• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Monday 29th June, 2009

Bullying programs given theoretical going over

A recent systematic review of bullying prevention initiatives from around the world has found that a program designed by Dan Olweus from the University of Bergen is the most effective. The intervention – and others based on similar principles – regularly reduce the incidence of bullying by 20-23%, the review found.The program is grounded in three decades of research by the Norwegian prevention expert, and is underpinned by a clear set of theoretical ideas. In fact, these ideas actually form the basis for most other effective bullying prevention programs.Writing in the inaugural edition of the Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, the research team from Cambridge University explained how, in contrast, the vast majority of bullying programs were based on ‘common sense’. However, the review discovered that, when submitted to a rigorous scientific evaluation, what is common sense to program developers does always turn out to true. The authors make the case for solid theory to back-up program logic. Curiously the best programs seemed to work better in Europe than in the US, perhaps reflecting different conditions on the two continents. It is unclear why the theories of Olweus and his adherents applied better to Europe, or possibly Scandinavia, than North America. To answer this question more theory-based program development is needed, say the authors. The review found a number of characteristics that signalled success for bullying programs. Interventions were best used with older children, ideally located in schools with students aged 11 or over. Disciplinary methods, classroom management and improved playground supervision were all important components of an effective program. Monitoring the progress of evaluation was also a key driver for change. Ttofi and Farrington advocate for training and information for parents too.The review was based on an extensive search of 35 journals and 18 databases, looking right back to 1983.Only reliable and comparable studies were included. To make the grade, evaluations had to include at least 200 students, have student self-reports of bullying and use a control group large enough to calculate effect sizes.Of over 600 reports the research team uncovered, just 59 met the criteria for inclusion. Over 30 different types of bullying prevention program were evaluated in the 59 studies.Although the successful programs identified do reduce bullying - as indicated by some not insubstantial effect sizes - there is still room for improvement.As well as supporting the theory-driven approach taken by Olweus and other program developers, Ttofi and Farrington advise the expansion and enhancement of evaluations. More interventions need to be tested. At present schools and policy makers are supporting some ineffective programs – these need to replaced with ones that work. They also support the inclusion of cost-benefit analysis in these assessments. Bullying prevention programs may work, but it is still uncertain whether the benefits outstrip the costs of the comprehensive school-, class- and student-level interventions that Olweus and other experts recommend. See: Maria Ttofi & David Farrington (2009), 'What works in preventing bullying: effective elements of anti-bullying programmes', Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, 1, 1, pp.13-24

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