Understanding and Preventing Bullying Amongst School Children
Submitting InstitutionRoehampton University
Unit of AssessmentPsychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology
Summary of the impact
The research underpinning this case study focuses on understanding the
nature of school-based bullying and the effectiveness of systems to
address it. Through practitioner-orientated books, training schemes and
websites, this research has been widely used in a range of government and
NGO publications and resources. In addition, through the research focus on
bullying as a systemic problem and understanding how peer support schemes
can combat it, Cowie has contributed to bringing about change in the way
schools in the UK deal with bullying. This is evidenced by the widespread
use of peer mentoring, peer mediation and advocacy schemes, which can be
seen on school websites and in government reports.
Professor Cowie's work on school-based bullying, undertaken at Roehampton
(1994 to 2003), was pivotal in underpinning key features of a number of
user-oriented publications and related interventions. This research set
out to understand the nature of school-based bullying and to explore the
potential of pioneering peer-tutoring schemes. The research was
characterised by the use of a range of research methods, such as
standardised questions (Naylor & Cowie, 1999), structured interviews
(Cowie & Olafsson, 2000), participants' responses to vignettes, and
judgements about pictorial stimulus material (Smith, Cowie, Olafsson &
Liefooghe, 2002). This approach was complemented by involving a wide range
of participants: primary and secondary school children and teachers, from
a mixture of schools, including some in profoundly disadvantaged areas
with problems of severe bullying. The substantial body of research
provided a rich variety of data and a cross-national perspective. Results
contributed substantially to our knowledge of bullying and evidenced-based
interventions to counteract it. Centring on the social context of
bullying, the benefits of peer support, and the need for restorative
practices in schools, Cowie's key research findings were:
 There were dramatic gender differences regarding peer support in
bullying situations, with girls greatly outnumbering boys (typically 80%
girls, 20% boys), despite the fact that boys could be just as skilled as
girls in offering support to vulnerable peers (Cowie, 2000). A major
difficulty was that boys experienced greater peer pressure not to
engage in peer support as it was perceived as being 'unmanly'. This was
mirrored in the gender imbalance of the teachers in charge of managing
systems of intervention (Naylor & Cowie, 1999).
 There were important differences in children's understanding and
definitions of bullying, at different ages. For example, 14-year-olds
distinguished between fighting and physical bullying, and between verbal
bullying and social exclusion, whereas 8-year-olds did not. These findings
are important in terms of grasping the developmental trends in children's
understanding of bullying. In addition, these findings generalised across
a range of different countries (Smith et al., 2002).
 The repeated nature of bullying and the imbalance of power between
bullies and their victims mean that bullying needs to be distinguished
from aggression (Smith et al., 2002).
 Peer support schemes can involve a change in the relationships
between, and responsibilities of, adults and young people. While some
adults and young people find this approach challenging, some are inspired,
some become discouraged and others are impelled to sabotage the process
(Cowie & Olafsson, 2000). Consequently, schemes can be met with
hostility or obstructiveness from both adults and young people (Cowie,
1998; Naylor & Cowie, 1999).
 Whole-school approaches and peer support systems have benefits for
users of the scheme, peer supporters themselves, and their schools (Cowie,
Naylor, Talamelli, Chauhan & Smith, 2002; Naylor & Cowie, 1999).
The most frequent advantages reported by peer supporters were an increase
in self-confidence, a sense of responsibility and a belief that they were
making a positive contribution to school community.
 There are important differences between non-victims, escaped victims,
continuing victims and new victims. For example, new and continuing
victims of bullying were less likely to use peer support coping strategies
(e.g. report talking to someone about specific incidences of bullying)
than non-victims. Differences were also reported in emotional responses
(including guilt, shame and pride as well as capacity for empathy) (Smith,
Talamelli, Cowie, Naylor & Chauhan, 2004).
References to the research
Cowie, H. (1998). Perspectives of teachers and pupils on the experience
of peer support against bullying. Educational Research and Evaluation:
An International Journal on Theory and Practice, 4, 108-125.
Naylor, P., & Cowie, H. (1999). The effectiveness of peer support
systems in challenging school bullying: the perspectives and experiences
of teachers and pupils. Journal of Adolescence 22, 467-479.
Cowie, H. (2000). Bystanding or standing by: Gender issues in coping with
bullying in English schools. Aggressive Behavior, 26, 85-97.
H., & Olafsson, R. (2000). The role of peer support in helping the
victims of bullying in a school with high levels of aggression. School
Psychology International, 21, 79-95. DOI: 10.1177/0143034300211006
Smith, P. K., Cowie, H., Olafsson, R., & Liefooghe, A. (2002)
Definitions of bullying: a comparison of terms used, and age and sex
differences, in a 14-country international comparison, Child
Development, 73, 4, 1119-1133. DOI: 10.1111/1467-8624.00461
Cowie, H., Naylor, P., Talamelli, L., Chauhan, P., & Smith, P.K.
(2002). Knowledge, use of and attitudes towards peer support: a 2-year
follow-up to the Prince's Trust survey. Journal of Adolescence, 25,
Smith, P.K., Talamelli, L., Cowie, H., Naylor, P., & Chauhan, P.
(2004). Profiles of non-victims, escaped victims, continuing victims and
new victims of school bullying. British Journal of Educational
Psychology, 74, 565-581. DOI: 10.1348/0007099042376427 (based on
data collected at Roehampton)
Cowie published more than 10 peer-reviewed articles in this area during
her eight-year period at Roehampton, some in collaboration with Professor
Peter Smith (Goldsmiths). A further four peer-reviewed outputs based on
data collected while at Roehampton appeared later. These fourteen outputs
have been cited (SCOPUS) more than 800 times, with over 600 of these
citations since 2008. This work was supported by £213,000 external funding
including: The causes and nature of bullying and social exclusion in
schools and the workplace, (EU Training and Mobility of Researchers,
1998-2001: £80,000), Evaluating counselling as an intervention in
schools, (Wates Foundation, 1999-2000: £10,000), Changing
attitudes towards mental health issues, (PPP Medical Healthcare
Trust, 2000-2001: £82,000),`Provision for children and young people
with mental health difficulties', (DfEE, 2001: £31,000), `Peer
Support Networker: dissemination' (Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2001:
Details of the impact
Cowie's research has had national and international impact through the
development of strategies to address bullying, through informing the
training of teachers and other professionals, and through shaping
anti-bullying guidelines. This research provided key findings to inform
evidence-based programmes of prevention and support as well as providing a
platform for subsequent research. The impact started in the period prior
to 2008, during which Cowie's research informed her writing of two
accessible and much cited publications:
Cowie, H., & Wallace, P. (2000). Peer support in action: From
bystanding to standing by. London: Sage Publications.
Cowie, H., Jennifer, D. & Sharp, S. (2001). Violence in schools: the
United Kingdom. In P. K. Smith (Ed.), Violence in Schools: the
Response in Europe. London: Routledge.
plus a further book published in the current period:
Cowie, H.,& Jennifer, D. (2008) New Perspectives on Bullying.
Maidenhead: Open University Press.
These works informed NSPCC guidelines concerning bullying, underpinned
training for the ChildLine in Partnership with schools programme (CHIPS),
and informed a Children's Commissioner's report. The impact of Cowie's
research while at Roehampton has continued and been further developed
The work by Naylor and Cowie (1999) and Cowie et al. (2002) showing that
the effectiveness of peers in providing support for children affected by
bullying has directly contributed to the wide use of these strategies,
which have been successful in both primary and secondary schools in
England. For example, according to a 2011 report for the DFE (RR098), peer
support schemes to tackle bullying were rated by school staff as positive
or very positive across 1273 mainstream schools in 47 different local
authorities, and furthermore, peer support schemes were perceived as
having a positive, preventative effect. Case study school staff viewed
these schemes as "the foundation of the school's anti-bullying work"
(Secondary assistant headteacher) [1, p. 36]. A distinctive component of
peer support, identified by Cowie's work, and also emphasised in the
report, is the engendering of a sense of responsibility and belonging,
which remains a crucial component of the effectiveness of these schemes.
This was echoed by case study school staff: "It's about encouraging pupils
into positions of responsibility and to be responsible for other pupils"
(Primary headteacher) [1, p. 37].
The impact of the CHIPS programme since 2008 is demonstrated by
testimonials asserting that it has had a positive impact on children ("I
am really glad I went to see a peer supporter because it gave me the
confidence I need to go into school clubs and meet new friends. Now I am
really enjoying school and having friends around.") [2, p. 3]), on
individual schools, and on the management of anti-bullying programmes
("The impact of the peer support at our school has been amazing!" [2, p.
4]). This programme has extended into other forms of peer support. For
example one headteacher described how, following work in partnership with
CHIPS, she developed an extensive and successful peer support scheme .
From 2011, the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation has incorporated CHIPS
into its programme of activities, and Cowie's work continues to be an
important resource in its school-based peer support work [4,5]. For
example, CHIPS' Primary School Peer Support Resource Pack (2008)
 is informed by Cowie and Wallace (2000), which has been described by
Andrew Mellor from the Anti-Bullying Network as "the best source of
information" regarding the use of peer support methods for tackling
Cowie's work has also been used by UK local authorities. For example, the
bullying prevention information provided by Hammersmith and Fulham Local
Authority and London Borough of Greenwich is informed directly by Cowie
and Jennifer (2008) , stemming from earlier work carried out at
Roehampton. Cowie's research has had an impact on the strategic
recommendations made in guidelines aimed to make transformative changes to
the Pupil Referral Units in every London borough. These specifically draw
on Cowie and Wallace (2000) in recommending the need for a culture change
in the management and implementation of interventions to prevent
school-based bullying. For example, the emphasis on the active
participation of children and young people often involves a major shift in
adults' ways of relating to them as competence partners whose contribution
should be valued .
At an international level, the materials generated by Cowie and
colleagues in the EU-funded VISTA project (Violence in Schools Training
including face-to-face and online training resources aimed at reducing
violence in schools, constituted one of the key resources for a further
European-funded project, VISTOP (2006-2008) , which developed a series
of on-line modules for teachers, parents and policy makers. For the period
01/2008 - 04/2009, presentations and workshops in Spain, Portugal, Germany
and Ireland reached over 1850 teachers, parents, policy makers, educators,
social workers, psychologists, counsellors, paediatricians, politicians,
IT professionals, whilst the internet portal has reached 300-500 users per
day. Cowie's research has been a resource outside academia beyond Europe.
For example, Cowie et al. (2001) is drawn on in a current Canadian Public
Safety website, which specifies that peer support programs for secondary
school pupils are an effective intervention for dealing with bullying,
particularly when part of a whole school intervention . In addition to
being a key reference in the scientific literature, the definition of
bullying advanced by Smith et al. (2002), has been used beyond academia.
For example a 2011 report overviewing bullying in schools for the US
Department of Justice (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
Prevention) makes use of this definition as part of a demonstration of the
pervasiveness of bullying .
Professor Cowie's research-based expertise in anti-bullying interventions
is much sought after. Since 2008 she has given 11 keynote presentations to
non-academic audiences, including the Teachers' Summer School (Hiroshima),
and more recently she joined the Advisory Group of the Anti-Bullying
Ambassadors programme, which trains young people in over 600 schools
across the UK to be anti-bullying ambassadors both in their schools and
their communities. Through its impact on guidelines, training and
implementation, Cowie's research in this Unit is widely recognised as
having an on-going and pervasive impact beyond academia in informing the
understanding and skills of children, teachers and policy makers in
addressing and preventing bullying [12,13,14].
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Thompson, F., & Smith, P. K. (2011). The Use and Effectiveness
of Anti-Bullying Strategies in Schools. DFE-RB098ISBN
Chat Summer 09.pdf
- The Mentoring and Befriending Foundation. (2012). Setting up and
managing a peer mentoring or peer support programme in schools and
- The Mentoring and Befriending Foundation. (2008). Lean on Me!
Primary School Peer Support Resource Pack.
- Andrew Mellor. Anti-Bullying Network
- Hammersmith and Fulham Local Authority (2011). Bullying Prevention
- VISTOP. Final report. Project number: 129352-CP-1_DE-Comenius-21.
- Seeley, K., Tombari, M.L., Bennett, L.J., & Dunkle, J.B. (2011). Bullying
in Schools: An Overview. The Office of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention Juvenile Justice Bulletin. U.S. Department
of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
- A senior administrator, Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, State of Victoria, Australia.
- A Peer-tutoring Consultant and Trainer.
- A bullying researcher and former school-based learning mentor.