​​​What works?

The question 'What works to prevent bullying?' seems simple. The answer is complicated: 'It depends what you want to achieve... and for which students... and in what context'.

There is no single universal anti-bullying approach. No one approach will meet the needs of every school and every situation. It is a matter of matching strategies and approaches to your students, context and needs.

Comprehensive school audits are the starting point for selecting an approach that works to achieve what you want in your school.

What does the research say?
What doesn't work?
Whole school resources and programs
Selecting an approach that suits your school
Transition programs

What does the research say?

Research, both in Australia and overseas, has identified the following combination of broad strategies as most likely to prevent and reduce bullying:

  • a universal whole-school approach over a long duration that takes a multi-faceted approach rather than focusing on one single component
  • A focus on building positive relationships and reducing bullying in the school community through a range of activities that engage students, families and staff (including professional development for teachers)
  • a whole-school detailed policy that addresses the effective prevention of and response to bullying within the broader context of improving school culture and fostering student engagement
  • effective classroom environments supported by statements of rights and responsibilities developed with student involvement
  • the promotion of a positive school environment that provides safety, security and support for students and promotes student wellbeing
  • effective approaches and strategies to encourage positive student behaviour as well as approaches to discipline that are consistent, inclusive, solution-focused and non-punitive
  • explicit teaching of values and skills to all students (and especially bystanders) including strategies for responding to bullying behaviour and supporting students who are bullied
  • integration of social emotional learning within the curriculum.

This combination of broad strategies can meet your school's needs. You may also wish to implement an additional specific anti-bullying program or resource. Many schools combine a number of approaches.

The infographic Bullying Prevention for schools what we know summarises the quality Australian research about effective practices at schools, positive teacher-student relationships and positive family relationships.

 Read more about the range of features in the design of anti-bullying approaches for different purposes at How approaches can be designed.   

Read reviews of specific programs and resources at the sites provided in Where is the evidence?

In her presentation What if harm from bullying is a hoax and we create a better world for nothing, Professor Donna Cross explores the research about 'what works' to prevent bullying, and discusses practical ways schools can engage with students in building safe and supportive school environments. (The presentation is provided in four parts totalling 55 minutes).

What doesn't work?

Knowing what doesn't work is just as important for schools.

There are many beliefs about bullying and ways of dealing with bullying that have been shown to be far less effective than whole-school, positive behaviour support approaches.

These include:

  • zero tolerance and 'get tough' suspensions and exclusions in the absence of positive and preventive approaches
  • rigid control of student behaviour
  • labelling students as “bullies” or “victims”
  • belief that students must receive punitive and negative consequences in all cases
  • increased security measures
  • unfair and inconsistent use of discipline
  • punishment without support.

Watch Dr Catherine Bradshaw discuss the Misdirections in Bullying Prevention and Response (used with permission from the US website StopBullying).

Misdirections in Bullying Prevention and Response video

Whole school resources and programs

Read about whole school anti-bullying resources and whole school resources for online safety which Australian schools have used.

Selecting an approach that suits your school

After determining your school's strengths and needs, and establishing your school's specific goals, you may adopt a number of the effective broad strategies. You may also wish to examine specific anti-bullying programs or resources to meet specific needs you have identified.

Only your school community can determine the most appropriate approach or combination of approaches.

Bullying. No Way! has developed a decision-making tool for schools, called Steps to Examine Programs and approaches in Schools or STEPS.

The STEPS decision-making framework guides schools to collect and consider all the relevant information necessary to select an appropriate, evidence-based approach for their school.

Bullying approaches differ greatly with respect to:

  • definition of what bullying is and theories about how to change it
  • evidence of effectiveness
  • type of content and way it is delivered
  • suitability and 'fit' within the realities and philosophy of an educational context
  • sustainability within the school context
  • ability to measure change after implementation.

STEPS provides nine guiding questions to help schools to examine the options and select appropriate evidence-based approaches for their school. It also helps schools avoid approaches that are inappropriate or have no evidence.

When considering options for your school, it may be helpful to keep in mind the different ways that anti-bullying approaches can be designed to achi​eve different purposes. Read more at How approaches can be designed.

Transition programs​

Establishing proactive, comprehensive and staged transition programs can be a highly effective way to prevent bullying. Transition programs can target students entering school for the first time, moving from primary school to secondary school, and moving to a senior school or senior campus.