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Anti-bullying programmes

School-based programmes designed to reduce bullying

Estimated impact on violent crime:

LOW

Evidence quality:

1 2 3 4 5

Cost:

1 2 3

Prevention Type

  • Primary
  • Secondary

Setting

  • School and college

Themes

  • A safe, positive place to learn

Other Outcomes

Evidence quality

  • MODERATE reduction in Bullying perpetration
    1 2 3 4 5

What is it?

Anti-bullying programmes aim to reduce bullying in schools. They typically involve both the children involved in bullying, as well as other students, school staff, parents, and the wider community. Programmes tend to include one or more of the following activities.

  • Understanding the causes of bullying. Teachers might work to develop positive relationships with their students, get to know them better, and understand the causes of their behaviour.
  • A whole-school approach. Many programmes will aim to develop whole-school policies and ensure these are implemented consistently.
  • Training for staff. Programmes often include training for staff on identifying and responding appropriately to bullying. This might include techniques for managing the classroom and supporting positive learning behaviours. For example, some programmes train teachers to identify and focus on bullying ‘hot spots’ – areas in the school where bullying is more likely to occur.
  • Activities with children. These could include activities which support positive mental health and social relationships, encourage students to report bullying, or provide targeted support to children involved in bullying.

Children who have bullied others are more likely to become involved in crime and violence. By reducing bullying in school, anti-bullying programmes might also prevent children and young people from becoming involved in serious offences later in their life.

Is it effective?

There is a lack of research which directly measures the impact of anti-bullying programmes on crime and violence. However, there is strong evidence that anti-bullying programmes can be effective at reducing bullying in school and that bullying at school is associated with later involvement in violence. Given what we know about the relationship between bullying and later involvement in violence, our best estimate is that anti-bullying programmes could lead to a small reduction in the number of children involved in violent crime.

Anti-bullying programmes have had a greater impact when they are delivered in the same country in which they were designed. Importing a programme from abroad may be less successful than using a programme developed in England and Wales.

Anti-bullying programmes could lead to a small reduction in the number of children involved in violent crime.

How secure is the evidence?

Our confidence in the headline crime reduction estimate is low.

The available studies have not directly measured the impact of programmes on crime or violence. The research focuses on the impact of programmes on bullying perpetration – a known risk factor for later involvement in crime and violence. Our estimate relies on modelling of the relationship between bullying perpetration and later involvement in crime and violence.

Our confidence in the estimate of impact on bullying perpetration is medium. There is an extensive evidence base on the impact of programmes on bullying perpetration. Many of the original studies are randomised control trials – a strong design for understanding the impact of an intervention.

There have been several evaluations of anti-bullying programmes in England and Wales. On average, evaluations in England and Wales have suggested a smaller but still desirable impact on preventing bullying.

How can you implement it well?

Understand the causes of bullying

Challenging or traumatising experiences for pupils at home or in the community may negatively affect their ability to cope with school and lead to bullying. If teachers develop positive relationships with their students and get to know them better, they can better understand the causes of students’ behaviour. Understanding why a student is bullying others will lead to a more effective response.

Engage the whole school

The most successful programmes have tended to engage the whole school, including class groups, teachers, parents, governors, peer groups and individual pupils. This often involves establishing clear and consistent policies and ensuring these are understood by all members of the community.

Consider some key activities

Effective programmes have tended to involve the following activities.

  • Activities which focus on students’ mental health. This might include cognitive-behavioural techniques or lessons which raise awareness about mental health.
  • Group discussions, role-play exercises, and anti-bullying lessons that follow a specific curriculum.
  • Targeted support for children involved in bullying. This support should aim to understand the causes of bullying and provide a response that is tailored to the child’s needs.
  • Identifying bullying ’hot spots’ and thinking of strategies to prevent bullying from happening there. For example, positioning a teacher in a hot spot in the playground during break time.

Deliver the programme well

Research on how schools deliver programmes suggests some considerations.

  • Ensure delivery is led from the top. School staff report finding programmes easier to implement when the senior leadership are engaged in the programme and it is clear how the programme aligned with the school’s priorities and ethos.
  • Build the right team. In one study, the personality of the staff involved was considered by teachers to be important. Can staff build trusting relationships with children, stay calm, and dedicate time to dealing with complex situations?
  • Provide training for teachers. For example, providing them with lesson plans or training them to identify bullying and support positive relationships and behaviour.
  • Make careful adaptations. Teachers appreciated it when ‘off-the-shelf’ programmes could be adapted to their context, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Teachers may not adopt parts of the programme that they feel are inappropriate or difficult to implement. However, any adaptations should be considered carefully as they may reduce the impact of a programme.

What programmes are available?

Below is a list of programmes found in the Early Intervention Foundation’s (EIF) Guidebook. The Guidebook summarises the research on programmes that aim to improve outcomes for children and young people.

How much does it cost?

On average, the cost of anti-bullying programmes is likely to be low.

Costs could include training for teachers and students, bringing in external anti-bullying practitioners to train staff or facilitate group discussions, and information packs and online resources for parents and students. Evaluations of two anti-bullying programmes in England suggested a cost of between £166-£411 per pupil.

Topic summary

  • There is a lack of research which directly measures the impact of anti-bullying programmes on crime and violence.
  • However, there is strong evidence that anti-bullying programmes can be effective at reducing bullying in school and that bullying at school is associated with later involvement in violence. Given what we know about the relationship between bullying and later involvement in violence, our best estimate is that anti-bullying programmes could lead to a small reduction in the number of children involved in violent crime. However, our confidence in this estimate is low.
  • A large amount of research has tried to understand how to maximise the impact of anti-bullying programmes. This research suggests that some key activities are associated with larger impacts.

Improving Behaviour in Schools (EEF)
An evidence-based guidance report for schools with practical tips on improving behaviour and reducing bullying.

Anti-bullying interventions in schools – what works?
An accessible and detailed review of the research from the New South Wales Government.

Tools & Information from the Anti-Bullying Alliance
A collection of practical anti-bullying resources and training.

How can schools use data to prevent and tackle bullying?
Guidance from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission on collecting data to develop effective anti-bullying policies

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