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Covert Bullying Project: Its nature and prevalence in Australian schools

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) commissioned the Child Health Promotion Research Centre (CHPRC) to address the lack of current, reliable evidence about the nature and prevalence of covert bullying in the Australian cultural context, and to provide a foundation for informed action.

The Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study (ACBPS) aimed to describe the nature and prevalence of covert bullying by conducting a cross-sectional survey of students and staff from primary and secondary high schools across Australia in 2007. A total of 7,419 students from 106 schools (55 primary and 51 secondary) from Years 4 to 9 were surveyed about their experiences with, and attitudes towards, covert bullying. The Study was designed to provide information, at a representative national level, about what constitutes covert bullying, the forms it takes, by whom it is practised, towards whom it is directed, how frequently it is experienced, and the impact it has on those who are bullied. It also aimed to include reference to emerging forms of cyber bullying (such as internet and mobile phone-based bullying), as well as other forms of covert bullying including relational bullying.

The ACBPS qualitative survey and empirical research review suggest that students are losing faith in reporting covert bullying because teachers are not recognising this behaviour as bullying and are therefore not taking effective action to address it. Similarly, the ACBPS teacher survey revealed that teachers are more likely to intervene to stop overt bullying than covert bullying, usually because many schools have clear, standard policies and courses of action for staff to follow if they observe overt bullying. Hence, clear national and State guidelines for policy and practice addressing covert bullying are necessary to support schools and their staff. These findings also suggest that quality professional learning addressing covert bullying for school staff is essential to effectively prevent and manage covert bullying.

It was concluded from the ACBPS that National and State guidelines for policy and practice addressing covert bullying are necessary to support schools and their staff. As such, the main recommendation from the study included the need to revise the National Safe Schools Framework (NSSF) and enhance its implementation in schools to explicitly encourage schools to address covert and overt bullying and provide the necessary resources to support schools to minimise this bullying through their policy and practice. Through its recommendations, the ACBPS was one of the key projects that led to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to formally call for the review of the NSSF to accommodate new issues related to cyber-bullying and recognition of covert bullying. The review of the NSSF was undertaken in 2009 and 2010.

Project duration

2007-2008

Funding body

Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR)


Researchers

Professor Donna Cross
University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Assistant Professor Kevin Runions
Associate Professor Stacey Waters
Ms Thérèse Shaw
Professor Nadine Henley
Ms Erin Erceg

Child Health Promotion Research Centre
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