Posted by: l2bb | July 3, 2010

Anti-bullying policies: Reactive or preventative?

School anti-bullying policies are essential in the fight against bullying.  Every school should have one. However, anti-bullying policies need to be written and utilised well in order to do their job.

When School Anti-Bullying Policies Don’t Work

  • When they are written and forgotten.
  • When they are not fully supported by the school community, starting at the school leadership level.
  • When they focus on punishment of the “bully”, not protection and prevention.
  • When they are not written based on an understanding of the relevant laws and policies governing discrimination and harassment.
  • When they are not seen as legal documents.


Making School Anti-bullying Policies Work

McGrath (2007) discusses the weight of school policies.  She states:

“Anything written into a school policy has the weight of law.”

For this reason, we need to be aware of the essential elements that are to be included in our anti-bullying policies.  See the following for information about policies and legislation relating to anti-bullying policies:


Contents of a good anti-bullying plan

The key components of an anti-bullying plan should address a school code of conduct and prevention mechanisms, procedures for bullying to be reported, and procedures for responding to bullying.

McGrath (2007) discusses this further.  She highlights the following key elements that should be included in an anti-bullying plan.

  1. General policy statement: The idea is that the policy should provide a code of conduct or vision statement for the school community.  As with all other elements of an anti-bullying policy, this must be valued, discussed and regularly reviewed with staff, students and families in the school community.  The aim is that it helps to shape attitudes and prevent bullying.
  2. A definition of bullying: This will help to define for the school community what is perceived as bullying by the school.  This should cover relational, physical and cyber-bullying.
  3. A duty to act: This can help address the issue of being a bystander to bullying.  It is also about helping to provide guidelines to students about how to report bullying in a way that is least likely to set them up for retaliation
  4. Sanctions for bullying: It is important when identifying responses to bullying incidents that the response fits the nature of the incident.  I will discuss different approaches to bullying in future posts.
  5. Retaliation prohibited: While this is not often included in Australian anti-bullying policies, this could be an effective way to shape attitudes to bullying. 
  6. False reporting: Having procedures in place to deal with the issue of false reporting of harassment or discrimination, while again not a required element of Australian anti-bullying policies, can ensure that the reporting process itself does not become a source of bullying itself.


Making use of policies

As stated previously, the only way to ensure a well-written school anti-bullying policy is well-used is by constantly reviewing it.  This can be done in classrooms through anti-bullying activities and discussions.  It can be done through notes sent home to families, or discussions in staff meetings.

There are many well-written and creative school anti-bullying policies in existence.  Make sure you ask to see your school’s anti-bullying policy.



McGrath, M.J.  (2007).  School Bullying: Tools for Avoiding Harm and Liability.  Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks.



  1. Many schools write up a policy and forget about it as if they create one only to protect themselves and now the students. I’m seeing more states making it mandatory to have at least two programs a year related to preventing bullying behavior at school. Have you seen this as well?

    • In NSW it is required that schools have a plan for regularly educating the school community about the policy. It is part of the requirements of the Commonwealth Disability Standards for Education 2005 that families, students and staff regularly hear about and have input into the policy and how it is operating. Of course, some schools do this better than others, but there is a lot of social education infused into the curriculum here so that it is more the norm that bullying and resilience is discussed and the policy is revised regularly (definitely more than 2 times per year in bullying aware schools).

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