Whole-school approach to bullying

Bullying is less likely to occur in a caring, respectful and supportive teaching and learning community.

Elements that contribute to a planned whole-school approach

A school that engages their whole school community to address the issue of bullying is much more likely to succeed in preventing bullying than a school using single-factor interventions only. A whole-school approach to preventing and responding to bullying should be based on research and evidence-based practice, effective pedagogy and strong partnerships.

The following five evidence-based elements, based on the Australian Student Wellbeing Framework help schools to implement a planned whole-school approach to promote student safety and wellbeing and effectively address bullying behaviour.

Bullying is less likely to occur in a positive environment. Principals and school leaders play an active role in building a positive learning environment where the whole school community feels included, connected, safe and respected.

Learn more about leadership.

Bullying is less likely in a culture that promotes inclusion. All members of the school community are active participants in building a welcoming school culture that values diversity, and fosters positive, respectful relationships.

Learn more about inclusion.

Incorporating student voice in decision-making is a key contributor to a positive school culture. Students are less likely to engage in bullying behaviour when they feel valued. Students are active participants in their own learning and wellbeing, feel connected and use their social and emotional skills to be respectful, resilient and safe.

Learn more about student voice.

Bullying is a whole of community issue which requires a whole of community response. Effective schools have high levels of parental and community involvement, which is strongly related to positive student behaviour. Families and communities collaborate as partners with the school to support student learning, safety and wellbeing.

Learn more about partnerships.

Actively involving staff, students and families in promoting positive behaviour reduces bullying behaviour. School staff, students and families share and cultivate an understanding of wellbeing and support for positive behaviour and how this reinforces effective teaching and learning.

Learn more about support.

Successful anti-bullying interventions

Anti-bullying programs reduce bullying behaviours by an average of 20–23 per cent.. Evidence indicates that successful anti-bullying interventions:

  • take a holistic, whole-school approach
  • include educational content that supports students to develop social and emotional competencies, and learn appropriate ways to respond to bullying behaviours
  • provide support and professional development to teachers and other school staff on how best to maintain a positive school climate
  • ensure systematic program implementation and evaluation

The approaches that schools take to counter bullying can be classified as either ‘preventative’ or ‘responsive’. Preventative approaches aim to stop bullying from occurring in the first place, while responsive approaches are the steps taken to resolve the issue after bullying has occurred. The two approaches are not entirely distinct: responsive approaches should also aim, for example, to prevent bullying behaviours from occurring again in future (CESE, 2017).

STEPS framework

A wide range of frameworks, strategies, resources and programs which aim to counter bullying is available to schools. Some of these have a strong theoretical basis, solid evidence and are designed for sustainable implementation in schools. Others lack any theory or evidence and do not align with the educational context.

Schools want to know the approach they select will work in their school. An appropriate anti-bullying approach is one that matches your identified goals and needs and can be implemented in your school context on a sustainable basis.

STEPS is a decision-making tool to help schools determine whether a particular resource or approach is evidence-based, sustainable and appropriate for addressing the identified needs of the school.

For more information visit Bullying No Way's steps to prevent bullying.

Ansary, N, Elias, M, Greene, M & Green, S. (2015). Guidance for schools selecting antibullying approaches: Translating evidence-based strategies to contemporary implementation realities, Educational Researcher, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 27-36.

Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation. (2017). Anti-bullying interventions in schools - what works? Literature review. Department of Education. https://education.nsw.gov.au/about-us/educational-data/cese/publications/literature-reviews/anti-bullying-interventions-in-schools 

Rigby, K and Johnson, K. (2016). The prevalence and effectiveness of anti-bullying strategies employed in Australian schools, University of South Australia, Adelaide. 

Sairanen, L and Pfeffer, K. (2011). Self-reported handling of bullying among junior high school teachers in Finland, School Psychology International, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 330-344.

Smith, B & Low, S. (2013) The role of social-emotional learning in ullying prevention efforts, Theory Into Practice, vol. 52, no. 4, p. 280-287 

Thompson, F and Smith, P. (2011). The use and effectiveness of antibullying strategies in schools, research report.

Ttofi, M and Farrington, D. (2011). Effectiveness of school-based programs to reduce bullying: A systematic and meta-analytic review, Journal of Experimental Criminology, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 27-56.

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