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