• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Wednesday 03rd August, 2011

Bullying prevention: Olweus marks its quarter-century

There are no quick fixes to stop school bullying. But over the past 25 years, the conventional wisdom on bullying has changed – thanks in part to programs developed in response to teen suicides that shocked a nation.Bullying used to be dismissed as an unfortunate but unavoidable part of school life. Now educators accept that bullying can be reduced when adults and students work together to restructure the social climate of a school.A major part of the change in attitudes has been supported by the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, developed in the early 1980s by a pioneering researcher, Dan Olweus.It all started in 1983 in Norway with three teen suicides, which were blamed on systematic bullying, explains Clemson University’s Susan Limber in the Journal of School Violence. The bullying provoked outrage and sparked a nationwide effort to stop bullying in Norway, where the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program was implemented and evaluated as part of a national campaign against bullying. Within two years the incidence of bullying dropped by 50%, and the rate of bullying still remains low in Norway's school system.Since 1983, the Olweus program has been evaluated in several quasi-experimental studies in Norway and the US, and several related programs have sprung up and have been evaluated across Europe and Canada. Its success has been remarkable, and its credibility is high. For example, it has been recognized by the Blueprints Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence as an exemplary program.The message behind the success of the program is simple: change the school culture to reduce opportunities and rewards for bullying behavior and create a sense of community where everyone looks out for each other.The program relies on four principles: adults in the school should show interest and warmth towards students, act as positive role models, set firm limits for unacceptable behavior, and respond quickly to student concerns about bullying using appropriate negative consequences for violation of rules. Another important aspect is to teach children that bystanders have a responsibility to prevent bullying by refusing to support it and by reporting it to adults.The schools that implement the program form a Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee which has responsibility for putting the bullying prevention program into practice and ensuring all staff in the school – including teachers, teaching assistants, janitors and bus drivers – know how to identify instances of bullying and how to intervene quickly and effectively. Staff and students regularly talk about bullying and related issues and parents are involved in the process.If a child is involved in a bullying incident, follow-up meetings are arranged separately for those who have bullied and those were bullied. The school personnel actively involve parents (who are often the key to stopping bullying behaviour) and in the meetings children who have bullied are sent a clear message that they will be monitored closely and there will be non-tolerance of bullying. The bullied children receive support and safety plans.The evaluations of the program in Norway and United States have produced impressive results – with large reductions in bullying over long periods of time. The initial Norwegian evaluation was a quasi-experimental design that compared same-age students over two and a half years. It found a 64% reduction in students’ self-reports of being bullied after 20 months as well as reductions in teachers’ and students’ ratings of bullying among students in the classroom. The success of the initial evaluation has been replicated with six follow-ups in Norway and several effectiveness studies in the US have provided similar positive results.It is more problematic to prevent bullying in secondary schools, Limber notes, since the class teacher is replaced by subject-specific teachers who deal with numerous students they do not know as well. However, initial results from a large-scale study in Pennsylvania high schools are promising, with students reporting that they felt adults in the school were actively working to address bullying.With such clear evidence of preventability, the high levels of bullying still evident in schools in the US and England are unacceptable, Limber says. Recent research by Ireland-based Michal Molcho and colleagues found that more than a quarter of American and English boys and girls ages 11-15 experience occasional bullying. Perhaps worse, for about 10%, the bullying is chronic.Ultimately, schools have the responsibility to prevent bullying. The good news from the Olweus program is that they may also have the ability to prevent it.

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