The power of data to change school cultures

This blog was written by Elizabeth Bowles, Programme Head at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, on how schools can use data to inform strategies to address prejudice-based bullying before it escalates.

Last November, we were proud to partner with the Anti-Bullying Alliance as part of Anti-Bullying week. Through our animation, we highlighted the scale of prejudice-based bullying (bullying someone because of their identity, such as their race, disability or religion) and the impact that bullying can have on people’s wellbeing.

The startling thing for me was how research shows that certain groups are far more likely to be bullied than others. Nearly half of LGBT+ pupils are bullied and 75 per cent of students with Autism and Asperger’s say they have been bulled compared with 50 per cent of students with no disability.

It was especially disheartening to see the impact that bullying can have on young people: it can affect their studies and future aspirations, lead them to skip classes, cause social anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide. Worryingly, the effects of bullying can continue long into adulthood, hugely impacting on people’s mental and physical health and overall wellbeing.

One of the key aspects of preventing bullying and minimising these negative impacts is to have a good understanding of who is being bullied. By gathering this information, schools can better understand what issues or trends are emerging that need to be addressed head on. This is why the Equality and Human Rights Commission invited schools across Britain to tell us how they gather equality information and use it to inform their anti-bullying strategies. After all, governments across England, Scotland and Wales expect action from schools on tackling bullying.

What we learnt is that the most effective schools have a variety of ways to gather and use data to inform a range of innovative strategies to address low level bad behaviour and bullying before it escalates.  But each school approach has a few common elements. This includes an acknowledgement that bullying takes place in every school and that they have a duty to proactively find out who is being bullied and why.

In this short film, head teachers share their learnings and tips for other schools who might be considering how they can enhance their anti-bullying strategy. You can also  read about how school leaders have tackled particular bullying challenges in their own schools in our eight online case studies.

Schools describe the ways they:

  • use surveys to gain a snapshot of the issues and spot emerging concerns amongst pupils and parents so these can be nipped in the bud early on.
  • carry out audits in order to assess the knowledge and confidence of staff in handling prejudice-based bullying, especially with the growth of cyber based bullying.
  • develop pupils as peer mentors to help classmates report incidents to them instead of the teacher and to flag bullying “hot spots”.
  • want their teachers to feel supported in dealing with issues and use quick reporting methods to encourage reporting.
  • ensure that the data is reviewed and acted upon so everyone knows the importance and worth of reporting bullying.

The rewards for schools of capturing and reviewing data on prejudice-based bullying are significant. Teachers have told us that while recording data may at first appear to be an administrative burden, it has saved them time because they have not had to deal with much bigger issues once they escalate. Surveys have highlighted issues that schools were unaware of, such as the extent of sexual harassment experienced by girls, and this has enabled them to focus on strategies that both educate and empower students. Some schools have told us that the data shines a light on other issues, including the reasons behind poorer grades and class absences.

Visit and search ‘bullying’ for more help and advice.