Social roles in primary school bullyingImageMarked

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					                   Social roles in primary school bullying
                                               Dr Suzanne Murphy
                                  Institute for Health Research, University of
                                    Dr Dorothy Faulkner & Dr Sharon Ding,
                                 Faculty of Education and Language Studies,
                                                 Open University

                   The study described here sought to investigate the behaviour
                   of (1) children who bully and (2) children who are prepared to
                   help and support victims of bullying. The children were
                   observed working with other children in their own class, in a
                   non-bullying but interactive situation. Children in the same
                   class at school spend a great deal of time together and have
                   usually known each other for many years. The roles that
                   children adopt towards bullying (actively participating,                                    Bullying in schools as a social phenomenon
                   defending, avoiding) are likely to be determined by the
                   relationships that they form and maintain with their peers on a
                   daily basis at times other than during bullying episodes.                                   Bullying is a widespread problem in our schools. In a
                   Exploring the day-to-day behaviour and interactions of the                                  recent study (Wolke, Woods, Stanford and Schulz,
                   children who bully and children who are prepared to defend                                  2001), as many as 24% of children in the UK claimed to
                   victims can aid our understanding of how these relationships
                   are built up and ultimately can improve our knowledge for the                               be the target of bullying every week, and the subject
                   purposes of reducing bullying in schools.                                                   has attracted much recent media and research
                                                                                                               However, bullying is increasingly recognised as a social
                                                                                                               phenomenon involving the peer group as a whole and
                                                                                                               not limited to just the bully and the victim. Playground
                                                                                                               observational studies have reported that peers are
                                                                                                               present during 88% of bullying episodes and intervene
        Method                                                                                                 in 19% of them (Hawkins, Pepler and Craig 2001,
        To select a number of children for the study, 197                                                      Pepler and Craig, 1995).
        children in seven Year 3 classes in seven different                                                    Recent work to reduce bullying has explored the use of
        primary schools in Hertfordshire were interviewed                                                      the peer group as a whole. Approaches which have (a)
        using Salmivalli et al’s (1996) technique. The typical                                                 tried to encourage classmates to offer support to
        age of the children was 7-years-old (Age range was                                                     victims and (b) have tried to decrease support for
        from 6 years and 9 months to 9 years and 0 months,                                                     children who bully from the peer group appear to be
        mean = 7 years and 7 months).                                                                          more effective in reducing school bullying than
        A number of children fitting the ‘defender’ and                                                        interventions targeted solely at children who bully.
        ‘ringleader bully’ categories were then selected and                                                   Salmivalli et al (1996) have designed an interview
        invited to solve a computer task in pairs and were                                                     technique that describes six roles that children adopt in
        videotaped as they did so. Defender children and                                                       bullying situations: victims, defenders (who will attempt
        ringleader bully children were paired with ‘non-                                                       to defend a victim), outsiders, ringleader bullies,
        categorised’ partners who did not normally adopt any                                                   assistant bullies and finally, reinforcer bullies ( who will
        consistent role during bullying episodes. Children were                                                support ringleader and assistant bullies implicitly
        paired with partners with matched verbal ability as                                                    without actually taking direct action). There were also a
        measured by BPVS II.                                                                                   number of children who do not consistently adopt any
        The communications examined in the study included                                                      of these roles and are non-categorised.
        the processes of decision-making within the pair,
        agreements and disagreements, explanations and
        questions related to the task.

Preliminary findings

The situation in which the children were observed in this study, the computer task, was designed to foster collaboration. In this situation we found that the
children who bully were not overtly disruptive or dominating. However, they did fail to communicate as effectively as other groups of children in a number of ways.
The defenders and their partners used similar levels of explanatory talk with each other in order to work on the computer task. By contrast, children who bully
used very little of this kind of talk, whereas their partners used very high levels. Children who bully were also more likely to disagree with their partners on matters
of fact than defenders, but not with requests to take action.
The lack of exploratory talk and the disagreements on matters of fact suggests that in this situation children who bully act in a passive-aggressive manner
expecting partners to work harder at the task and provide more explanations for them than they themselves provide and disagree on matters of fact.
The non-categorised children who were partnered with defenders or with children who bully also differed in their behaviour according to who they were paired
with. Partners of children who bully appeared wary of asserting themselves compared to when they were working with defenders; they failed to agree, rather
than disagreeing outright, they use fewer directives, resorting instead to high levels of explanatory communication. This suggests that in this situation, (a) children
who bully either do not have or choose not to use persuasive skills to gain a partner’s agreement and that (b) even outside of bullying situations, and without
using coercion or aggression, children who bully manage to exert dominance over their peers. the results of this study suggest that bullying behaviour could have
pervasive and far-reaching effects and consequences for everyday interactions between children within schools beyond the actual bullying incidents themselves.

We wish to thank the primary schools of Hemel Hempstead without whose kind cooperation this project would have not been possible, Mr Gareth Williams for
design of the ‘Shopping Task’ computer program, Mr Peter Mason for assistance with videotape technology, and Dr Gordon Burt for advice with statistical

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