National News

School interventions less effective for severe and group bullying

A recent study of bullying victims’ experiences has found that while school intervention in bullying reduced or eliminated the practice in 67% of cases, it struggled to resolve severe cases and group bullying.

Professor Ken Rigby of UniSA used data from 223 student surveys completed in 25 Australian schools for this study. He calls for schools to implement more appropriate measures to address the issue. Rigby’s research found that 33% of cases showed no “evident improvement”. In around 8% of cases victims reported that the bullying worsened.

The study points out that student victims of severe bullying may suffer from anxiety, depression, or even trauma as a result of bullying, which makes successful intervention all the more difficult.

“Assisting such students through what has been termed ‘strengthening the victim’ is difficult to achieve without considerable perseverance and skill,” Professor Rigby writes. “It is evident that many teachers provide advice on how a victimised student can cope more effectively, but in the case of severely emotionally disturbed students the difficulty may be too great.”

School interventions were also less effective at preventing cases of group bullying (when a group of students bullies an individual). While this is less common than cases of individual bullying, it appears to present particular difficulties for schools.

“Generally, it involves working with a number of perpetrators who tend to influence each other,” Professor Rigby writes. “Directly confronting a group of students thought to be the perpetrators or their supporters may entail mistakenly accusing students who have played little or no part in the bullying.”

This can cause resentment amongst accused students and even, according to the paper, create feelings of solidarity amongst the bullies, along with a resolve to continue their bullying in subtler ways. Professor Rigby does have suggestions for intervention methods.

“The first step lies in assessing the severity of the bullying and recognising that high levels of severity may call for sustained empathic concern and appreciation of the difficulties that confront the child in coping with the bullying. This may involve referring severely harmed children for specialised help from psychologists or psychiatrists.”

It’s also important that schools work closely with parents, offering emotional support and advice.

Alternative and specialised ways of dealing with cases of group bullying exist, such as the Support Group Method and the Method of Shared Concern. Unfortunately, they are not well known by teachers and are little practised in schools.

The Support Group Method entails interviewing victims on their experiences of bullying and to identify perpetrators. This information is then shared with the identified ‘bullies’ at a meeting that includes students who will actively support and assist the victim and thereby influence the subsequent behaviour of the students who have engaged in the bullying.

“Another intervention method designed for use with group bullying, known as the Method of Shared Concern, has been reported as highly effective, said Professor Rigby. “A comprehensive approach is adopted beginning with one-on-one interviews with the suspected bullies followed by a meeting with the targeted student; then a meeting with all the suspected bullies to devise a positive proposal as a basis for a negotiated solution, and if possible, agreed upon in a final group meeting involving the victim.”

“Though potentially time-consuming this is probably the most effective way of dealing with the difficult problem of group bullying.”
Professor Rigby said this is the first time a study has both explored victims’ perceptions of the effectiveness of school interventions into bullying and identified areas in which school interventions in actual cases can be more successfully undertaken.

Rigby, K., 2020. How teachers deal with cases of bullying at school: What victims say. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17, 2338. doi:10.3390/ijerph17072338.