Three steps to tackle bullying

Written by: Nicola Murray | Published:

A whole-school and a whole-year approach to bullying is essential. Nicola Murray looks at three factors for success that the free All Together anti-bullying programme has identified as being crucial

Last term’s Anti-Bullying Week may have been the biggest yet – a nationwide survey of teachers and pupils has revealed that a whopping 80 per cent of schools in England took part.

We saw huge amounts of activity to raise awareness of the themes around bullying as a behaviour choice and how we can still respect those we disagree with – assemblies, video productions, poetry readings, flash mobs, lots of Aretha Franklin, and oh so many creative ways to display odd socks.

We are delighted that more than 90 per cent of schools taking part said that Anti-Bullying Week helps them raise awareness about bullying, so it is a hugely important tool. However, we also know that once the hubbub of the week dies down, the hard work to tackle bullying carries on: it’s a year-round issue.

We are able to support this year-round work through All Together, the Anti-Bullying Alliance’s free programme for schools in England. The programme guides schools through a whole-school approach to tackling bullying and safeguarding children.

The programme has seen positive results in reducing school bullying and improving pupil wellbeing. After just over a year on the programme, we found that 79 per cent of schools said bullying had been reduced and that 99 per cent of schools said their confidence in preventing and responding to bullying had improved.

More than 20,000 pupils were surveyed about their school experiences before and after All Together. Pupils reported that following the programme they:

  • Experienced less bullying (particularly frequent bullying).
  • Were less likely to bully others.
  • Experienced higher levels of wellbeing across a wide range of indicators.

The improvement in pupils’ experiences was reported across all demographics, but was especially the case for pupils with SEN and for those in receipt of free school meals – groups that we know are particularly likely to experience bullying.

So what helped schools achieve these successes? Here are three things we have learnt through the programme.

Break it down

Schools on the programme had access to an Audit and Action Planning tool with lots of other resources to help with every aspect of putting their anti-bullying strategy into practice. This provided a framework, based on a whole-school approach, which allowed them to break activities down into tasks that could be shared across the school.

Schools told us that this enabled them to identify target areas specific to each class, through PSHE, curriculum time and Anti-Bullying Week activities. One teacher said the resources helped “highlight problem areas, areas you have under control and areas that need tightening up. It helped break down each step into bite sized chunks to make it more manageable to address the issues within the area.”

Listen to pupils...

...and give them the vocabulary to voice their feelings. A key aspect of the programme is the bullying and wellbeing questionnaire that pupils complete before and after the programme.

The questionnaire deliberately avoids the term “bullying”, as research has shown this term is often conceptualised differently by different children . Instead, it focuses on questions about feelings and experiences in order to ascertain whether pupils are experiencing or perpetrating bullying behaviour; their sense of safety and belonging in the school climate; and an assessment of emotional and behavioural problems.

As well as being a valuable way for schools to monitor their progress over the course of the programme, we heard from schools how the questionnaires allowed them to understand the deep-rooted causes of some bullying behaviours and put targeted action in place.

Schools worked with classes on areas like self-esteem, knowing what’s right and wrong, and, in many cases, support for dealing with sleeplessness, which can be linked to behavioural issues. This created a culture of security and openness within schools at a deeper level, and, as one school told us, allowed children to “feel more comfortable talking about incidents and working with adults to resolve them”.

Share the knowledge

At the heart of the All Together programme (and there’s a clue in the name) is the belief that anti-bullying is everyone’s business. This has to start with school leadership. At successful schools, action plans were monitored and supported on a termly basis by the senior leadership team.

We noted that during the course of the programme the number of schools with a governor responsible for anti-bullying doubled. It was also exciting to see the examples from schools of how they had involved parents in the work – running training workshops and meetings (sometimes alongside their children) to understand bullying or to develop new policies together. And in many areas, schools were able to share their knowledge even further, by coming together with other schools to share best practice and find ways to overcome local issues.

This is an approach we want to support on an even wider level as we head into the next phase of the programme. Only by working together, by enabling conversation, by sharing ideas, can we create the kind of school communities where bullying will not take hold.

Anti-bullying work is a continuous journey, and a whole-year activity, so while at the Anti-Bullying Alliance we have already begun planning Anti-Bullying Week 2019, we are also here to support schools on all the days in between.

  • Nicola Murray is head of programmes at the Anti-Bullying Alliance.

Further information

You can register your interest to take part in the All Together Programme at www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/alltogether


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