Our report this week suggesting that as many as three-quarters of pupils in any one school may be involved in bullying is disturbing indeed. Such a finding will be difficult to accept in many quarters.
The usual caveats will be thrown at it: the research was a small-scale study and the figure is inflated by the notion that a "bystander" who witnesses bullying and does nothing about it is, in effect, complicit. The encouragement to report bullying, and the self-definition of what it is, will further reinforce its presence. A bit like racist abuse, bullying is what the victim believes it is.
The victim and perpetrator, we are now told, must include the bystander. A good deal more extensive research will be required before that concept becomes accepted currency (although it is not difficult to believe that some who pass by on the other side, particularly girls, are likely to be traumatised by the experience).
At the very least, we need to be alert to the possibility. In an age when cyberbullying has taken off, whether via texting or social networking websites, it should not be greatly surprising if bullying has also taken off. A recent study for Ofsted in England found that four out of 10 schoolchildren are victimised by cyberbullies. If "terrestrial" bullying is added, we might not be far off the 75 per cent figure.
Many schools have now matured to the point where they are taking the anti-bullying message to all pupils, and not confining it to just victims and bullies. Those who have campaigned long and hard to reach this position might hope to have made significant inroads into the problem by now. The contribution of passive "bystanders" in exacerbating the problem, if valid, suggests that may be some way off.