Research shows that multi-component whole-school initiatives involving all the school community are more likely to reduce bullying behaviour than single-component programs, such as those involving only classroom curriculum. A whole-school approach recognises that all aspects of the school community can impact upon students’ health and wellbeing, and that learning and wellbeing are inextricably linked. Given that young people spend much of their first 17 years in a school environment, school is not only the focal point of children’s academic development but also their social and emotional development, since it is where they make friends and develop healthy relationships.
Friendly Schools recognises the importance of a whole-school approach and is organised to provide support to schools, not only in terms of formal classroom teaching and learning, but throughout all aspects of the whole-school environment. To achieve sustainable behaviour change that is integrated, holistic and strategic, it is necessary to implement a whole-school approach rather than focus only on individual behaviour.
Schools that assess and improve capacity support, implement strategies to improve student wellbeing and reduce bullying are helping to ensure that their actions are effective, sustainable and system-wide. Sufficient leadership, organisational support, resources, staff professional learning and strategy compatibility with school needs are crucial to optimise impact.
A supportive school culture provides safety, encourages open communication, supports a sense of connectedness within the school, and also protects students from the risks of bullying. The quality of relationships between and among staff, students and families is vital in fostering a safe, supportive and engaging school environment. Positive student behaviour should be encouraged and acknowledged at the whole-school level.
Schools with clear and consistent policy and procedures send a strong message to the whole-school community about the school’s beliefs and actions to support a safe and supportive school environment. Policies provide the school with a framework to guide school action for the prevention, early response and case management of bullying. Active consultation should be sought with all members of the school community, including teaching staff, non-teaching staff, students, parents and the wider community.
Schools that enhance staff, students’ and families’ understandings and skills are more likely to enhance students’ social development and effectively reduce bullying behaviours. Key understandings about bullying include the nature, prevalence and types of bullying, as well as information about how bystanders can reduce the prevalence of bullying. Key understandings are supported with skills or competencies needed to prevent, identify and respond to bullying incidents effectively and consistently.
A well-structured school physical environment helps to promote learning and encourage positive social interactions among students and staff. These characteristics can be part of the school master plan, or they may be created by students. Used effectively, school facilities, equipment and activities can encourage cooperative behaviours and positively influence student interactions, including the reduction of bullying.
Bullying is not just an issue for schools to deal with – especially since today’s students have the opportunity to bully via technology, which often occurs outside of school grounds and hours. Schools that encourage the active participation of families and community service providers recognise that addressing bullying is the responsibility of the whole-school community. It is important for schools to collaborate with parents in presenting consistent messages to children and adolescents that encourage uptake of pro-social behaviours and attitudes. Moreover, creating links with relevant health, educational and community agencies that provide services to students and their families will foster vital support for school action to reduce bullying.