​​​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
  • an increased awareness of bullying in the school community through assemblies, focus days and student-owned plans and activities
  • a whole-school detailed policy that addresses bullying
  • effective classroom management and classroom rules
  • the promotion of a positive school environment that provides safety, security and support for students and promotes positive relationships and student wellbeing
  • effective methods of behaviour management that are consistently used, are non-hostile and non-punitive
  • encouragement and skill development for all students (and especially bystanders) to respond negatively to bullying behaviour and support students who are bullied.

This combination of broad strategies might 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.

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?

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
  • rigid control of student behaviour
  • 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.

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