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Beating the bullies in schools around the world

Bullying is an international problem and work by Brunel’s Professor Ian Rivers is influencing government policy across the globe as well as informing best practice at school level.

His rigorous work over 20 years has led the field in understanding the effects of bullying on aggressor, victim and on bystanders.

Challenging the previous orthodoxy, Professor Rivers has shown that two thirds of secondary school level pupils regularly witness bullying and are adversely affected by what they have seen. Symptoms these children then exhibit can include depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Prof Rivers has also challenged the view that we need to see a pattern of behaviour before schools can conclude that it is bullying. This approach has achieved traction particularly in the United States, where he sits on the US Department of Education expert panel on bullying.

The panel is working on a new uniform definition that will include single incidents that have the potential to be repeated. This approach helps teachers and schools take early preventative action, before there is any opportunity for escalation.

He has also worked closely with policy makers in the UK and has collected longitudinal data on behalf of the UK’s Department for Education to demonstrate developmental trends in the experience of peer victimisation and emotional distress among lesbian, gay and heterosexual young people. Hearteningly the evidence points that things do get better over time for LGBT youth.

A particular focus for Professor Rivers is providing guidance to parents, teachers, governors and leadership teams in translating the fruits of research into practical approaches. Since 2012 he has written a regular column in the Times Educational Supplement (TES) on behaviour within schools.