Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Professor Peter K Smith, Goldsmith's University, London

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  1.  Professor Smith has written and researched widely on school bullying and violence, since 1989. He directed the Sheffield Project which resulted in the first edition of Don't suffer in silence; and is currently heading the research & advisory Group of the Anti-Bullying Alliance. His submission should be reads in conjunction with the ABA response.

  2.  Some factual points are made about: the incidence of bullying and it's probable decrease; the negative and long-term effects of being involved as a victim or bully; and the particular need to consider bully/victims, that is pupils involved both as bullies and victims.

  3.  A number of recommendations are put forward, including:

    —  DfES to issue guidance or a workbook on producing a good school anti-bullying policy; and/or running or commissioning a service that gives schools comments and feedback on their policy.

    —  Incorporate a substantial element into basic teacher training courses, covering the nature of bullying and school violence, methods of intervention, use of conflict mediation skills, assertiveness training, peer support schemes, etc.

    —  Teacher training and support issues should include the early years at school.

    —  Include cyberbullying explicitly in School policies; Anti-bullying materials; Teacher training materials for anti-bullying work; Guidance for parents; and Guidance for children and young people.

    —  Institute or strongly recommend regular surveys on a national basis for schools and local authorities.

    —  National action also needs to consider issues such as parenting skills; preventing abuse and severe physical chastisement in families; control of overly violent material in television programmes and media/computer games; encouraging non-violent ways of resolving conflicts in the community.

  In addition a number of suggestions are made regarding future research needs and priorities.

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  Peter K Smith is Professor of Psychology and Head of the Unit for School and Family Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is co-author of Understanding Children's Development (Blackwells, 1988, 1991, 1998, 2002), and co-editor of School Bullying: Insights and Perspectives (Routledge, 1994), Tackling Bullying in Your School: A Practical Handbook for Teachers (Routledge, 1994), The Nature of School Bullying (Routledge, 1999), The Family System Test (Routledge, 2001) and the Blackwell Handbook of Childhood Social Development (Blackwell, 2002), editor of Violence in Schools: The Response in Europe (Routledge, 2002) and co-editor of Bullying in Schools: How Successful can Interventions be? (Cambridge University Press, 2004). He directed the DFE Sheffield Anti-Bullying project from 1991-94, advised on the DfEE pack Don't Suffer in Silence (1994, 2nd edition 2000), and coordinated a European Commission funded project (1997-2001) on "The Nature and Prevention of Bullying" (www.gold.ac.uk/tmr) and another project (1999-2002) on "Violence in Schools" (www.gold.ac.uk/connect). He is currently heading the Research & Advisory Group for the anti-Bullying Alliance.

  1.2  Professor Smith (via Goldsmiths College) is a member of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, a unique collaboration of organisations involved in anti-bullying work. Further information about the Anti-Bullying Alliance is available at www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk. This response should be read alongside the Anti-Bullying Alliance's response.

2.  FACTUAL INFORMATION

  2.1  As my writings contributed substantially to the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) response, I will not duplicate material on the Extent and Nature of the problem, and Short and Long-term Effects, but just emphasise or add a few points.

  2.2  It is clear that a substantial minority of pupils are seriously involved, as victims, bullies, or both (bully/victims). The actual percentages depend on how it is measured, what time period one is considering, and how serious the behaviour has to be to be counted. But a rough estimate would be around 10-20% as victims and 5-10% as bullies. Dan Olweus has written of "one in seven" pupils being involved one way or another (in Norway), and this is a reasonable estimate.

  2.3  The incidence in English schools has probably been going down slowly over the last few years or perhaps the last decade. Several lines of evidence suggest this, although in the absence of large-scale funded longitudinal data the evidence is not conclusive (see ABA response; and Attachment 1: Smith, P.K. & Shu, S. (2000). What good schools can do about bullying: Findings from a survey in English schools after a decade of research and action. Childhood, 7, 193-212).[37] 37 Despite periodic media alarm, it should not be surprising that the rate is declining, since government advice to schools and action by schools has been fairly sustained since the end of the Sheffield Project, the publication of the first edition of Don't Suffer in Silence in 1994, and legal requirements on schools since 1998.

  2.4  Any decline should not be an excuse for complacency. First, the decline is slow and many pupils are still being bullied. Second, some forms of bullying, notably cyberbullying, appear to have increased (as new technologies have penetrated the middle/secondary school age range). Rather, it should be taken as a positive indication that action can be effective; but that more needs to be done.

  2.5  The negative effects of being bullied have been well documented. It correlates with anxiety and depression, low self-esteem, and psychosomatic symptoms; and in extreme cases can lead to suicide. There is an issue about cause and effect (eg does being bullied cause low self-esteem; or does low self-esteem make a pupil vulnerable to being bullied?), but a smaller number of studies suggest that even if some factors make pupils more at risk of being a victim, the experience of being bullied does indeed cause or at least exacerbate such factors.

  2.6  The correlates of being a bully are less consistent across studies (eg regarding self-esteem). There are probably a variety of types of pupils who engage in bullying; perhaps some out of lack of empathy and desire for power or to humiliate others, some because such behaviour characterizes their family environment, and others because they have themselves been bullied, or for revenge, or to bolster fragile self-esteem.

  2.7  Being a victim can have severe and long-lasting negative effects. One study which I co-ordinated (Attachment 2: Smith, P.K., Singer, M., Hoel, H. & Cooper, C.L. (2003).[38] Victimisation in the school and the workplace: Are there any links? British Journal of Psychology, 94, 175-188) found small but significant links from being a school victim to being a victim of workplace bullying (this link being most substantial for bully/victims, see 2.9).

  2.8  Taking part in bullying, if persistent, has been found to predict to later violent and anti-social behaviour in the family, workplace or community.

  2.9  Those pupils involved as both victims and bullies, or bully/victims, are those most at risk (from a number of different studies; see also 2.7). Whereas many pupils who for a period are involved as bullies or victims can be tackled effectively by good school procedures, there will be a small number (especially severe "bully/victims" or aggressive victims) who will need specialist intervention and probably work with families was well.

3.  RECOMMENDATIONS

  3.1  At present every school develops its own policy and framework for tackling bullying. The good feature of this is that they feel ownership of their policy, and it can be responsive to local conditions and issues. The bad side is that many policies can be poorly worded and inadequate (for example, omitting certain types of bullying such as homophobic bullying or cyberbullying; being unclear about liaison with parents; being unclear about how incidents will be recorded; etc). A useful step would be for DfES to issue guidance or a workbook on producing a good school anti-bullying policy; and/or running or commissioning a service that gives schools comments and feedback on their policy.

  3.2  The limited research available suggests that many teachers and trainee teachers lack a good knowledge base about bullying and how to tackle it—but would welcome such knowledge (eg Attachment 3: Nicolaides, S., Toda, Y. & Smith, P.K. (2002). Knowledge and attitudes about school bullying in trainee teachers. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 105-118).[39] Teacher training in this area relies on in-service courses when provided, and the possibility of some short lecture or two during basic training. A useful step would be to incorporate a substantial element into basic teacher training courses, covering the nature of bullying and school violence, methods of intervention, use of conflict mediation skills, assertiveness training, peer support schemes, etc.

  3.3  Although the terminology of "bully" and "victim" may not apply so clearly in infant school, it is clear that (a) some children are already aggressive, and (b) that changes in behaviour are easier with younger children. Teacher training and support issues should include the early years at school.

  3.4  Cyberbullying has only recently (last few years) become prominent, but it is increasing. There may also be something of a "generation gap" in awareness, at the present time. It is vital that we include cyberbullying explicitly in School policies; Anti-bullying materials; Teacher training materials for anti-bullying work; Guidance for parents; and Guidance for children and young people.

  3.5  At present we lack regular, national statistics on school bullying (and school violence). This means we cannot make confident statements about the severity of the problem, whether it is improving, whether it is better or worse in certain areas or certain school or following certain interventions. The Children's Commissioner has called for such information; and a variety of indicators are expressly mentioned in the Joint Area Reviews (deriving from the agenda set by Every Child Matters). It would be very useful for practice and for research if regular surveys on a national basis were instituted or strongly recommended for schools and local authorities.

  3.6  It should not be forgotten that some of the roots of bullying lie with families; and with the wider society. Schools cannot do all the work alone. National action also needs to consider issues such as parenting skills; preventing abuse and severe physical chastisement in families; control of overly violent material in television programmes and media/computer games; encouraging non-violent ways of resolving conflicts in the community.

  3.7  More research would be a great asset in providing a firm evidence base for future work in schools (and with families and communities). While research needs are many and varied, I would identify the following as particularly promising:

    (a)  identifying the most effective types of peer support schemes. Peer support schemes are varied in type, and used in one form or another by perhaps one-half of schools in England. Informal evaluation is encouraging (Attachment 4: Smith, P.K. & Watson, D., Evaluation of the CHIPS (ChildLine in Partnership with Schools) programme. Research report RR570 to DfES, London, 2004).[40] But more in-depth study is needed to see which kinds work best, why, and whether they really impact on levels of bullying.

    (b)  comparing the effectiveness of different approaches to sanctions. Approaches vary widely in schools, and opinions vary widely amongst researchers, both nationally and internationally. At one end are approaches that use direct negative sanctions as soon as there is evidence of bullying having taken place. At the other end are approaches such as Pikas method, and Support Group Method (formerly No Blame Approach) that seek to change the behaviour of bullying children without imposing sanctions. In between are Restorative Justice approaches (where the bully must acknowledge their wrongdoing, but the outcome is decided through discussion with all involved). The present government clearly does not favour No Blame type approaches; nevertheless they are used quite widely both nationally and internationally, and there is little firm evidence concerning them. An evidence based philosophy does require further research on what approach to sanctions works best, in particular circumstances (eg age of children, severity of incident, etc).

    (c)  tackling cyberbullying. This could include the various forms of cyberbullying (which are still developing), and particularly ways of dealing with it that require more than the methods used for traditional forms of bullying (the new DfES task force on Cyberbullying will be a useful step forward here).

    (d)  why some pupils become bullies and the different types of pupils involved. We know a lot about the causes or risk factors for being a victim, but much less about those doing the bullying. Yet preventing further bullying depends in large part on changing the behaviour of bullying children. Indeed the effectiveness of different sanctions approaches (see (b) above) may depend in part on the nature and type of bullying.

    (e)  ways of empowering victims. We know that victims of bullying use a variety of coping strategies, which vary in effectiveness. Assertiveness training can help; but since the Sheffield Project (1991-94) there has been little study of how well this works.

    (f)  identifying bully/victims early and helping them change. Bully/victims are generally the most disturbed pupils and the most difficult for teachers to work with. How early can they be identified? And what would be most effective in improving their behaviour?

October 2006






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