Anna Tombs reports on research into pupil intervention against bullying

The third Anti-Bullying Week, run by the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) took place from 20-24 November 2006, with the theme of the ‘bystander’. The ABA chose to focus on this topic to try and empower young people to seek help when they witness bullying.

The ABA believes that preventing bullying involves both group and one-to-one work that focuses on raising awareness of everybody’s responsibility to help and support others, in order to promote a culture where bullying is unacceptable. The ABA wants young people to feel OK about asking for help and recommends that communication and assertiveness skills are actively developed and encouraged.

Anti-Bullying Week 2006 was covered extensively by all forms of the media at national and regional levels. They helped to get the message out that there is still a significant problem with bullying in schools although there is a great deal of good work being done to tackle it. The work of the ABA for Anti-Bullying Week 2006 included downloadable materials: teaching activities; a summary of research; a presentation for and by young people; a presentation for use with adults; and bystander images.

The ABA was founded by the NSPCC and National Children’s Bureau in 2002. It is an independent body made up of over 65 organisations working to reduce bullying and create safe environments in which young people can live, grow, play and learn free from bullying, violence and aggression.

The central message of Anti-Bullying Week 2006 was ‘Bullying: See it. Get help. Stop it.’ This was based on research findings which have shown that onlookers play a vital role in bullying incidents and the ABA wanted to encourage and enable young people to stand up against bullying.

One recent research study found that peer bystanders are ‘powerful moderators of behaviour’ and that ‘peer group power’ could be used in a more positive way in schools. The same research also concluded that the behaviour of bystanders may be ‘easier to change than the behaviour of aggressive bullies’ as ‘a bully rarely continues to bully without his supporters and audience.’ Another study found that 85% of bullying takes place with bystanders present. It also discovered that in nearly 60% of cases the bullying will stop within 10 seconds if bystanders intervene.

A poll commissioned by the ABA for Anti-Bullying Week 2006, surveyed nearly 1,500 7- to 18-year-olds and found that a significant minority of young people who had witnessed bullying in the past year – 38% – did not ask for help to stop it. Reasons for not seeking assistance were varied and included:

  • fear of being bullied themselves
  • fear of being called a ‘snitch’
  • feeling that it was none of their business.

Tackling bystanders is important if bullying in schools is to be reduced and the ABA believes that the PSHE curriculum can promote effective anti-bullying work as well as circle and tutor time. Learning mentors and personal advisers also have a crucial role to play. Young people need to feel empowered to tell others when they witness bullying but all work should take personal safety issues into account so that students are able to recognise a situation where it is not appropriate for them to intervene personally. In such situations students should talk to a member of school staff or appropriate adult.

Teaching young people strategies that they can use if they witness a bullying incident actively contributes to helping them shift from bystanding to ‘standing by’. Actively not being a bystander promotes self-esteem, the avoidance of guilt or regret, and helps to promote better mental health and relationships in the community. The acronym ‘Nice’, which identifies four critical choice points in bystanding, can be used with younger students to promote active anti-bullying strategies. Nice stands for:

  • Notice that something is happening
  • Interpret if the situation is one in which help is needed and can be given
  • Choose a form of assistance
  • Engage with the problem.

Young people can also be encouraged to change the role that bystanders have by thinking of examples of how they could act differently in a bullying situation:

  • choosing not to watch and walking away (taking away the audience)
  • being kind to the person being bullied at another time
  • telling the person being bullied that you don’t like the bullying and asking them if you can do anything (tell someone or go with them to tell someone)
  • ‘scooping up’ the student by taking them by the arm and saying something like ‘come on, we need you for our game’ (again, only if it feels safe to do so)
  • witnessing and validating the bullied student’s experience after the event and reassuring them that they were supported
  • contributing to the anti-bullying culture of a school through creating posters, stories or films
  • exploring supportive ‘standing by’ behaviours in circle time or PSHE.

Anti-bullying and the future

In secondary schools, materials to support the development of social, emotional and behavioural skills (SEBs) are currently being piloted as part of the Secondary National Strategy. National dissemination of the programme, mediated by behaviour and attendance consultants, will take place from September 2007, although key messages and introductory materials will be available in advance of this date.

The ABA has nine regional coordinators who work throughout England to coordinate and support anti-bullying at a local level. Further information can be found on the ABA website at

Material in this article has been drawn from a paper by Sue Ball who is currently working with Birmingham City Council to support the development of their Together We Can Stop Bullying programme.

Anna Tombs is a media officer for the National Children’s Bureau.

First published in Learning for Life, February2007