Teachers' and pupils' definitions of bullying.Br J Educ Psychol. 2006 Sep; 76(Pt 3):553-76.BJ
Comparison of teachers' and pupils' definitions of bullying is important for considering the implications for reports of its incidence in schools, for the study of developmental trends in children's and adolescents' perceptions of the phenomenon and for evaluating the effectiveness of interventions designed to combat bullying.
To investigate the effects of gender, teacher/pupil status and, for pupils, bullied/non-bullied (target/non-target) status and age on the definition of bullying.
Teachers (N=225: 158 women, 67 men) and pupils (N=1,820: 466 boys, 460 girls were 11-12 years old, year 7, and 415 boys, 479 girls were 13-14 years, year 9) in 51 UK secondary schools participated in a questionnaire survey. A total of 557 of the pupils (117 girls and 117 boys aged 11-12 years, and 197 girls and 126 boys aged 13-14 years) reported that they had been bullied at some time in their present school.
Written questionnaire responses to the question, 'Say what you think bullying is' have been content analysed to derive two sets of categories, one of bullying behaviour and the other of effects of bullying on the target.
Regarding both bullying behaviour and the effects of bullying on the target, teachers - by comparison with pupils - have been found to express more comprehensive ideas in their definitions. Specifically, pupils compared with teachers are more likely to restrict their definitions to direct bullying (verbal and/or physical abuse) and are less likely to refer to social exclusion, a power imbalance in the bully's favour and the bully's intention to cause the target hurt or harm and to feel threatened. Analysis of definitions on the bases of sex, pupil age and target/non-target status show that: targets are more likely than non-targets are to refer to the bully's physically and verbally abusive behaviour, and for Year 7 compared with Year 9 pupils, to suggest that bullies socially exclude targets; girls are more likely than boys are to mention verbal abuse and the effects on the target of 'Feels hurt/harm', but boys are more likely than girls are to construe bullying as involving repetition; older pupils are more likely than younger ones are to refer to a power imbalance in the bully's favour but, for bully targets, younger ones compared with older ones are more likely to invoke the idea of social exclusion in their definitions.
The most important implication of the findings of this study that there are important differences between teachers' and pupils' definitions of bullying is that teachers need to listen carefully to what pupils have to say about bullying and work with and help them to develop their conceptions of the phenomenon. Some teachers, too, need to develop their conceptions of bullying.