Schools need quality label for antibullying strategy

Palermo, 28 September 2018

After a week of intensive discussion in Palermo, 60 students, teachers and experts concluded that it is time to develop quality standards for antibullying policies in schools. At average, about 19% of students are bullied in some way and almost 9% are frequently bullied. But in the worst countries, up to 30% encounter any form of bullying and 17% are frequently bullied. Minorities often experience higher levels of bulling. All schools want to fight bullying, but not all schools know how to do it effectively.

Good policy makes a difference

Research shows that there are significant differences between schools in how students experience safety, exclusion or even violence. Bullying cannot be addressed by just punishing “the bullies” and supporting the “victims”. Research on bullying shows that school violence and exclusion is always rooted in an institutional and often wider social culture in which competition and marginalization takes place. Effective policies address the culture, not only the individual transgressors on rules.

The international meeting was a part of the European Anti-Bullying Certification (ABC) project that aims to develop a method that schools can use to assess and improve their own school safety policy. The project experiments with this in 9 schools in 5 countries: Greece, Italy, the Netherland, Spain and the UK. One of the goals is to develop a European label for high quality antibullying policy, comparable with the EU energy label. This international perspective is a challenge, because not only school cultures but also national cultures, policies and guidelines differ significantly across Europe. For example, in the UK 23.9% of the students were bullied in any way at some time, with  14.2% being bullied frequently, while in the  Netherlands 9.3% of the student were confronted with bullying with only 3.3% being frequently bullied. This leads to the impression the European Community feels more inclined to set quality standards for washing machines than for safe schools.

Setting quality standards

The ABC-project was initiated by the European Antibullying Network and GALE acquired funding of the Dutch Erasmus+ authority to develop a quality assessment and guidelines for schools. This project differs from previous project in that it does not develop yet another toolkit with inspirational methods, but helps schools to critically look at themselves and to make a grounded analysis and tools to create a joint vision and strategy.

The project also sets up national Feedback Committees who are involved in the development and play a key role in starting a policy dialogue in each country: should be set quality standards for the safety in our schools, and if yes, how? At the end of the project, this discussion will also be taken to the European level. The project partners think that Europe does not only need efficient washing machines but also efficient safe schools.

Background Information

PISA statistics

In the 2015 PISA study, students are classified as frequently bullied if they are among the 10% of students with the highest value on the index of exposure across all countries and economies with available data (a value greater than 1.59 on the index of exposure to bullying). This cut-off was selected because most of the students at or above this level are frequently exposed (at least a few times per month) to at least three of the six forms of bullying measured by the index (see Table A1.7 in Annex A1). Across all countries and economies with available data, more than one in two of the students who are classified as frequently bullied in this way reported they are made fun of, are excluded on purpose, or are objects of nasty rumours at least a few times per month; almost four out of ten reported that they are hit or pushed, threatened or have their belongings taken away or destroyed at least a few times per month. (p.134)

On average across OECD countries, around 11% of students reported that they are frequently (at least a few times per month) made fun of, 8% reported that they are frequently the object of nasty rumours in school, and 7% reported that they are frequently left out of things. More than 10% of students in 34 out of 53 countries and economies reported that their peers make fun of them at least a few times per month. A similar proportion of students in 16 of 53 countries and economies reported that they are frequently the object of rumours, while in 13 out of 53 countries and economies, more than 10% of students reported that others frequently leave them out of things. (p. 135)

Some more statistics (PISA study, OECD, 2015, page 138)

Netherlands: 9.3 of students was confronted with any type of bullying, 3.3% was frequently bullied

Spain: 14% of students was confronted with any type of bullying, 6% was frequently bullied

Greece: 16.7% of students was confronted with any type of bullying, 6.7% was frequently bullied

United Kingdom: 23.9% of students was confronted with any type of bullying, 14.2% was frequently bullied

The OECD average: 18.7% of students was confronted with any type of bullying, 8.9% was frequently bullied

Source: PISA (2015).  Results (Volume III): Students’ Well-Being. Paris: PISA/OECD Publishing (

The Anti-Bullying Certification project

The ABC-project aims to develop a quality system to monitor the social safety in high schools and to help them to develop improved a safe school policy and strategy. The project was initiated by EAN (the European Antibullying Network) and is coordinated by GALE. NGOs and schools from Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK take part in the project to develop quality criteria and tools to do a self-assessment.

In the countries participating in the Anti-Bullying Certification project, Greece scores best on the “exposure to bullying scale” that the PISA study developed. Of the European region countries, only Turkey scored better. The Netherlands and Spain score better than the OECD average, while the UK scores below the OECD average. Italy did not participate in the PISA study. In Europe, Latvia (not in the ABC-partnership) scored worst in bullying.

More information about the ABC-project visit or contact the coordinator: Peter Dankmeijer, +316 53 862 958