Maunder, R., Harrop, A. and Tattersall, A. J. (2010) Pupil and staff perceptions of bullying in secondary schools: comparing behavioural definitions and their perceived seriousness. Educational Research.52(3), pp. 263-282. 0013-1881.
Background: How bullying is understood by members of the school community is important because differences in definitions could result in an inconsistent approach and affect the success of intervention work. Research evidence suggests that pupils and teachers may have different interpretations of what constitutes bullying. This evidence has, however, been largely obtained from investigations in which the two groups have been questioned in different ways. This means that some of the differences obtained could be functions of methodology, rather than functions of differing perceptions. In addition, the perceptions of support staff have been largely neglected in the literature to date. Purpose: This study examines the perceptions of bullying of pupils held by pupils, teachers and school support staff in English secondary schools by the use of identical questionnaires for each group. Sample: A total of 1302 individuals participated in the research from four urban secondary schools. These four schools came from the same Local Education Authority in North West England. The sample consisted of 685 Year 8 pupils aged 12-13 years (341 males, 324 females, 20 unspecified), 415 Year 11 pupils aged 15-16 years (212 males, 187 females, 16 unspecified), 144 teachers (59 males, 81 females, 4 unspecified) and 58 support staff (14 males, 37 females, 7 unspecified). Design and methods: The study utilised a survey design whereby written responses to scenario-based questionnaires were scored. The scenarios described a range of direct bullying, indirect bullying and ambiguous behaviours. Respondents were asked whether they thought the behaviour described was bullying and how serious it was if experienced by a male or a female pupil. Questionnaires were completed by pupils during supervised class time. Staff questionnaires were distributed to staff members individually and completed independently. Results: Indirect bullying behaviours were less likely to be defined as bullying and were regarded as less serious than direct bullying behaviours. Scenarios with a female victim were rated more seriously than those with a male victim, and female respondents rated the behaviours more seriously than males. Teachers and support staff considered a wider range of scenarios to constitute bullying compared to pupils and also rated these to be more serious. Differences between schools indicated that perceptions could be affected by school factors. Conclusions: The differences in perceptions of bullying between pupils and staff indicate that teachers need to invest more time in talking with pupils about the nature of bullying. Indirect behaviours in particular need more attention to ensure they are included in definitions of bullying, and taken seriously. Further research is needed to investigate how school factors may influence perceptions of bullying