A whole-school and a whole-year approach

Nicola Murray, head of programmes, Anti-Bullying Alliance, highlights three factors for success learned from the All Together anti-bullying programme

June is upon us and, for the Anti-Bullying Bullying Alliance, this means launching the theme for Anti-Bullying Week 2019: ‘Change Starts with Us’. The week itself does not take place until November, but for us at the Alliance, Anti-Bullying Week is a year-round activity – as soon as one ends, we start planning the next.

Over 90% of schools we have surveyed have said that Anti-Bullying Week helps them raise awareness about bullying so it’s a hugely important campaign. However, we also know that bullying is a year-round issue. Once the hubbub of the week dies down, the hard work to tackle bullying carries on, which is why this year’s theme is about the week being the start of something. A time to make a pledge to change that can be built on over the next year.

We’re able to support this year-round work through All Together, the alliance’s free programme for schools in England. The programme guides schools through a whole-school approach to tackling bullying and safeguarding children.

All Together has seen impressive results in reducing school bullying and improving pupil wellbeing. After just over a year on the programme:

  • 79% of schools said bullying had reduced
  • 99% of schools said their confidence in preventing and responding to bullying had improved.

Over 20,000 pupils were surveyed about their school experiences before and after All Together. Pupils reported that following the programme they:

  • experienced less bullying (particularly frequent bullying)
  • were less likely to bully others
  • experienced higher levels of wellbeing across a wide range of indicators.

The improvement in pupils’ experiences was reported across all demographics, but was especially the case for pupils with SEN and for those in receipt of free school meals – groups that we know are particularly likely to experience bullying.

So, what helped schools achieve these successes? Here are three things we’ve learnt through the programme.

1. Break it down

Schools on the programme had access to an audit and action planning tool, with lots of other resources to help with every aspect of putting their anti-bullying strategy into practice. This provided a framework, based on a whole-school approach, which allowed them to break activity down into tasks that could be shared across the school. Schools told us this enabled them to identify target areas specific to each class, through PSHE, curriculum time and Anti-Bullying Week activities.  One teacher said the resources helped “highlight problem areas, areas you have under control and areas that need tightening up. It helped break down each step into bite-sized chunks to make it more manageable to address the issues within the area.”

2. Listen to pupils, and give them the vocabulary to voice their feelings

A key aspect of the programme is the bullying and wellbeing questionnaire that pupils complete before and after the programme. The questionnaire deliberately avoids the term ‘bullying’, as research has shown this term is often conceptualised differently by different children[1]. Instead, it focuses on questions about feelings and experiences in order to ascertain whether pupils are experiencing or perpetrating bullying behaviour; their sense of safety and belonging in the school climate; and an assessment of emotional and behavioural problems.

As well as being a valuable way for schools to monitor their progress over the course of the programme, the questionnaires allowed schools to understand the deep-rooted causes of some bullying behaviours and put targeted action in place. Schools worked with classes on areas like self-esteem, knowing what’s right and wrong, and, in many cases, support for dealing with sleeplessness, which can be linked to behavioural issues. This created a culture of security and openness within schools at a deeper level, and, as one school told us, allowed children to “feel more comfortable talking about incidents and working with adults to resolve them.”

3. Share the knowledge

At the heart of the All Together programme (and there’s a clue in the name) is the belief that anti-bullying is everyone’s business. This has to start with school leadership. At successful schools, action plans were monitored and supported on a termly basis by the senior leadership team.

We noted that during the course of the programme the number of schools with a governor responsible for anti-bullying doubled. It was also exciting to see the examples from schools of how they had involved parents in the work – running training workshops and meetings (sometimes alongside their children) to understand bullying or to develop new policies together. In many areas, schools were able to share their knowledge further by coming together with other schools to share best practice and find ways to overcome local issues.

This is an approach we want to support on an even wider level as we head into the next phase of the programme. Only by working together, by enabling conversation and by sharing ideas can we create the kind of school communities where bullying will not take hold.

A particular piece of feedback about All Together that really struck home was from a school lead who said, “The best thing is that it feels like it’s started an exciting journey for us, rather than just being a process.” Anti-bullying work is a continuous journey, and a whole year activity, so while ABA are planning Anti-Bullying Week 2019, we are also here to support schools on all the days in between.

You can find out how to take part in the All Together Programme at www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/alltogether

[1] Smith, Cowie, Olafsson & Liefooghe, 2002

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