Theory​Theory

The theory for an approach links the existing knowledge about why bullying happens and how to counter it with the content, design and strategies of the approach.

Why is a sound theory important?
The knowledge base for a sound theory
The theoretical basis for an approach should be clearly stated
National Safe Schools Framework
Prompt questions

Why is a sound theory important?

When guided by a sound theory, approaches are more likely to be effective, feasible for schools to implement, and sustainable.

Approaches with a sound theory based on previous research are more likely to avoid the pitfalls of simplistic approaches. They are also less likely to be based on strategies that previous research found to be harmful or cause negative impacts.

The theory provides a degree of confidence about the likely effectiveness, particularly if the approach has not been researched extensively yet.

A sound theory is also a defence against approaches with a 'veneer' of research data that appear rigorous and findings that seem compelling but which are based on shoddy or unsophisticated reasoning (logic or theory).

The knowledge base for a sound theory

Approaches based on the existing knowledge from previous research can be described as evidence-informed. This is distinct from approaches described as 'evidence-based' which means they have direct measures providing evidence of effectiveness. (Ideally, an anti-bullying approach is both!)

Over 40 years of research is available to inform the development of anti-bullying approaches. Although more remains to be learnt, what we do know is important. Examining whether an approach is evidence-informed helps to protect schools against simplistic approaches and faddism.

Sound theories may also draw on what is known from the relevant research in other areas, for example, research into child and adolescent development, behaviour theory and research, and social change theories.

The theoretical basis for an approach should be clearly stated

Well-designed approaches will clearly state their theoretical basis, how the theory relates to what is already known about bullying, and how this theory has informed the development and design of the approach.

Schools should not have to search for this detail, as well-designed and theoretically sound approaches will provide this information in a manual or a website for the approach. If it is not easily available, it should raise concerns about the approach.

Each approach will draw on different relevant research depending on the way it defines bullying and its philosophical perspective on bullying.

National Safe Schools Framework

The Nati​ona​l Safe Schools Framework (PDF, 27.MB) incorporates sound theory and the existing knowledge about bullying in its guiding principles for safe and supportive school communities. It presents a range of evidence-informed practices to guide schools in preventing and responding to situations of bullying.

Prompt q​uestions for Theory

Key question: Is the approach based on a sound theory that draws on the existing knowledge from previous research in bullying?

To ask about the approach

  • What is the specific aim of the approach, i.e. does it impact on attitudes, skills, behaviours, or knowledge?
  • What theory underpins the approach and how has this been incorporated into the content, design and strategies of the approach?
  • What previous research into bullying and related areas does the approach draw on?
  • How does the approach promote a positive school climate and respectful relationships?
  • How does the approach align with the National Safe Schools Framework?

To ask about your school

  • Is the theoretical basis of this approach consistent with our school's approach to behaviour, learning and student well-being?
  • Should we undertake some professional development to learn more about the existing knowledge on countering bullying?
  • Does the approach complement how we have implemented the National Safe Schools Framework?

Use the STEPS form for schools (PDF, 651KB) to record your answers.

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