Successful anti-bullying strategies

Which strategies are most effective in combating bullying? This summary of the findings in over a thousand schools across the country looks at proactive and reactive strategies

A 2011 report by Goldsmith's College, 'The use and effectiveness of anti-bullying strategies in schools', looked at a range of strategies used to combat bullying, examined which strategies are used and how schools and local authorities rate them in terms of effectiveness. This brief digest identifies strategies which were investigated, further details of which can be found in the full report.

Proactive strategies

Proactive strategies are designed to prevent bullying happening in the first place. Unlike reactive strategies, which are used to respond to bullying, they contribute to an anti-bullying school climate and ethos, which is more difficult to measure. With regard to being proactive, the report considers the merits of whole-school, classroom, playground and peer support strategies.

Whole-school strategies

Examples of these strategies described in the study include the National Healthy School Programme and curricular activities such as Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHEE)/Citizenship and Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL).

Adult modelling of positive relationships/communication and developing a restorative ethos and culture that supports the development of social and emotional skills were rated by schools as highly effective.

Classroom strategies

Strategies which are delivered through the curriculum to educate students about bullying and discuss anti-bullying work were widely used, and all were rated moderately effective. They involve approaches such as cooperative group work, circle time and quality circles.

Quality circles was the least used of the strategies - most of the case study schools had never heard of it, and it was confused with circle of friends, a peer support strategy. However, the schools that did use it found it highly effective. The method involves arranging pupils into small groups for regular classroom sessions. Groups problem-solve particular issues - such as bullying - through standard procedures, including information gathering, and presenting findings to wider audience.

Playground strategies

Specific measures such as improving school grounds and training lunchtime supervisors were widely used. Less than half of the schools surveyed had developed a playground policy, even though it appeared to be the cheapest, easiest and most effective strategy.

Peer support strategies

Peer support used the pupil peer group both to prevent and respond to bullying. schemes could be used both proactively and reactively.

Buddy schemes and circle of friends were most widely used but other approaches also in use included peer mentoring, peer listening, peer mediation, and bystander defender training.

For most schools peer support schemes were an effective reporting method for bullying. In the primary sector, peer supporters could be the ‘eyes and ears' of the staff in the playground. In the secondary sector, peer support schemes were the most popular form of reporting method for bullying. It was difficult to assess the direct impact of peer schemes on bullying in the schools as most were used preventatively and there was a general lack of recording. Most bullying incidents were referred on to staff and not dealt with by peer supporters.

A number of peer support schemes were surveyed in detail including buddy schemes, which were used by many primary schools but less than half of secondary schools. They were particularly effective for students at transition or new to the school, or who need targeted support. Peer mentoring was widely used in secondary schools and was seen as highly effectivene - it was seen as a flexible peer support scheme though some mentors could feel under-used.

Reactive strategies

Reactive strategies were used by schools to respond directly to bullying. Those most used were direct sanctions and restorative approaches. For both primary and secondary sectors, but especially secondary, direct sanctions (eg verbal reprimand or detention) were the preferred strategy for physical bullying.

In the secondary sector only, direct sanctions were also preferred to respond to bullying including damaging belongings, cyberbullying, race-related bullying; and homophobic bullying (and to a lesser extent, gender and disability-related). By contrast, the support group method was preferred for relational bullying in both sectors, followed by restorative approaches.

Direct sanctions

This approach is not so much one strategy or method, but a collective term describing a range of disciplinary procedures used by schools. Schools were asked to give information on a range of sanctions ranging from verbal reprimands; meetings with parents; temporary removals from class; withdrawal of privileges; school community service; detentions and internal exclusion in a special room; short-term exclusion; and permanent exclusion.

Restorative approaches 

This is a collective term for a range of flexible responses, ranging from informal conversations through to formal facilitated meetings. Restorative approaches work to resolve conflict and repair harm, encouraging those who have caused harm to acknowledge the impact of what they have done and make reparation. Schools were asked to give information on a range of restorative approaches ranging from problem-solving circles; restorative discussions; restorative reconnection meetings between staff and pupils; restorative thinking plans; mini-conferences; classroom conferences and full restorative conferences.

Support group strategies

Previously known as the ‘no-blame approach', this strategy involves the creation of a group chosen by the bullied child in which all participants must take joint responsibility to make the bullied pupil feel happy and safe. It was found most appropriate for older primary students and younger secondary students, particularly at transition. Schools rated the strategy as very effective in reducing bullying but slightly less cost-effective and easy to implement.

A whole-school policy

 An anti-bullying policy can be incorporated into your behaviour policy to pin-point the processes and procedures required to handle bullying.

Optimus members can download our anti-bullying model policy, and adapt it accordingly for their school. 


Last Updated: 
14 Nov 2016