Restorative Practices Intervention did not produce significant changes

The results of a randomised controlled trial of a whole-school intervention designed to build a supportive school environment and reduce bullying found that it did not produce significant changes in the treatment schools.

The study, published in Journal of Youth and Adolescence, evaluated the Restorative Practices Intervention to assess the extent of implementation and changes in school connectedness, positive developmental outcomes, and bullying. The intervention involves training all school staff on how to carry out 11 restorative practices (eg, communication approaches that aim to build stronger bonds among leadership, staff, and pupils such as using “I” statements, encouraging pupils to express their feelings).

For the randomised controlled trial, Joie Acosta and colleagues collected baseline and two-year post survey data from pupils in grades 6 and 7 (Years 7 and 8) at 14 US middle schools. Schools were randomised so that seven schools received the Restorative Practices Intervention and seven did not.

The results of the study suggest that the intervention did not produce any significant changes in the treatment schools. Intervention schools did not report more school connectedness, better school climate, more positive peer relationships, or less victimisation. Indeed, the Restorative Practices Intervention only delivered a modest amount of restorative experiences, and not much different from the amount control schools received.

However, pupils’ self-reported experience with restorative practices significantly predicted improved school climate and connectedness, peer attachment and social skills, and reduced cyberbullying victimisation. The researchers conclude that, while more work is needed on how interventions can reliably produce restorative experiences, this study suggests that the restorative model can be useful in promoting positive behaviours and addressing bullying.

Source: Evaluation of a whole-school change intervention: findings from a two-year cluster-randomized trial of the restorative practices intervention (March 2019), Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 48

Learning together to reduce bullying

A study published in Public Health Research reports on an evaluation of the Learning Together intervention, which aims to reduce bullying and aggression and to promote pupil health and well-being.

Forty secondary schools in southeast England participated in the trial, with 20 schools randomly assigned to deliver the intervention over three years, and 20 schools continuing with existing practices. In the intervention schools, staff and pupils collaborated in an “action group” to change school rules and policies, with the goal of making it a healthier environment. This included focusing on improving relationships rather than merely punishment-based approaches to discipline, and using a classroom curriculum aimed at encouraging social-emotional skills.

All pupils completed a questionnaire at the start of the trial, and this was repeated three years later. Results showed that self-reported experiences of bullying victimisation were lower in intervention schools than in control schools (adjusted effect size = –0.08). There was no evidence of a reduction in pupil reports of aggression. Pupils in intervention schools also had higher scores on quality of life and psychological well-being measures, and lower scores on a psychological difficulties measure. They also reported lower rates of having smoked, drunk alcohol, been offered or tried illicit drugs, or been in contact with the police in the previous 12 months.

Source:  Modifying the secondary school environment to reduce bullying and aggression: the INCLUSIVE cluster RCT. (November 2019). Public Health Research Volume: 7, Issue: 18

The effects of cooperative learning in middle school on reducing bullying

While many studies show positive effects of cooperative learning on pupil achievement, a recent study examined the effects of cooperative learning on reducing bullying in middle school.

A total of 15 rural schools (n=1,460 seventh graders) in the Pacific Northwest were matched based on size and free-lunch percentage, and then seventh graders (Year 8) were randomly assigned to either receive a cooperative learning programme (n=792) or to continue business as usual (n=668). The cooperative learning programme used techniques by Johnson & Johnson, incorporating peer tutoring, collaborative reading, and methods where classmates rely on each other to learn new information while being held individually accountable for what they have learned. The theory behind this study was that in cooperative groups, bullies would not be reinforced by their peers to continue bullying, and socially isolated pupils would have opportunities to interact with others more and make new friends. All participating teachers received a copy of Cooperation in the Classroom and received three training days in person, and check-ins by video conference during the course of the 2016–17 school year. Pre-tests and post-tests (online surveys completed by pupils) evaluated pupils’ bullying and victimisation, stress levels, emotional problems, relatedness and engagement.

After five-and-a-half months of the cooperative learning programme, results showed significant reductions in bullying (effect size = +0.37), victimisation (+0.69), and stress levels (>+0.99) for pupils who had been shown to be marginalised at pre-test, and reduced emotional problems (+0.30) and greater relatedness (+0.43) for all pupils, regardless of their feelings of victimisation/isolation at pre-test.

Source: Cooperative learning in middle school: A means to improve peer relations and reduce victimization, bullying, and related outcomes (November 2018), Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(8)

What works for bullying prevention?

Child Trends has released a new policy brief on preventing bullying and cyberbullying. The report provides information on the current state of bullying research using data from the US Department of Education, journal articles, and existing research by Child Trends, and provides recommendations for addressing and preventing bullying behaviour.

The report notes that while many bullying prevention programmes and strategies are available, evidence of their effectiveness has been mixed, and most have never been rigorously evaluated. Based on the existing research, the report provides the following recommendations:

  • Include cyberbullying as part of a broader approach to bullying prevention. Strategies targeting cyberbullying alone without addressing the broader issue of bullying are unlikely to be effective. Similarly, monitoring pupils’ social media accounts is likely to be an ineffective use of resources without additional efforts to encourage more civil behaviour online and in person.
  • Support the development of evidence-based approaches through dedicated funding for research. Such investments should also examine interventions, such as integrated pupil supports, for pupils who are targeted by bullying or witness it.
  • Discourage approaches that lack evidentiary support, criminalise young people, or remove them from school. Research shows that anti-bullying assemblies, speakers, and campaigns are not effective at preventing bullying, nor are zero-tolerance policies that remove students from school and do not address the underlying causes of bullying behaviour.

Source: Preventing bullying and cyberbullying: research-based policy recommendations for executive and legislative officials in 2017 (Jan 2017), Child Trends

Does the KiVa anti-bullying programme work?

A study in Prevention Science evaluates the effectiveness of the KiVa anti-bullying programme in Italy through a randomised controlled trial of students in grades 4 and 6 (equivalent to Years 5 and 7). The sample involved 2,042 students across 13 schools that were randomly assigned to intervention (KiVa) or control (usual school provision) conditions. The Italian school system is divided into primary school (grades 1–5), middle school (grades 6–8), and secondary school (grades 9–14), so only schools which had both primary and middle schools were included.

KiVa is a research-based anti-bullying programme developed by the University of Turku, Finland. It is a schoolwide intervention that is focused on the bystanders’ reactions to a bullying situation, which assist and reinforce the bully, and aims to change their attitudes and behaviours.

Researchers Annalaura Nocentini and Ersilia Menesini considered different outcomes (bullying, victimisation, pro-bullying attitudes, pro-victim attitudes, empathy toward victims), analyses, and estimates of effectiveness in order to compare the Italian results with those from other countries. Multilevel models showed significant results for KiVa for all outcomes and analyses in grade 4. In grade 6, KiVa also reduced bullying, victimisation, and pro-bullying attitudes, but the effects were smaller as compared to grade 4, although still significant. The results also showed that the odds of being a victim were 1.93 times higher for a control student than for a KiVa student in grade 4. Overall, their findings provide evidence of the effectiveness of the programme in Italy.

Source: KiVa Anti-Bullying Program in Italy: Evidence of Effectiveness in a Randomized Control Trial (2016), Prevention Science, 17(8)

Interventions to improve student behaviour

The Campbell Collaboration has published a policy brief looking at six systematic reviews of school-based interventions with students who demonstrate at-risk behaviour.

It found that school intervention programmes are marginally effective at ensuring that more students attend school, and at curtailing harmful student behaviours.

Students participating in 28 programmes addressing chronic truancy improved their attendance by nearly five days per year, although in most of the programmes student attendance was still below 90%.

A review of 73 violence prevention programmes found that students showed significantly lower levels of aggressive and disruptive behaviour, including a 7% reduction in fighting on school grounds.

Twelve studies of interventions aimed at improving classroom-wide behaviour found that students in the programmes showed less disruptive behaviour than their peers.

The 44 anti-bullying interventions studied in 16 countries showed average decreases of 20-23% in bullying and 17-20% in victimisation.

Evidence from 12 studies of sexual violence prevention programmes found that students had increased awareness of sexual violence and approaches to conflict resolution, but there was no effect on levels of violent behaviour or victimisation.

Source: Effects of School Based Interventions to Improve Student Behaviour: A Review of Six Campbell Systematic Reviews (2016), The Campbell Collaboration.