Despite repeated European and country initiatives, bullying in schools remains a persistent problem recognised by the United Nations as a major factor in damaging the wellbeing and overall attainment of children and young people, including absence from school. Although there is variation between countries, on average across Europe approximately 40% of children and young people experience being bullied in school. New forms of bullying through social media are adding to the problem which has a long term psycho-social effect and is a major cause of teenage suicide.
The Action Anti-Bullying (AAB) project successfully trialled and tested an innovative approach to reducing bullying with the general objective of improving the overall attainment of children and young people by addressing the causes of bullying and creating an environment of convivencia (living in harmony) in school and in the family where bullying will not be tolerated and through which the wellbeing and happiness of children and young people is enhanced. This is in contrast to other approaches which focus on prevention of bullying in isolation and through punitive sanctions.
The AAB fully piloted programme was designed for cascade training to school staff throughout Europe by structuring and supporting purposeful and carefully designed national or local initiatives.
The project developed two comprehensive professional development packs including a detailed training programme, visual aids and support manuals incorporating solution focused approaches and a five stage learning process shown to help ensure that cascade training directly achieves the programme aims and objectives to reduce bullying and improve wellbeing for children and young people in school and in the family.
Furthermore, the project programmed and tested a unique on-line AAB school review instrument which facilitated the time-efficient collection of information and opinions from students, parents, staff and senior leaders in the school covering 12 areas of the school organisation for creating convivencia. The data collected by schools were analysed by the software and were aggregated and held on a central database so that schools have access to local and national results for use as comparators.
During the final 12 months of the project, National Facilitators successfully trained AAB School Leaders from 25 pilot, primary, secondary and special schools in 5 countries, who used the AAB on-line School Review Instrument to identify school priorities for developing convivencia, reducing bullying and improving overall attainment as part of a whole school action plan which is reviewed annually following repeats of the AAB review on a regular (usually yearly) basis.
The project developed, tested and refined a whole school programme called Action Anti-Bullying which helped schools create a climate where they are able to address the causes of bullying and improve inclusion. The project resulted in raising awareness of members of the school community by reaching 13000 children and young people, 1015 members of the school staff and nearly 12500 parents/guardians. In particular, schools identified an average reduction in bullying incidents of between 26% and 29% on average across the 5 country groups of pilot schools during the time of the project. The project was designed to help schools maintain improvements to convivencia in the long term through an ongoing school improvement cycle supported by regular monitoring using a comprehensive on-line AAB instrument reviewing 12 areas of school organisation shown to be important for creating convivencia. Two school leaders from all pilot schools received training and all training included ways of empowering parents. Moreover, the project training packs and website included recommendations and strategies for further cooperation between schools and between schools and NGOs, as well as with local school administration. An online whole school review instrument was created with questionnaires and group interviews schedules for monitoring bullying and evaluating the school organisation. A final conference was held in Caserta, Italy and materials were disseminated through the website.
Bearing in mind that this project addressed the issue of bullying by working to improve positive behaviour through a climate of convivencia, it is indicative of the success of the project that schools judged that, even in the short time of the project, there was an average improvement in noticeable instances of pro-social behaviour varying from 26% to 36%.
Additionally, on-going support for the School Leaders was provided by the National Facilitators to ensure that long term whole school improvements were made that impacted on the wellbeing of students in their schools. This support was enabled through an extensive AAB website and growing database of teaching and learning materials and good practice for schools to share and apply. This database will be maintained by the project partners in future years and participating schools will be encouraged to continue sharing experience, materials and good practice.