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Bullying in Australian schools

Recent international surveys of students’ mathematics, science and reading achievement also reveal much about their engagement with schooling, their experience of bullying and their sense of safety at school, as Kylie Hillman explains.

Key international surveys released in 2012, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), measured the mathematics and science achievement of 600 000 students in Years 4 and 8, and the reading achievement of 300 000 students in Year 4. They also measured students’ engagement with schooling, experience of bullying and feelings of security at school.

The TIMSS and PIRLS surveys reveal a relationship between students’ sense of security at school and their performance in the mathematics, science and reading assessments. Year 4 students who disagreed with the survey statement that they felt safe scored lower on average in reading, mathematics and science than all other students. Year 8 students who disagreed with the statement also scored lower on average in mathematics and science.

This does not necessarily mean that bullying causes lower performance, or that lower performance places a student at greater risk of being bullied. Other characteristics, such as low socioeconomic background, learning difficulties or having English as a second language, may be contributing factors.

Roughly one-quarter of Australian Year 4 students report being bullied at school at a frequency of ‘about weekly’. Students who are bullied about weekly score lower on average in reading, mathematics and science than those who are bullied less often.

One in 10 Year 8 students are bullied about weekly. Students who are bullied about weekly score lower on average in mathematics and science assessments than those who are bullied less often.

The Australian Council for Educational Research manages the implementation and reporting of TIMSS and PIRLS within Australia for the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement under the direction of the TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College. ■

Read the full report:

Snapshots Issue 5, December 2014, ‘Bullying in Australian schools’ by Kylie Hillman. < www.acer.edu.au/snapshots

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About the author

Kylie Hillman is a Senior Research Fellow in ACER's National Surveys research program. 

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