strategies and practices that are comprehensive and embedded, not fragmented or ‘added-on’.
  3. Information on the nature and dynamics of bullying that is easy to understand for the whole-school community, who all respond effectively when they see or experience bullying.
  4. Bullying prevention material needs to be provided in multiple ways (e.g., curriculum, policies, parent information) and co-ordinate with other existing programmes.
  5. Approaches that have a positive effect on students and on the school climate, and go beyond the problem of bullying.

Many schools combine a number of approaches. Only your school community can determine the most appropriate approach or combination of approaches.

Bullying prevention - What doesn't work?

There are common and avoidable misdirections in bullying prevention, Research clearly shows what does not work. For example:

  • Zero tolerance and disciplinary measures (i.e., school suspensions and expulsions).
  • Unfair and inconsistent use of discipline.
  • Punishment without support.
  • Expecting students to solve bullying problems by themselves.
  • Telling students to avoid social media as a way of avoiding cyberbullying.
  • Providing one-off activities (i.e., one-shot assemblies or a short motivational speech).
  • Pulling a few bits and pieces from a programme, or small, piecemeal and uncoordinated approaches.
  • Dealing with individual students who are bullying or being bullied – everyone needs to be involved in bullying prevention.

Already implementing a whole-school approach to student behaviour and wellbeing?

If your school is already implementing a whole-school approach to student behaviour; e.g. PB4L, review your approach to determine how bullying prevention can be incorporated into your policies, procedures and student management approaches.

Don’t have a whole-school approach to student behaviour that includes bullying?

Use the BullyingfreeNZ resources and the resources listed below to develop a whole-school approach to bullying prevention.

Bullying prevention is everyone's responsibility – all school staff, students, parents and whānau, and the wider school community.  Successful change is more likely to happen “when the whole-school community develops and shares a vision about what it wants to achieve, works to make the vision a reality, and acts in ways that are consistent with that vision”.  (NZCER, A whole-school approach to change using Wellbeing@School tools, March 2015, p.5). (external link)

Further information on whole-school approach and effective bullying approaches