When Finland fell from the top spot in the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) league tables, many people turned their attention away from the Nordic countries and towards the high-performing Far East. If you were one of them, you probably won't know about KiVa. And as a result, you may be missing out on a way of reducing bullying in your school by up to a third.
You have probably come across this sort of claim before: all new anti-bullying strategies market themselves as the wonder cure for this plague of school life. And yet KiVa is different. For a start, it doesn't deal specifically with the bully-victim relationship. Instead, it takes a whole-school approach.
"We are much more systematic than other programmes and we focus on understanding the group dynamics of bullying," says KiVa founder Christina Salmivalli, professor of psychology at the University of Turku in Finland. "We have found that the worst thing about bullying is bystanders doing nothing. Bystanders contribute 24 per cent to the process of being bullied, whereas the bully only contributes 8 per cent."
A worldwide impact
KiVa teaches that bullying is not simply a matter for the bully and the victim, but something that has an impact on the entire community, with bystanders taking part in the interaction. The programme conveys its message - and offers strategies to tackle the issue - through lectures, discussions, computer games and role-playing exercises.
The course, which includes training for teachers, was offered to all Finnish schools between 2009 and 2011 thanks to government funding. According to research by Salmivalli and others, schools that have run the programme for five years have reported 20-30 per cent reductions in bullying (defined as a student self-reporting that they have bullied or been bullied). Results such as these explain why KiVa is now being used in 90 per cent of Finnish schools, as well as in France, Sweden, Estonia and the US.
Some of the most recent research into KiVa is taking place in Wales, where Professor Judy Hutchings of Bangor University is piloting the programme in 17 schools. Although her final report is not yet ready for publication, she says that initial results suggest that KiVa leads to "significant reductions in reported bullying and victimisation".
"It is so comprehensive," she says. "It has all the different components: lessons, posters, online games, school assemblies, playground vests for supervisors, a parent website and also very specific strategies for use in actual bullying cases."
And KiVa is attracting the attention of researchers from across the world: more than 40 educationalists converged on Turku University in January to discuss the programme. But although there is a lot of praise for the approach, some experts are still to be convinced.
"KiVa is showing great promise both in terms of the randomised controlled trails being run and in the programme being run at Bangor University," says Ian Rivers, head of the School of Sport and Education at Brunel University in London and a worldrenowned expert on bullying who has advised the US government on the subject.
"However, for any intervention to reduce bullying it has to include a long-term commitment from the schools to keep the programme alive across cohorts," he adds. "It has to have longevity and be an integral part of the daily routine of the school, refreshing and reminding pupils and teachers of the need to be ever-vigilant. Is KiVa a programme that schools can run with year in and year out, and how has it been integrated into the daily running of the school?"
Keeping up the good work
According to Salmivalli, this issue is being addressed. "When developing KiVa, we have made concerted efforts to make it a programme that could become part of the ongoing anti-bullying activities in schools, rather than being a `project' that begins at one point in time and stops one or two years later," she says. "It was successfully rolled out in Finland in 2009 and we are continuously collecting data from schools to understand whether the implementation and the effects can be sustained over longer periods of time.
"It seems possible to integrate KiVa in the daily routines of the schools, and what we see in our annual data is that the prevalence of students bullying others, as well as those bullied by others, decreases every year."
The Welsh trials are looking at this area, too, Hutchings adds. "It is for the issue around longevity that we are initially targeting headteachers for training, as there is evidence from other evidence-based programmes that leadership is the key to sustained implementation of a programme," she says. "We should, however, be optimistic, since the lessons and linked activities have enormous variety and are found very easy to deliver by teachers. The majority but not all schools have chosen to continue with the programme."
KiVa is clearly still a work in progress, but it is an idea worth closer examination. The results thus far justify the excitement surrounding it. And although it is unlikely to prove a miracle cure, for schools seeking an innovative way to beat bullying, the KiVa approach may be worth a try.