24 May 2018

Final report on effectiveness of anti-bullying programmes on primary schools sent to Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), as well as to the Dutch House of Representatives

Some anti-bullying programmes are effective

Everyone is aware that bullying is undesirable. The consequences for children who are bullied at school are especially negative: from bad performance at school to psychological issues such as depression, issues that can persist far into adulthood. With dozens of programmes, schools try to reduce bullying. But whether or not children themselves indicate an actual reduction in bullying has barely been researched. Until now.

Through the Netherlands Initiative for Education Research (NRO), Professor of Developmental Psychology Bram Orobio de Castro of Utrecht University and colleagues from the University of Groningen, Radboud University Nijmegen, VU Amsterdam, Erasmus University Rotterdam and the Trimbos Institute were commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of OCW to test the effectiveness of seven anti-bullying programmes. In their final report “Wat werkt tegen pesten?” (Translation: What works against bullying?), they conclude that four programmes actually reduce bullying.

Animation on research methods and results (video in Dutch)

Ask the child

In their research, Orobio de Castro and his colleagues asked the children themselves about bullying and being bullied. “That had a clarifying effect. It turned out that pupils were bullied more often than we thought. Also more often than they told their teachers and parents. About 1 in 14 children is bullied multiple times per week. A third of these children indicates that they haven't told anyone, while 79 % of these children are being bullied for multiple school years. That indicates that asking the children themselves is essential to get a good view of bullying behaviour in schools.”

There is no need to get to work on such programmes on some schools, simply because there is no bullying going on there. That also defeats the idea that bullying in school “just comes with the territory”.

The effective programmes

Programmes that reduce bullying in primary education within one school year are PRIMA, KiVa and, for the youngest children in primary school, Taakspel. “These are so-called universal programmes, anti-bullying programmes that are meant for the entire class.” The Utrecht-based professor and his colleagues also looked at two programmes that target not the entire class, but instead target individual children. In those cases, Alles Kidzzz turned out to work especially well.

Do not make programme mandatory, but do make interviewing pupils mandatory 

In the final report, Orobio de Castro advises the Ministry of OCW to not make anti-bullying programmes mandatory for all schools. “There is no need to get to work on such programmes on some schools, simply because there is no bullying going on there. That also defeats the idea that bullying in school ‘just comes with the territory’.” The Utrecht-based professor states that the interviewing of pupils about bullying does have to be made mandatory. “Because if there is bullying going on, especially the pupils will know. And that means something can be done about it: that is shown clearly in this research.” In the latter case, Orobio de Castro advises schools to use one of the effective, universal anti-bullying programmes. “Possibly, in cases of big problems with individual pupils, supplemented with the individual programme Alles Kidzzz. And see whether or not the bullying has indeed been reduced one year after the implementation, again by asking the pupils themselves.”