Bullying in Secondary Schools: What it Looks Like and How to Manage it


Keith Sullivan, Mark Cleary & Ginny Sullivan

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: Introduction

    Part II: Why “Bad” Things Happen to “Good” Schools

    Part III: Making the Whole School Safe

    Part IV: The Safe School in Action

  • Copyright

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    List of Tables and Figures

    List of Tables
    • 8.1 The percentages of children and adolescents in different participant roles among sixth (n=573) and eighth (n=316) graders 113
    List of Figures
    • 1.1 What we know about bullying 4
    • 1.2 The ripple effect of bullying 22
    • 1.3 The downward spirals of bullying 25
    • 2.1 Tumultuous yet invigorating: the passage Through adolescence 28
    • 3.1 The changing nature of peer groups and individualization during secondary school years 49
    • 4.1 The blocked drain syndrome 57
    • 8.1 The passive-active continuum 120
    • 8.2 Self-perception 121
    • 8.3 Influence 122
    • 8.4 Leadership 122
    • 8.5 Involvement/inclusion 123
    • 8.6 Submission 123
    • 8.7 Empathy 124
    • 8.8 Prosocial skills 124
    • 8.9 Selfishness 125
    • 8.10 Manipulation 125
    • 8.11 Combined continuum and Strathclyde triangle 126
    • 8.12 Distribution of students on the triangle 127
    • 8.13 Changing positions on the triangle 128
    • 9.1 Characteristics of authoritative teachers 134
    • 9.2 Changing the emphasis during the school year 135
    • 12.1 Deep structure and surface manifestations of negative and positive leadership 167
    • 14.1 Requirements for an effective peer mentor 200


    Around the world, there is an emerging awareness of the problems associated with bullying. This is not just a normal part of growing up nor something that kids grow out of. It is a problem that a substantial proportion of young children and adolescents experience—as perpetrators, victims, or bystanders, and at some point they may have been involved in each of the three roles. Recent data from 35 countries participating in the World Health Organization Survey of Health Behavior in School-aged Children (2003) confirm the ubiquity and magnitude of the problem of bullying.

    Once a problem, such as bullying, comes to the forefront of social consciousness, there is a logical call for strategies to address the problem. This book is unique in that it provides an understanding of bullying in adolescence and provides direction for intervention. To date, the majority of the literature has focused on elementary school-aged children. Recognizing the problem of bullying in adolescence as well as childhood is an important step. The authors of this book, Keith and Ginny Sullivan and Mark Cleary, make a strong contribution to the field by providing a critical developmental understanding of the problem. They address the important issue of the salient developmental challenges in adolescence (e.g., developing intimacy, autonomy and identity) and relate these processes to the relevant social systems that influence bullying. The consequence is that the complexity of bullying is revealed, and an understanding of the complexity of bullying is essential to any successful intervention.

    The authors base the book on a central tenet: bullying at any age interferes with the normal developmental process. As such, in order to promote healthy development, we need to address these problems long before any negative consequences develop. Drawing upon cogent case examples, the authors have put a spotlight on the nature of bullying during adolescence and developmentally appropriate interventions to stop the bullying behavior. A key feature of this book is the sensitivity with which the authors portray victimized youth, and the effective ways in which they frame the problem not as a defect in those who are bullied, but within the systems that permit the abusive behaviors to take root.

    This book not only sheds light on understanding bullying in adolescence, but also on designing and implementing interventions that are both developmentally relevant and systemically appropriate. It provides an overview and understanding of the important social systems that impact on development such as the family, peer group, school, and community. For example, in adolescence the role and influence of the peer group becomes increasingly important, while the role and influence of parents changes. The authors highlight how certain children may fall prey to the aggressive tendencies of their peers and how their low social status and power in the peer group context place them at risk of ongoing torment through bullying. At the same time, there are normal dominance processes that are continually unfolding in the lives of adolescents. Some teenagers find it socially beneficial to establish and reinforce their social power through bullying vulnerable school mates. The challenge in recognizing the changing importance and salience of these social contexts is to design interventions that match these significant social changes. This is what this book does and encourages others to do within their own creative and cultural contexts.

    We have here a book that sheds much light on the nature of the problem of bullying in adolescence, the systemic factors that underlie bullying, and specific directions for the design of interventions with developmentally appropriate strategies for responding to the problems. The majority of interventions to date have focused on bullying as a problem in childhood and in primary schools. With this volume, the authors give us information and strategies that are essential for dealing with bullying in adolescence but are often also applicable to bullying in other contexts. While the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive changes that typify adolescence give bullying at secondary school its special character, the underlying factors of abuse, coercion, cruelty, and the wielding of power are of relevance when considering bullying of any type.

    This book presents a clear, well-constructed and useful account of bullying in adolescence and marks an important starting point in understanding bullying and designing age-appropriate interventions. Bullying is a form of abuse in youth-to-youth relationships. The time has come to ensure that all individuals have the right to be safe at school and in our communities and this book makes a valuable contribution to that goal.

    Associate Professor Wendy Craig, Department of Psychology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

    Professor Debra Pepler, Director, LaMarsh Research Center for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

    Authors' Preface

    In this book we are describing a new approach to dealing with bullying. Whereas much bullying research examines how often it occurs, who bullies, and who is bullied, our approach, firstly, sees bullying as part of a social dynamic and, secondly, as part of an unsafe school culture. If the dynamic changes so that the bystanders cease to watch from the sidelines but intervene and show their rejection of the bullying behavior, then the bully will no longer have power over the group and, more specifically, the victim. A change in the bullying dynamic means that individuals are not trapped into their roles and the whole power base upon which bullying relies crumbles. We are also advocating the creation of safe schools that provide positive and enabling learning environments. Reducing bullying is the tool.

    Planning for a bullyfree school needs to be done with creativity, imagination, and commitment. And it needs to include as many people as possible from within the school community—students, teaching and other school staff, parents, and others from the wider community. The ideal that these people come up with does not have to stay an ideal; it can become a reality.

    In any school, bullying will erupt from time to time. That is a fact of life. But in safe schools, social relationships are founded on respect, students can confidently talk to staff about difficulties, and the school provides a clear set of strategies for teachers to use and offers complete and systemic support. And in such schools, learning can take off and become as enjoyable as it should be.

    We have all experienced bullying. We have personally experienced it as children, as parents, and as teachers. It is because we have seen the harm it can do, but also because we have seen that it can be successfully dealt with, that we have chosen to write this book.



    The authors would like to thank the following people: Gaylene Denford-Wood of Wellington, New Zealand for her careful and caring reading and feedback; Barbara Maines and George Robinson of Bristol, England, for their generosity and openness in allowing us to use their wonderful work; Alan McLean of Glasgow, Scotland, for the free use of his inspired materials; Tina Salmivalli of Turku, Finland, for allowing us to reproduce some of her important research findings; Margaret Anderson, of Victoria University of Wellington, for her crucial and unfailing help in finding articles, books and resources; and Margaret Wheeler of Rangiora High School, Canterbury, for her support and insightful feedback.

    We are very grateful to all those who have shared their stories of bullying and being bullied, most of whom wish to be nameless. We would all like to thank the students and staff of Colenso High School, Napier, New Zealand, for trusting Mark with their stories and for helping him develop his anti-bullying practice.

    Keith would like to thank the President and Fellows of Wolfson College, University of Oxford, for electing him to the Charter Fellowship in Human Rights in order to study anti-bullying research and initiatives in the UK; and Professor Richard Pring and members of the Department of Educational Studies who hosted him during his time at Oxford. Mark would like to thank the generous support of the Nuffield Foundation for financing a visit to the UK; and Peter Smith, members of the Education Department of the Strathclyde Local Area Authority and the Tayside Anti-Bullying Team who all helped him develop a depth of understanding into the bullying dynamic.

    We would also like to acknowledge the important work of Owen Sanders, Maurice Cheer and Gill Palmer from the New Zealand Police Youth Education Services who have provided ongoing support and encouragement to our work.

    We are very grateful to Oxford University Press for permission to use two figures and a questionnaire from Keith Sullivan's book, The Anti-Bullying Handbook (2000).

    Many thanks to colleagues around the world who have shared insights into how to understand and deal with bullying and whose work has been both inspirational and helpful. In the UK: Professor Peter K. Smith of Goldsmiths College, University of London; Professor Helen Cowie, Roehampton Institute, University of Surrey; Sonia Sharp, Senior Psychologist, Nottingham; Dr Val Besag, Gateshead; The Tayside Anti-Bullying Team, Dundee, Scotland (wherever you now are). In Norway, Elaine Munthe, Professor Erling Roland and their team of researchers at Stavanger University College. In Finland, Professor Kaj Bjorkvist and Dr Karen Osterman of Åbo Akademi University, Vaasa; and Dr Tina Salmivalli and Dr Ari Kaukiainen of the University of Turku. In Canada, Professor Debra Pepler, Director of the LaMarsh Center for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution, York University, Toronto; Dr Wendy Craig, Department of Psychology, Queen's University, Kingston; Dr Claudia Mitchell of McGill University; and Professor Shelley Hymel of the University of British Columbia. In the US, Dr Nan Stein of Wellesley College, Boston. In Australia, Professor Ken Rigby of the University of South Australia and Professor Phillip Slee of Flinders University, Adelaide.

    We are also grateful for the support of our places of work and our colleagues, Professor Cedric Hall, Maggy Hope, Phil Kay, Professor Helen May, and Marilyn Wright, and the staff of the School of Education, Victoria University of Wellington, and Colenso High School. Mark would like to thank Barbara for forbearance and support, and Ginny and Keith would like to thank each other. Our greatest debt is to our own children, who have taught us about bullying in their progressions through school.

    About This Book

    The book is divided into four parts. Part I, “Introduction,” consists of three chapters. Chapter 1, “What We Know About Bullying in Secondary Schools,” is based upon research and scholarship from around the world and provides a summary of the most useful information about the nature of bullying in the secondary sector. Chapter 2 entitled “Adolescence: ‘It Was the Best of Times; It Was the Worst of Times’” describes the various changes that occur during the turbulent teenage years of secondary school from the point of view of biological, social, emotional, and cognitive development and also examines the nature of relationships, peer pressure, and problems and disorders. Chapter 3, “The Social Climate of the Secondary School” describes how secondary schools confront students with a massive cultural change at a time when they are changing in a variety of other ways. The authors map out three stages through which students evolve on their passage through secondary school (the first-year students, the middle students, and the finishing students).

    Part II is entitled “Why ‘Bad’ Things Happen to ‘Good’ Schools” and is the most challenging part of the book. It argues that although schools often agree philosophically with the intentions of anti-bullying policies and practice, there are a number of obstacles within schools that make this difficult. This is termed the blocked drain syndrome. Chapter 4, “Let's Be Honest about What Schools Do,” provides an overview of issues that schools need to address honestly and fully in order to make things work. It provides case studies of situations where bullying has had insidious and tragic results. Chapter 5 examines “How Teachers Contribute to a Bullying Culture” and Chapter 6 “Parents, the Other Victims.”

    Part III, “Making the Whole School Safe,” responds to the difficult issues raised in Part II and builds on the useful information from Part I. Chapter 7, “Developing a Whole-School Approach,”describes how to initiate and implement an effective whole-school program; and Chapter 8, “The Power of the Bystanders,” describes how the third parties to bullying, the bystanders, can be involved to help reduce bullying. In response to the criticism about teachers who either directly or inadvertently encourage bullying (Chapter 5), Chapter 9, “Authoritative Teaching Practice,” discusses how teachers can carry out their professional practice in a way that is effective for countering bullying and that is supportive of them as well.

    Part IV, entitled “The Safe School in Action,” provides a set of interrelated strategies and solutions designed to counter bullying effectively and create safe school environments. It builds on the concepts of a properly constructed whole-school approach, the need to involve the bystanders/peer group, and the development of nonpunitive problem-solving mechanisms. “What to Do When Bullying Happens” (Chapter 10) provides a plan of action to show school staff how to deal with bullying events. Chapter 11, “Using the Curriculum to Understand and Deal with Bullying: ‘In the Cafeteria,”’ provides useful and practical curriculum materials for teaching lessons about the nature of and how to deal with bullying. Chapter 12, “Harnessing Student Leadership,” provides an overview of a leadership program that has been used to help both prosocial and antisocial year 9 students to become school leaders who take on a variety of positive roles in the school including being promoters of a safe school. Chapter 13, “Experiential Learning through Social Theater,” demonstrates how to give students a better sense of the bullying dynamic through the use of social theater. “Supporting Students through Peer Mentoring” (Chapter 14) gives a template for creating a program that involves older students in providing support and encouragement to those who have been involved in bullying (largely, victims, bullies and, sometimes, bystanders) so that bullying stops and its effects are ameliorated. Chapter 15 (overview of a humane and very practical program for reframing student culture and breaking cycles of bullying.

    The book finishes with several useful appendices: an overview of key anti-bullying websites, a bullying questionnaire, a typical anti-bullying policy, and materials to supplement information for Chapter 8 (on leadership).

    Throughout this book, pseudonyms are used and locations fictionalized where necessary to protect identities.

    This book is designed for the use of teachers, parents, students, administrators, counselors, psychologists, youth and social workers, university lecturers, and teacher education students.

  • Appendix 1: Useful Websites

    This appendix is designed to provide some starting points for gathering useful information about bullying on the Internet, as well as for locating anti-bullying resources and strategies. The identified websites all contain useful information and most also provide links to other worthwhile websites.

    Bullying Online at http://www.bullying.co.uk is a UK registered charity helping parents and pupils deal with school bullying. Part of the National Grid for Learning, it's also used as a teaching resource.

    Bullyproofing our school is a Glasgow-based website built upon the seminal work of Alan McLean


    It provides excellent information about bullying and how to deal with it.

    Don't Suffer in Silence (http://www.dfes.gov.uk/bullying/). The Department for Education and Skills has created an excellent, interesting, and accessible website to complement the second edition of its major anti-bullying publication, Bullying: Don't Suffer in Silence (DfEE, 2000). The original was based on the research findings of the largest bullying research done to date, the Sheffield study, and this builds upon and extends that initial and excellent effort. The report and the website are accessible and very useful and demonstrate the unobtrusive but outstanding handiwork of Professor Peter K. Smith. It provides web pages for pupils, teachers, parents, and families as well as an area of case studies. A copy of the extremely accessible “Anti-bullying pack for schools” can also be downloaded.

    George Robinson and Barbara Maines's Lucky Duck website is very good (http://www.luckyduck.co.uk/). Not only do Barbara and George have an excellent philosophy and humane approach to dealing with bullying and other relationship and self-esteem issues, they also produce a mass of useful and inexpensive resources to meet a variety of important needs. Barbara and George are also top-notch presenters and can provide excellent training sessions, not only in the UK but throughout the world.

    Keith Sullivan's Anti-Bullying Website (http://www2.vuw.ac.nz/education/anti-bullying/) provides useful foundational information about bullying based on Keith's 2000 publication, The Anti-Bullying Handbook.

    Ken Rigby's anti-bullying site “Bullying in Schools and What to Do About It” (http://www.education.unisa.edu.au/bullying/) provides a lot of information and links to a large number of other Australian and international sites of interest. Professor Rigby has written a number of very useful books and a mass of research articles about which he provides information at his site.

    No Bully (http://www.police.govt.nz/service/yes/nobully/) provides useful fundamental information about bullying under separate headings “4 Kids” and “4 Teachers and Parents.” It is hosted by the New Zealand Police and supported by Telecom New Zealand. The Youth Education Service of the Police has a focus on crime prevention and regards solving school bullying as an investment in preventing crime and supporting safer communities. Central to the website is the Police's own anti-bullying resource, the Kia Kaha program.

    The Anti-Bullying Network website (http://www.antibullying.net/) is hosted by Moray House, the University of Edinburgh. In the UK, the anti-bullying movement got its major push from SCRE (the Scottish Council for Research in Education) from which the site developed. Anti-bullying practice has always been of a very high calibre in Scotland and this site is a prime example. The “Young Voices” section is particularly appealing and there are excellent links as well.

    The BC Safe School Center is located in Burnaby, Canada, and provides anti-bullying support for schools in the Vancouver area. They have produced an excellent kit for dealing with school bullying and their website is full of useful information. Their address is http://www.safeschools.gov.bc.ca/

    The Colorado Anti-bullying Project is an excellent site (http://www.no-bully.com/index.html). It provides information for primary, middle, and secondary school students, and for parents and teachers. The information is practical, straightforward, and useful, and has an excellent selection of links.

    The LaMarsh Center for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution (web address: http://www.yorku.ca/lamarsh/index.html) is mandated to support, conduct, and disseminate the results of research on violence and conflict resolution. It is currently carrying out a number of relevant research projects concerned with bullying and abuse including: The Teen Relationships Project, Bullying and Victimization in Schools, Peer and Media Influences on Dating Violence in Adolescence, and The Problem of Girls' Aggression. The well-known researcher, Professor Debra Pepler, is Director of the Center.

    The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee College of Letters and Science has developed a useful and interesting peer mentoring scheme (http://www.uwm.edu/letsci/edison/pm.html). This website also provides links to other mentoring websites.

    Appendix 2: School Bullying Questionnaire


    In order to find out about bullying in a school, it is useful to run a survey. This also serves several other purposes. As the questionnaire defines what bullying is, it lets students know that it is more than just physical abuse. It also means that some data can be gathered that provide a tangible account of the extent and nature of bullying in the school.

    It is important that a questionnaire is clear and simple. This is for ease of understanding for those taking the survey; for ease of generating statistics, for those who have to add everything up; and for ease of interpreting, when the information is presented to trustees/governors, staff, students, and parents.

    N.B. This questionnaire was written with secondary students in mind, and can be adapted for younger age groups as necessary. Once the questionnaire has been completed, the same basic form can also be used to record the total responses to each question for statistical purposes.

    Appendix 3: An Example of a School Anti-Bullying Policy


    The school actively seeks to provide an excellent learning environment that is safe from intimidation and bullying.


    The purpose of this policy document is to outline the responsibilities staff, students, and parents have to combat social, emotional, and physical intimidation and bullying.


    Bullying is deliberate, hurtful behavior that is often repeated over a period of time and in which it is difficult for those being bullied to defend themselves.

    • Anti-bullying workshops will be run with each year 9 class each year.
    • All members of the school community have a responsibility to take some action when they become aware of bullying behavior.
    • Staff should treat any report of bullying behavior seriously.
    • Staff should first listen to the student or students. The student(s) should be assured that they have acted correctly in reporting the bullying.
    • The staff member should next make sure the victim is safe.
    • The staff member should then make a brief written summary of the information and pass it on to one of several staff members who have a responsibility for dealing with cases of bullying (the anti-bullying team, including the deputy and assistant principals). This action should be discussed with the student.
    • Each case of reported bullying should be assessed by a member of the team and an appropriate response put in place. This, along with the outcomes, will be recorded and filed. The procedures for this assessment and the various responses are available from anti-bullying team members.
    • It is important that the staff member checks a week or so later with both the student and the person to whom the information was sent.
    • In cases of serious intimidation, parents of both (all) students are to be contacted.

    Appendix 4: Student Charter

    Developing a Students' Charter

    Classrooms that have developed a successful anti-bullying ethos recognize the central role students play in establishing and maintaining this culture. Every individual student needs to feel included, believe they have influence, and feel powerful. The classroom therefore needs to operate on democratic principles. A useful tool in building on this approach is to give the class an opportunity to develop a charter that will encapsulate the developing culture. As in the development of an understanding of bullying behavior, the process of gaining commitment to the charter demands that the students are given plenty of opportunities to reflect on, discuss, and practise the principles that have been adopted. This is an ideal activity for student leaders to take control of as it gives the students themselves an opportunity to identify what is important to them at school.

    An example of the process is the following charter that was developed at Colenso High School. The student leaders in each class led a discussion on the rights they should have as students in the school and also corresponding responsibilities. Each of the student leaders worked with a group of six other students to come up with a list of five important rights they believed they should have. They then took each right and developed a subsequent responsibility. The leaders next led a class-wide discussion that identified five key rights and responsibilities that were then submitted to the student council. The student council collated every class's effort and developed a concise set of beliefs that was selected and returned to the classes for discussion and modification.

    The result was:

    There was little dissension and the students agreed that it was a good guiding statement.

    However, while there had clearly been wide consultation, it was evident that many students saw it as removed from the reality of their lives. To provoke discussion and to provide opportunities for the students to develop a greater commitment to the charter, a series of worksheets was developed that aimed to engage the students, to make them think about strategies they would use when confronted with everyday abuses of the charter, and to make them better prepared to stand up for their rights.

    What follows is an example of one such worksheet, which can be adapted to address the other paired rights and responsibilities.


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