Bullying prevention in schools: Executive summary

The National Crime Prevention Strategy was established as the Government of Canada's action plan to reduce crime and victimization primarily using a crime prevention through social development (CPSD) approach. It is a proactive approach that addresses underlying social, cultural and economic risk factors that can contribute to crime and victimization. As the focal point of the Strategy, the National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC), part of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, supports organizations and communities by providing the knowledge and resources they need to facilitate and sustain their crime prevention efforts.

The NCPC's Strategic Plan for 2002/03 – 2005/06 identified the need to collaborate with communities and partners in order to develop, share and apply knowledge on priority issues. One of the priorities selected was school-based anti-bullying programs due to the growing awareness of bullying as an issue among young people and the capacity of the NCPC to provide useful insights from its support for anti-bullying projects across Canada.

About this document

Bullying Prevention in Schools: Executive Summary is a summary of a study undertaken by the NCPC that reviewed school-based anti-bullying programs, looking at promising practices, results from NCPC-sponsored projects and recommendations for future work in this area. A second document, Bullying Prevention in Schools, provides the full report.

The goals of the study were to:

  1. identify promising practices from academic research on anti-bullying initiatives;
  2. examine the practical application of antibullying interventions within NCPC-sponsored projects;
  3. compare research and practical applications to make recommendations for further work in this area;
  4. highlight NCPC-funded projects that illustrate elements of promising practices in a practical setting; and
  5. provide an inventory of accessible antibullying tools and products created by NCPC-funded projects that my be applicable elsewhere.

The Bullying Prevention in Schools study consists of two arts: a review of external information to understand the issue of bullying within a Canadian context and to identify components of promising practices; and a review of school-based antibullying projects supported by the NCPC over a five-year period between 1998 and 2003.

1.0 Defining the problem

Bullying, within the scope of this report, includes actions within a relationship between a dominant and a less dominant person or group where there exists : Footnote 1

The Canadian context

Canadian researchers began collecting data in the early 1990s to determine the prevalence of bullying in Canadian schools. These studies generally concluded that Canadian students, like students in other countries around the world, suffer from bullying at school at rates and frequencies that cannot be ignored. Footnote 2 In fact, a study conducted by the World Health Organization, Footnote 3 which surveyed the health behaviours of school aged children around the world, found that Canada ranked in the middle of 35 countries studied for level of bullying. Footnote *

Canadian studies generally indicate that a higher percentage of students engage in bullying behaviours in middle school and high school than in elementary school. However, the percentage of students victimized gradually decreased with age. Footnote 4 While these rates are generally true for the entire school population, gender differences also exist. Elementary school boys report higher levels of bullying, but lower levels of victimization, than girls. Footnote 5 In middle and high schools, boys reported bullying others almost twice as much as girls in the same grades. Footnote 6

The effects of bullying can be long lasting, both for those who bully and those who are victimized. Bullying behaviour during childhood is closely associated with future antisocial behaviour and criminal activity in adolescence and adulthood. Footnote 7 In addition, children who continue to bully can suffer psychological problems later on that may include externalizing problems, such as conduct disorders, aggressive tendencies and occasionally depressive symptoms. Footnote 8

Victimized children commonly report symptoms of depression, anxiety, loss of self-esteem and, occasionally, increased levels of aggressive behaviour. Additional effects of bullying on victimized children may include headaches, stomach aches, school absenteeism, and in extreme cases can lead to suicide. Footnote 9 As with bullies, psychological harm to the victims can also last into adulthood, again in the form of externalizing problems, aggressive tendencies and depression. Footnote 10

In terms of responding to bullying incidents, it is essential that peers and adults who witness the behaviour intervene to help the victim. Canadian studies on peer intervention reveal that only a small number of elementary and middle school students attempted to stop bullying incidents. Footnote 11 Adult intervention rates are similarly low. In a survey of teachers and students, most teachers said they usually intervened to stop a bullying incident, but only a small percentage of students agreed. Footnote 12

Students indicated that low adult intervention may be due to teachers not being present when the incident occurs, not recognizing the incident as bullying behaviour, or choosing not to intervene for other reasons. Footnote 13

2.0 Promising practices

A review of external information Footnote ** from Canadian and international sources was undertaken to identify promising practices in the field, as well as gaps where further research or analysis is required.

2.1 A whole school approach – A formula for success

Promising practices for anti-bullying interventions have been identified by research experts both within Canada and internationally. According to these studies, successful interventions decrease the amount of bullying in the school by 20 to 70 percent. Footnote 14 Most often, interventions work best when part of a systemic, whole school approach in which an anti-bullying policy and anti-bullying initiatives are implemented throughout the school. The whole school approach Footnote *** as developed by Olweus (1993) is widely accepted by experts in this field as the most promising approach. Footnote 15 The elements of a successful whole school approach are listed below: Footnote 16

A whole school policy:

A whole school anti-bullying initiative:

2.2 The comprehensive community approach – Communities supporting schools

Research indicates that initiatives involving the broader community may enhance the effectiveness of whole school interventions. Footnote 17 A Canadian study of 46 school-based bullying prevention initiatives revealed that the top five successful programs had the following characteristics:

By encouraging the involvement of members outside the school community (such as criminal justice professionals, mental health workers), a comprehensive approach ensures that such individuals provide children and youth with consistent messages about how to respond to bullying.

2.3 Identified research gaps

Through the review and analysis of external information and research related to bullying prevention, five areas were identified as requiring further research in order to determine how and if bullying interventions should be tailored to meet the needs of specific populations, including:

  1. age-specific approaches, especially initiatives for teenagers;
  2. gender-specific interventions;
  3. bullying based on sexual orientation;
  4. ethno-cultural bullying and ethno-culturally sensitive interventions; and
  5. bullying of children with learning disabilities and interventions to address this type of bullying.

3.0 Review of NCPC-sponsored projects

The NCPC provides funding to local, provincial or national level groups to help them deal with crime and victimization issues. The NCPC undertook a study of the community-based bullying prevention projects it supported and identified a number of useful results. Between 1998 and 2003, the NCPC supported 87 bullying prevention initiatives across Canada, a sub-set of a larger number of projects dealing with school based anti-violence.

The impact of bullying on Canadian children and youth was found to be serious and widespread, with many communities in Canada indicating a need for intervention within their schools. The NCPC sponsored projects in almost every province and territory and in communities both small and large, urban and rural. The majority of project sponsors were non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and educational organizations, such as schools and school boards. The most frequent partners of school-based anti-bullying projects were criminal justice/police organizations, individual schools, non-profit volunteer organizations and school boards. The majority of NCPC-funded projects received significant support from their partners in the form of in-kind, financial and networking contributions.

The most common objectives of the projects in the data set were to:

Most of the NCPC-sponsored projects addressed multiple risk and protective factors present in the lives of students. Risk or protective factors can include social attitudes toward violence, school attachment, peer influence or reactions, problemsolving skills and parental attitudes.

The average number of factors targeted in each project was five risk or protective factors at two or three different levels of influence (levels of influence were categorized as individual, peer, school, family, community and society). This suggests that communities recognized the need to use a multi-factorial approach in addressing the issue of bullying.

Project objectives were achieved using a variety of activities. A wide range of tools, products and resources were also created. Anti-bullying conferences, presentations and plays were organized, which provided opportunities for young people and adults to gather and discuss what was happening in their communities. Teachers, school staff and other adults were trained to recognize and prevent bullying activities. Public and school awareness campaigns were launched.

Most projects that set out to create a tool, product or resource did so, although the distribution of these materials may not have been widespread. Conferences and workshops were held and the participants generally found them useful. Other projects attempting attitude and behavioural change with students reported that their interventions reduced the number of reports of bullying behaviour over the school year. The diversity of approaches used in NCPC-funded projects demonstrates that there are many ways to respond to local bullying problems.

The majority of projects reviewed in this report were sponsored under the NCPC's Community Mobilization Program (CMP), where the emphasis was on community engagement and action. While most projects reported at least partial success in their intervention, the evidence was based on post-intervention measures such as participation rates, feedback from participants and teacher surveys.

3.1 Challenges

Some project sponsors indicated that interventions within their communities faced challenges and setbacks. Most frequently mentioned was the need to match expectations about what could be accomplished to the resources available, in terms of both time and money. Other challenges included working within a school environment where the academic curriculum takes precedence over an anti-bullying initiative, and the time constraints of school classroom periods. Some project coordinators found it difficult to engage parents, while others found they had to adapt materials to meet the specific needs of their participants. In some cases, the project's success had not been sufficiently documented to support its continuation after initial funding was completed. Finally, the subject matter occasionally seemed to be difficult for students, school staff, or parents, sometimes leading to a lack of support for the initiative.

3.2 Sustainability

Several factors influence whether these antibullying projects will have a lasting impact in the community. The primary factor is ongoing financial, in-kind and networking support from within the community. In fact, project sponsors identified continued funding as the key factor to ensuring the sustainability of an initiative. About half of the sponsors indicated they would continue with some aspects of the project, including sharing the information they had learned with other groups, starting a new project related to the original one, partnering with other organizations in future work on bullying or continuing to use the products, tools and resources that were created.

3.3 Conclusion

The findings in this report are indicative of the commitment of the NCPC to provide communities, families and schools with the tools, knowledge and support they need to deal with risk factors related to bullying. As a result of this commitment, communities have increased public awareness of bullying issues and enhanced their understanding of the types of interventions that are possible in their communities. The projects sponsored by the NCPC have successfully mobilized community-based action in response to local needs, developed partnerships and cooperation among various sectors and created tools, products, and resources. Evidence that these projects could reduce bullying behaviour in the long-term requires additional investment in evaluation and sustained interventions. Sustainability of projects is dependent on securing resources from a variety of sources.

It is hoped that the application of promising practices, including whole school and comprehensive community approaches, will serve to increase the ability of schools, communities and governments to have a positive impact on the safe and healthy development of Canadian children and youth.

4.0 Recommendations

Based on the results of the NCPC project study and the promising practices identified in academic sources, the following recommendations are made for future work in the area of school-based bullying prevention:

  1. That school-based bullying prevention initiatives include the following in their approach:
    • develop a whole school policy;
    • involve community representatives and organizations as much as possible in their approach; and
    • develop whole school interventions in support of the policy with programs at three levels:
      • universal programs targeting the entire school population
      • indicated programs focusing on students with initiative involvement in bullying or victimization
      • selected programs dealing with students having chronic problems with bullying or victimization.
  2. That school-based bullying prevention projects follow sound project planning and management procedures by including the following steps:
    • needs assessment
    • project planning
    • development of an evaluation framework
    • intervention
    • periodic monitoring of intervention
    • modifications
    • evaluation
    • sustainability planning and follow-up
  3. That knowledge gained from whole school and comprehensive approaches be adapted for application in practical settings and that researchers and practitioners collaborate to develop practical resources for use by schools and communities.
  4. That more research be undertaken on how bullying is manifested differently for boys and girls at each age and how best to address these differences in practical applications.
  5. That research and interventions address a child's relationship with peers, teachers, family and the broader community as they can influence bullying behaviour or victimization (a systemic approach).
  6. That students participate in the planning, development and delivery of anti-bullying policies and programs to ensure the activities address the most urgent issues they are facing.
  7. That tailored initiatives be developed to address the unique needs of the community which can vary according to geographic location (rural versus urban) and community make-up (e.g., ethnocultural groups, persons with disabilities, members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community).
  8. That effective whole school approaches be developed for secondary schools where bullying can turn into dating violence and sexual harassment. Footnote 19
  9. That more public education tools for children, youth, parents and teachers be developed to provide practical advice on how to deal with bullying incidents that become chronic.

The NCPC thanks all its community sponsors, academic partners, practitioners in the field of bullying and NCPC staff who were involved in this study. The informed and passionate efforts of all involved are a testament to the dedication that exists across Canada to working toward the prevention of bullying through the development and sharing of knowledge.


  1. *Other countries include: Lithuania, Germany, Austria, Greenland, the Russian Federation, Latvia, Switzerland, Estonia, Ukraine, United States of America, Denmark, Italy, Portugal, Poland, Israel, France, Belgium (Flemish), Belgium (French), Netherlands, TYFR Macedonia, Croatia, Greece, Spain, Norway, England, Finland, Slovenia, Wales, Hungary, Scotland, Ireland, Malta, Czech Republic and Sweden.
  2. ** The sources of data for the external review portion of the study included a selection of academic journals, interviews with academics, notes taken at conferences and review of anti-bullying Web sites sponsored by governments, schools, interest groups and international organizations. This information provided a context for the review of NCPC project results and for future NCPC funding and knowledge development.
  3. *** For further information on best practices, consult Catalano, Arthur, Hawkins, Berglund & Olson, 1998; Craig & Pepler, 2000; Craig, Ziegler & Charach, 1994; Gottfredson, Wilson & Skroban Najaka, 2002; Jager, Bradley & Rasmussen, 2003; Ma, Stewin & Mah, 2001; Shaw, 2001; Scheckner, Rollin, Kaiser-Ulrey & Wagner., 2002; Tutty et al., n.d.)


  1. 1 Pepler & Craig, 2000; Ma, Stewin & Mah, 2001
  2. 2 Craig, Peters & Konarski, 1998; Sudermann, Jaffe & Schieck, 1996
  3. 3 Craig & Harel, 2004
  4. 4 Charach, Pepler & Ziegler, 1995; Craig, 2004
  5. 5 Craig, Peters & Konarski, 1998
  6. 6 Pepler, Craig, Connolly, Yuile, McMaster & Jiang, 2005
  7. 7 Olweus, 1993; Pepler & Craig, 2000; Rigby, 2003
  8. 8 Pepler & Craig, 2000; Harris, Petrie, and Willoughby, 2002; Artz & Nicholson, 2002
  9. 9 CIPB Conference, December 2004; Ma, Stewin & Mah, 2001; Neary and Joseph, 1994; Olweus, 1993; Slee, 1995
  10. 10 Craig, Peters & Konarski, 1998; Glover, Gough, Johnson & Cartwright, 2000; Haynie et al., 2001; Pepler & Craig, 2000; Smith, 2000; Wilke, n.d.; Harris, Petrie & Willoughby, 2002; Artz & Nicholson, 2002
  11. 11 Connolly, Pepler & Craig, 2003
  12. 12 Charach, Pepler & Zeigler, 1995
  13. 13 Atlas & Pepler, 1998; Craig & Pepler, 1997
  14. 14 Ma, Stewin &Mah, 2001; Olweus, 1993; Smith, 2000; Fox, Elliott, Kerlikowski, Newman & Christeson, 2003
  15. 15 Pepler & Craig, 2000; Ma, Stewin & Mah, 2001; Shaw, 2001; Rigby, 2002; Smith, 2000
  16. 16 Pepler & Craig, 2000; Ma, Stewin & Mah, 2001; Shaw, 2001; Rigby, 2002; Smith, 2000
  17. 17 CIPB Conference, December 2004; Shaw 2003
  18. 18 CIPB Conference, December 2004
  19. 19 Pepler, Smith & Rigby, 2004


For further information on the funding programs of the National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC) and for contact information for your region, please visit our Web site or call the NCPC: 800-830-3118

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