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The prevalence and effectiveness of anti-bullying strategies employed in Australian schools

Well-being Bullying Students Teachers Australia

Executive Summary

The report examines the prevalence and effectiveness of anti-bullying policies being used in a convenience sample of Australian government schools in six state or territory educational jurisdictions. It has drawn upon the perceptions and experiences of a range of stakeholders, that is, schools, teachers, parents and educational administrators from a number of Australian states and territories.

Online questionnaires were answered by schools (N = 26) through a school representative in consultation with colleagues; students (N = 1,688) in Years 5 to 10; teachers (N = 451) and parents (N = 167). In addition, interviews were conducted by telephone with regional administrators/educational leaders (N = 10). Both quantitative and qualitative methods of analyses were employed.

Results were analysed in relation to type of school (primary, secondary and combined), disability, gender, ethnicity and year of schooling.

The results provide an account of the social context in which bullying takes place. These include estimates on bullying prevalence, student responses to bullying and effects on student wellbeing. How schools are responding is then examined in relation to proactive approaches (i.e., preventing bullying) and reactive approaches (i.e., responding to cases of bullying) adopted by schools.

Key findings were that approximately 15% of students reported being bullied, most commonly in verbal and covert ways. Disabled students reported being victimised more often than able-bodied students. In general, the sample of Indigenous students was not bullied more than others, but there was evidence of them being more often racially harassed.

All the schools reported having a written anti-bullying policy, but only 47.8% of students indicated that they were aware of its existence. Most students reported that teacher-led instruction and activities on bullying took place at their school, more commonly in primary schools. Whilst students generally recognised the value of this work, they indicated different priorities about what is most useful in stopping bullying.

A minority of students (37.7%) reported that they were being bullied to teachers/counsellors. Of these, 29.3% reported that the bullying had been prevented from continuing and a further 39.6% that it had been reduced. Intervention methods, as reported by teachers, included the use of sanctions, strengthening the victim, mediation and restorative practice, and to a lesser extent the Support Group Method and the Method of Shared Concern. Basing their judgements on the experiences of their children at school, parents of bullied children were the least positive in appraising the effectiveness of the work of teachers.

Results from teachers on a test of knowledge about bullying indicated that on many issues teachers were in error or divided in their beliefs. Generally, teachers believed that training in countering bullying, especially at pre-service level, was inadequate. It was also evident that the pressure of other business together with scarce resources made it difficult for schools to focus on bullying.

Based on the results from this study, the following recommendations are made: (i) enable all members of the school community to become familiar with the school anti-bullying policy; (ii) seek out and act upon student feedback on the helpfulness of actions taken by the school in addressing bullying; (iii) pay particular attention to students who are most vulnerable to being bullied; (iv) engage more effectively with students who are being bullied and require help from the school; (v) provide more anti- bullying professional learning for both pre-service and practising teachers; and (vi) conduct further research to address issues identified as significant in this study.

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