Anti-bullying interventions in schools - what works?

This literature review was originally published 25 July 2017.

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In 2017, the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation prepared a literature review on effective anti-bullying interventions in schools. The literature review provided the evidence base for the department’s anti-bullying strategy. Released in 2017, the NSW Anti-bullying Strategy brings together evidence-based resources and information to support schools, parents and carers, and students to prevent and respond to bullying effectively.

Bullying can be face-to-face, covert or online. It has three main features: it involves repeated actions, is intended to cause distress or harm, and is grounded in an imbalance of power.

In 2015, 14.8 per cent of Australian students reported being bullied at least a few times per month. Bullying peaks during the transition from primary school to high school, before decreasing to low levels by the end of high school. Boys tend to bully more than girls, however, girls use more covert bullying than boys.

Main findings

Anti-bullying programs reduce bullying behaviours by an average of 20–23 per cent.

The most effective anti-bullying interventions:

  • take a holistic, whole-school and whole-community approach, which includes promoting awareness of anti- bullying interventions
  • include educational content in the classroom that allows students to develop social and emotional competencies, and to learn appropriate ways to respond to bullying – both as a student who experiences bullying and as a bystander
  • provide support and sustainable professional development for school staff on how best to enhance understanding, skills and self-efficacy to address and prevent bullying behaviours
  • ensure systematic implementation and evaluation.

There are Australian and international examples of whole-schools approaches that have the characteristics common to effective anti-bullying interventions and have been subjected to program evaluations. Australian examples are the National Safe Schools Framework, Positive Behaviour for Learning, Friendly Schools, KidsMatter and MindMatters. International examples are the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (Norway), Sheffield Anti-Bullying Project (England), Seville Anti-Bullying in School Project (Spain) and KiVa Anti-Bullying Program (Finland).

Schools need greater support to maximise the outcomes of anti-bullying interventions and to identify what is likely to be successful based on their specific contexts and requirements. There is very little available currently in the way of specific advice to guide schools in their choice of anti-bullying programs.

Purpose of resource

The Anti-bullying interventions in schools – what works? resource summarises the evidence on effective anti-bullying interventions in schools.

When and how to use

The resource is a literature review and is accompanied by the Anti-bullying interventions MyPL course. School leaders and teachers can read, reflect on, discuss and implement themes and strategies highlighted in the literature review as part of school-developed High Impact Professional Learning (HIPL).

The appropriate time to use this resource may differ for each school, leader and teacher.

School leaders can:

  • unpack the literature review as part of whole-school professional development and/or stage or grade team meetings
  • encourage teachers to share key findings during professional development
  • reflect on strategies, policies or practices currently in place to prevent and respond to bullying effectively
  • lead discussions with staff about areas to improve across the school and in the classroom – you may wish to refer to the Anti-bullying resources on the department website · display the Anti-bullying interventions in schools poster
  • support staff to find connections between What works best, the School Excellence Framework and the strategies contained in the literature review.

Teachers can:

  • read the literature review or summary and reflect on current practice · complete the Anti-bullying interventions in schools MyPL course to engage with the literature on anti-bullying interventions and connect it to their own practice
  • identify strategies and practices in the literature review to apply in the classroom to respond to bullying effectively
  • reflect on the impact of the applied strategies.


Email feedback about this resource to using subject line ‘Re: Anti-bullying interventions in schools – what works?’. You can also subscribe to the CESE newsletter and connect with us on Yammer.

Alignment to system priorities and/or needs: NSW Department of Education Bullying of Students – Prevention and Response policy

Alignment to School Excellence Framework: Learning domain – wellbeing

Alignment with existing frameworks: Australian Professional Standards for Teachers – Standards 4, 6, 7

Australian Student Wellbeing Framework – support, student voice

NSW Wellbeing Framework for Schools – thrive, enabling school environment

Reviewed by: Learning and Wellbeing directorate

Created/last updated: Originally published 25 July 2017

To be reviewed: CESE publications are prepared through a rigorous process. Resources are reviewed periodically as part of an ongoing evaluation plan.


  • Literature review

Business Unit:

  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
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