Sticks and Stones May Break my Bones, but being left on my own is worse: An analysis of reported bullying at school within NFER attitude surveys

Tom Benton

04 November 2011

Since early 2010 the NFER has been working with both primary and secondary schools to allow them to survey their own pupils and better understand their views across a range of issues. With almost 100 secondary schools and more than 35,000 pupils in years 7 to 13 having taken part we have now begun undertaking a national analysis of the results so far. We have begun by exploring findings relating to bullying at school and have produced some interesting results.

As part of the NFER attitude survey, children in school years 7 to 13 (aged 11 to 18) were asked questions about the types of bullying they had experienced over the last 12 months and why they think they may have been bullied. Through analysis of their responses to these questions and how these relate to the emotional wellbeing of children (also measured within the questionnaire) some conclusions can be made as to the prevalence of different types of bullying and the relative seriousness of each type of bullying as measured by its impact on emotional wellbeing.

Pupils who have been the victim of bullying are most likely to mention “lies or rumours” about them or their appearance as the reason they think they have been bullied.

Key Findings

  • Schools and parents should be aware of the potential harm done to young people when they experience bullying through “being left out”. This type of bullying is more strongly associated with poor emotional wellbeing than any other type including more explicit forms such as physical or verbal abuse. For this reason it is important that schools look for ways to build on the efforts they already make to help young people to socialise, and explore ways of supporting them when relationships with other pupils break down.
  • "Being left out" is more common amongst girls than boys. However, it was found that the link between this type of bullying and poor emotional wellbeing is stronger in boys.
  • For girls "unwanted sexual contact" was found to be the type of bullying most strongly associated with poor emotional wellbeing. However, this type of bullying is relatively rare.
  • most common type of bullying is verbal abuse. The potential negative impact of this type of bullying should not be underestimated as our analysis indicates that verbal abuse is more strongly linked to poor emotional wellbeing than physical abuse.
  • Pupils become less likely to be the victim of the majority of types of bullying once they enter the sixth form.
  • Physical bullying more commonly affects boys than girls.
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