It’s Complex: Children’s Involvement in School Bullying

A new study by Dr Elizabeth Nassem looks at the complexities of school bullying; specifically, how pupils, teachers and the institution of school establish a hotspot for bullying.

The study looks beyond the simple model of the perpetrator and the victim – the powerful versus the weak – and into the multi-faceted variables in play at school that contribute to bullying.

It looks at the fluidity of power wherein pupils compete with each other and their teachers for power within an institution enmeshed with inequalities similar to that of the wider world.

Engaging with, interviewing and observing children aged 10-16, the study found that children felt that other pupils, teachers and the inequalities inherent in the school environment were the main reasons around why they got involved in bullying.

Pupils felt that societal norms drove them to engage in bullying and the outcome could go both ways, either positive or negative.

For example, working-class boys with learning difficulties often feel picked on or bullied by fellow pupils and the teacher. This, in turn, contributes to them retaliating, very likely then ending up with the label of ‘bully’.

Note that it is usually the working-class boy with learning difficulties that is labelled ‘the bully’, whilst the more sophisticated or accepted (because teachers can also engage in it) bullying exhibited by the other pupils results in respect and admiration from their peers, resulting in increased popularity.

The social implications of these findings are that the more traditional way of identifying the ‘bully’, i.e. the working-class boy that punches someone, does not necessarily tell the whole picture. What also needs looking at is the contribution the school makes, as an institution with its enmeshed inequalities, however inadvertent.

When discussing the researcher’s observations with the pupils, it became clear that children involved in the more sophisticated bullying did not accept responsibility for their maltreatment of others partly because their control, voice, and agency are profoundly restricted in school. The children felt unable to stand apart from the abusive relationships with their peers and teachers.

In terms of using the information learned to tackle bullying in schools, Dr Nassem proposes the following:

  • Pupil input into the development and implementation of school anti-bullying strategies;
  • Awareness raising around how standard practices in school by teaching and administrative staff may contribute to bullying;
  • Professional development for teachers to explore how they can avoid becoming enmeshed in conflict with marginalised pupils;
  • Awareness raising for pupils and staff around the complexities of bullying and work to develop more healthy relationships between pupils and teachers; and
  • Training and guidance on resolving bullying between teachers and students.

For more detail, please look at the full article here and contact Elizabeth Nassem through Twitter on @BulliedVoices

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