Anti-bullying researcher begins journey to change national policy


A researcher at Birmingham City University’s Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education, Dr Elizabeth Nassem, is set to meet MP Preet Gill to develop an action plan to use her decade of bullying research to positively change anti-bullying policy at a national level.

This comes as research from the Anti-Bullying Alliance found that one in four pupils are bullied ‘a lot’ or ‘always’.


Dr Nassem, whose work around pupil-led interventions has found that involving pupils in intervention strategies is key to developing effective strategies to minimise bullying, believes that it’s vital for researchers to work with government in order to ensure policies are evidence based.

Her decade of bullying research has involved focus groups, one-to-one interviews as well as organised bullying interventions at a number of schools in Greater Birmingham, Worcestershire and Yorkshire. Her interventions ensure that both the perpetrators and the victims of bullying are put at the front of the solution through a pupil-led approach.

She explained: “Current anti-bullying initiatives usually come from school staff, so they might hold a school assembly to address bullying for example. I asked children what their schools do to address bullying and they often said ‘an assembly – but no one is really listening’ or that schools may put up posters, but pupils are often disengaged with the message.

“Some students I was mentoring had noticed a child that was being isolated in their class and they asked the teacher to intervene and include the child more. That knowledge came from the children that sit with each other and deal with bullying every day, not with the teacher who sees them from the far side of the class.”

The ‘swot divide’

Dr Nassem’s studies have identified common themes which lead to bullying including status and problems at home as well as inequalities between children. Her research notes that these inequalities are often highlighted by streaming children by academic achievement, contributing to ‘the swot divide’ and creating a hierarchy of hostility between children.

Dr Nassem explained: “Throughout my research, I’ve found that these hierarchies can make children feel segregated. The divide can be amplified by a cycle of punishment for perpetrators but this often involves isolation and detentions, which do not do enough to improve behaviour.

“Isolation doesn’t encourage the child to reflect or stimulate conversation about why they have bullied. Not giving a child a voice leads to suppression, which they then spread to others by bullying.

“Researchers have so much in-depth knowledge that can help policy-makers stay informed. Particularly in the field of bullying, policy-makers are using research that is 30 years old or more – methodology and research has moved on since then.

“I contacted a number of MPs to explore how I can get more involved in influencing policy and look forward to meeting Preet Gill to work towards achieving this.”

Dr Nassem’s work has already resulted in a school changing its policy to include pupil-led techniques and her research was recently mentioned in a parliamentary debate on bullying during anti-bullying week. She will meet MP Preet Gill in January.

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