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Is a 'snitch' culture skewing your bullying data?

Students may be afraid to expose bullying through fear of a 'snitch'' label causing social isolation, says this academic

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Students may be afraid to expose bullying through fear of a 'snitch'' label causing social isolation, says this academic

Is your data on bullying actually painting a true picture of how much bullying goes on in your school? Luke Roberts, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, doesn’t think so. 

Writing in the 29 June issue of Tes, he explains that focus group research with students across the country has suggested that a "snitch" culture in schools is likely to be skewing the numbers. 

“We cannot underestimate the impact a 'snitch' culture has on how we manage behaviour, and specifically bullying, in schools,” he explains. “One of the things that I naively used to think was that the concern around being a 'snitch' was the fear of retaliation, of pupils telling a teacher and then being further bullied for being a ‘snitch’. However, although this was an issue, the biggest worry that pupils shared in the focus groups was that by telling adults, their peers would no longer trust them. The consequence of this would be social isolation from the friendship group. In short, that it would make their situation worse, not better.”

Bullying in schools

Rogers argues that schools may have more of a bullying problem than they think, as a result. 

“A school using zero tolerance may see a lack of reporting as proof that zero tolerance is working. There does need to be a clear message that bullying is unacceptable in the school community, but using zero tolerance is not an effective response and may strengthen the ‘snitch’ culture in the school.”

He argues that a restorative approach to behaviour management – and bullying in particular – may counter the snitch culture. 

Anti-bullying strategies

“My interviews in schools that were embedding restorative approaches as part of a community ethos seemed to suggest they were minimising the effects of the snitch culture. Importantly, pupils felt their voice was being heard from all sides of those involved in the bullying situation. For pupils, being able to discuss and be listened to by staff seems to change the perception of being a ‘snitch’. This may be because the shift is away from blame towards repairing relationships for those involved.  Alternatively, the impact of restorative approaches could also help to focus social norms away from negative perceptions towards stories about emotions and discussing solutions, which resulted in new ways forward. “

Luke Roberts is a University of Cambridge PhD Candidate. You can hear him interviewed about his research into bullying in schools on the Tes Podagogy podcast:

This is an edited version of an article in the 29 June edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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