Schools Integration Project No. 082

Bullying in Primary Schools


Purpose of the project:

The project developed in partnership with the Anti- Bullying Centre in Trinity College Dublin, sought to provide participants in five schools with the opportunity to conduct research, develop word-processing skills, use the internet to access information, communicate via e-mail, promote the use of IT and contribute to the Council of Europe’s data bank on the issue of bullying.
The project investigated the level of bullying that occurred in 5 schools and attempted to identify the effects of bullying on children as perceived by the children themselves. The study also sought to examine children’s preferred strategies for coping with the problem.


The project involved a survey approach, in which children in one of the participating schools compiled a questionnaire with thirty questions which they themselves regarded as the most important in relation to the issue of bullying at school. The questions were typed by third and fourth class pupils and questionnaires were dispatched to participant schools along with copies of “Bullying at schools”, “Action against bullying”, and “Bullying -the hidden fear”. The Internet was used to access further information. Schools were guaranteed complete confidentiality and anonymity regarding the information they supplied.


A total of one hundred and forty three pupils from five schools were chosen for the sample. Of these seventy two were girls and seventy one were boys. The
pupils were in third, fourth, fifth and sixth class. All of the children were from multi-class groups.

Research Instruments:

The questionnaire consisted of thirty questions composed by pupils, the first two of which concerned the pupil’s gender and class. Other questions sought to find out:-

1. The incidence of bullying in the five schools.
2. The location of bullying incidents.
3. The comparative ages of bullies and victims.
4. Sources of support for victims.
5. Perceived effects on school-work.
6. If pupils had missed school as a result of bullying.
7. If changing schools would solve the problem.
8. Sanctions advocated by pupils.
9. Descriptions of victims.
10. Descriptions of pupils who were not bullied.
11. Positive reinforcements for children who do not bully others.

Data Collection:

Questionnaires were forwarded to schools along with a letter guaranteeing confidentiality. Supportive research and a definition and examples of bullying were also provided.
The questionnaires were administered by teachers in each of the participating schools.
Pupils were guaranteed confidentiality and anonymity.
Following the completion of questionnaires the data was assessed by pupils of one of the participating schools, under the guidance of a teacher. Pupils then used Microsoft Excel to record their findings in the form of charts and used Microsoft Word to report on the project.


(A) Incidence

Of the total sample of 143 children, 33 said they had been bullied at school that term, while 92 were not bullied. Twenty-five pupils reported that they had been bullied outside of school and 109 were not bullied outside of school. Not all of the 143 children completed the questions relating to the incidence of bullying.

(B) The location of bullying incidence

Ninety-five pupils felt that bullying is most likely to occur at school, whereas 39 thought that bullying was more likely to occur outside school .Of the total sample of pupils 31 claimed they had been bullied at sport activities and 51 said they had not been bullied.

(C) The comparative ages of bullies and victims

When asked about the comparative ages of bullies and victims 32, pupils said they were older, 6 said they were younger, 23 were of the opinion that bullies and victims were of the same age.

(D) Sources of support for victims

Of the total sample of 143 pupils, 115 pupils indicated that they would tell their parents if they were been bullied. One hundred and thirty two were confident that their parents would take action if they were been bullied and one hundred twenty six thought that their teachers would do so. Only twenty seven children felt that the bully’s parents would take action.

(E) Perceived effects on attendance and school-work

Thirteen children alleged that they had missed school because of bullying, while one hundred and twenty three had not. Thirty eight children felt that bullying affects progress at school and seventy seven felt it had no effect.

(F) Whether changing school would solve the problem.

Thirty children felt that changing school would solve the problem of bullying, whereas fifty nine thought it would not make a difference. More than one third of the total sample of one hundred and forty three pupils had no opinion.

(G) Sanctions advocated by pupils

Twenty nine respondents to the survey thought that bullies should be given an unspecified punishment. Extra homework was the preferred option for seven children, while nine pupils preferred that the incidents of bullying be reported to parents. Detention was regarded as a suitable sanction by eight pupils and a further six pupils felt that bullying warranted suspension.

(H) Descriptions of victims.

The five most popular words to describe victims were “sad” (69), “scared” (39), and “lonely” 25, “depressed” (18), and “frightened” 17.

(I) Descriptions of pupils who were not bullied.

Ninety two pupils described children who did not bully as “kind” and eighty two felt they were “happy”. Other descriptions included “nice” (30), “friendly” (18), and “good” (16).

(J) Positive reinforcements for children who do not bully others

Twenty two pupils listed “money” as an appropriate reward for good behavior and twelve felt that “gifts” were suitable. Eighteen preferred sweets and nineteen sought praise from adults. No homework was the preferred option for four children.

As more than one quarter of the children surveyed claimed to be bullied in school and one sixth felt they were bullied outside school, bullying impact would appear to be a problem for some children in the five schools and is a source likely to produce negative attitudes in relation to schooling. The findings in this study would suggest that much of the bullying behaviour is engaged in by a few or more bullies, rather than individual bullies.
As regards tackling the issue, it is perhaps surprising that more than 46% of pupils were of the opinion that bullying stops if it is ignored, while 39%(56) felt it would not stop. However, it should be noted that more than 70 %( 102) of the pupils agreed that the bully and victim should not be left to deal with the problem and sort it out themselves.
Friends were seen as a source of support by most children (131). Children displayed a great deal of confidence in their parents and teachers with125 willing to report bullying to parents and115willing to report to teachers. Only 6 were unwilling to inform their parents and 11 would not tell teachers. A possible explanation for the high level of reporting of incidents of bullying to teachers is the content of the “Stay Safe” programme which advocates the reporting of bullying incidents to adults. The “Stay Safe” lessons were viewed as helpful in developing skills to deal with bullying by 90 children but 27% of pupils thought they were inadequate.
Watching violent T.V. programmes was regarded by 60% of children (86) as being a contributory factor to bullying. As bullying is a learned behaviour, this raises serious issues for programme makers and adults who can influence the type of programmes to which children have access.
One of the interesting aspects of the study was the pupils’ opinion on rewarding positive behaviour.No homework was regarded as a less acceptable reward than praise from adults ,with 4 children opting for “no homework” and 19 preferring praise from adults.
The role of adults in affirming positive behaviour is therefore of immense importance.
Sweets were favoured by 18 children; while the most popular reward was money (22).A further 12 opted for” gifts”.

Perhaps the geographical location in which the study was conducted was a factor in the finding that only 2 children from the sample of 143 considered racism to be the worst form of bullying. It is most likely that there is little, if any, racial problems in the 5 schools involved in the study. Physical bullying was seen as the worst form of bullying by more than 55% of pupils (79) and name calling was a concern for 36 pupils.
Emotional bullying such as hurting other children’s feelings and engaging in threatening behaviour were listed as the worst form of bullying by 10 children and a similar number
considered name calling to be the greatest cause of disquiet.


This study is of significance in that it afforded children the opportunity to conduct research, avail of I.T., make contact with other schools and examine the issue of bullying among schoolchildren from a child’s perspective using questionnaires devised by the children themselves.
With bullying regarded as a problem, to a greater or lesser extent, in many schools, it is essential that best practice be in place to tackle bullying and provide support for the victim. It is essential, in view of the long-term effects of bullying that the support of qualified psychologists be made available to victims of school –bullying to prevent difficulties in adulthood. The belief that bullying is part of the growing-up process is therefore one that must be challenged. It is also vital that the issue of bullying is viewed as a wider community problem and not simply as a problem that is confined to schools and is left to schools to resolve in isolation.
For teachers, it is essential that incidents of bullying are dealt with caringly and without delay, adopting a composed unbiased approach that does not exacerbate the situation.

The “Stay Safe” programme, while useful as a tool in developing skills to combat bullying, should not be regarded as a cure-all to solve the problem. Practice in conflict resolution could also help equip pupils with life skills that could benefit them in the future.

For the purpose of obtaining an independent assessment of the actual situation in relation to bullying,the Anti-Bullying Centre in Trinity College,Dublin administered a further set of questionnaires in one of the participating schools.These questionnaires were compiled by Professor Dan Olweus in the University of Bergen.