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Supportive Schools Project: A randomised control trial to reduce bullying and other aggressive behaviours in secondary schools

In Australia, approximately 50% of school-aged children report they are bullied at school. This bullying peaks twice in schools, firstly in Years 5-6 and then again following the transition to secondary school. While much research has identified ways to reduce bullying in a primary school setting, very little research has been conducted in secondary schools, especially in Australia.

The Supportive Schools Project (SSP) responded to the expressed needs of Australian secondary schools for evidence-based interventions to reduce bullying and other aggressive behaviour among their students. The project provided evidence-based training and support materials for secondary school staff and parents to help prepare Year 7 students for the transition to secondary school, while maintaining peer support and other social competency building strategies through Year 8 and 9 to ameliorate the effects of bullying and other aggressive behaviours.

The SSP recruited 21 Catholic Education secondary schools from the Perth metropolitan area to participate in a three-year group randomised comparison intervention trial. Year 7 students enrolled in each of the 21 schools were tracked for three years until their completion of Year 9. Of the 21 schools recruited into this study, 10 received the SSP intervention materials in 2005, the remaining schools were offered the program materials at the beginning of 2007.

The SSP intervention comprised three components targeting: parents, students and the whole school. The parent intervention aimed to increase parents’ understanding of the issues associated with the transition from primary to secondary school, bullying, as well as the importance of friendships for this age group. The student intervention provided students’ with information and strategies to manage the transition from primary school, to improve their social competence and to enhance social responsibility to reduce and cope adaptively with bullying. The whole-school component of the SSP was supported by the Friendly Schools and Families “Whole-School Pack” which were linked to the Commonwealth Government’s National Safe Schools Framework.

Following one year of implementation, the SSP intervention schools had fewer Year 8 cohort students who reported bullying others regularly than the comparison schools. Further, students attending the comparison schools reported significantly higher mean levels of loneliness at school, lower mean levels of safety at school and those who bullied others regularly perceived lower levels of support from school staff and peers for students who were bullied. While these positive outcomes did not sustain in the second year of the project, the comparison students, reported significantly lower levels of connectedness to school than intervention students.

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Professor Donna Cross
Associate Professor Margaret Hall
Associate Professor Stacey Waters
University of Otago, Dr Greg Hamilton
Ms Thérèse Shaw
Curtin University of Technology, Associate Professor Clare Roberts

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