The nature and extent of bullying in North West secondary schools : investigating pupil and staff perceptions of the problem
Bullying is a widespread problem in schools and a vast amount of research has been conducted on the subject. In order to examine how members of the school community perceive bullying, self-report questionnaires were devised for completion by secondary school pupils from two year groups, teachers and support staff. The scenario-based questionnaires compared their views on defining bullying, the perceived seriousness of different behaviours and the bullying perceived to occur in the school. The questionnaires indicated that perceptions of bullying were mediated by the age, gender and group (pupil, teacher and support staff) of participants. Indirect behaviours (such as social exclusion) were less likely to be defined as bullying and were perceived as less serious than direct behaviours. Where the victim portrayed in the questionnaire was female, perceptions of seriousness for the incidents described were higher than for male victims. Staff rated direct and indirect behaviours more seriously than did pupils. Differences between schools indicated that perceptions were not fixed and there was potential for change. Open-ended comments made on the questionnaires revealed further complexity in perceptions of bullying and illustrated the benefits of utilising qualitative techniques to study bullying. Therefore, an additional study was conducted whereby a sample of teachers and support staff from participating schools were interviewed, using a semistructured approach, about their experiences of bullying. Results were analysed using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (Smith, 2003) and findings suggested the need to consider bullying in a wider context, focusing on schools as organisations with external and internal influences affecting their functioning. The research highlighted the importance of schools working together to focus on what is understood by the term bullying. Interventions need to recognise the complexity of bullying and not treat it in isolation. Practical issues for studying bullying in schools and the potential benefits of combining quantitative and qualitative research are discussed.