School crime, bullying, and violence are major concerns and pose an increasing challenge for European Union (EU) authorities. School violence encompasses a range of actions and threats, including verbal, physical, sexual and psychological violence; social exclusion; violence relating to property; violence relating to theft; threat; insults; and rumor spreading.
Considering that violence is culturally and historically determined, a 1999 report indicated that the diversity of European cultures made it difficult to define school violence in a uniform manner and to make valid comparisons between different countries’ rates of school violence. Hence, it was difficult to ascertain whether school violence was on the increase in this region. Therefore, to develop a better understanding of school violence in Europe, and to devise more effective prevention and intervention mechanisms, there is a need to accept a multiplicity of definitions of school violence and to accommodate a range of cultural perspectives.
Reported incidence of school violence varies widely across EU member states. In Denmark, approximately 7% of pupils became victims of violence at least once during the previous month, according to the 1999 survey. Countries such as Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, and Norway reported a 15% rate of violence among pupils, while Ireland and Spain were among countries reporting rates of violence in schools ranging from 15% to 30%. At the other end of the scale, 65% and 75% of pupils in Romania and Hungary, respectively, reported being victims of school violence.
An important and interesting result from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS), which included survey data from 37 countries, highlighted the fact that school violence rates were not related to general crime rates. TIMMS data indicated that rates of violence in school were related to certain social indicators such as absolute deprivation and age distribution, but did not reflect other indicators such as income inequality or social integration. Furthermore, school violence rates were related to school-system variables and the effect of these variables was independent of social variables.
Overall, EU data and reports on school bullying indicate that:
- School violence is an international phenomenon and not limited to one country.
- Bullying is a major component of school violence throughout Europe, yet bullying is not a well-understood phenomenon in this region.
- For victims, occurrence of bullying decreases as the age of pupils increases; for offenders, rates of bullying among boys show a marked increase with age, and are relatively stable for girls.
- Verbal bullying is the most frequent type of bullying.
- Boys are more often victims of physical harassment and bullying, whereas girls are more often victims of social exclusion.
- At least 5% of pupils in primary and secondary schools are bullied weekly or more often.
- Bullying by means of cell phones is increasing in Europe, where at least 15% of pupils using mobile phones experience bullying.
- Overall, various forms of bullying seem to be increasing, including school bullying, cell phone bullying, and cyberbullying.
EU countries have initiated a number of projects and programs to address the problem of school violence and its various forms. In fact, subsequent to the Council of Europe meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on September 22, 1997, and following the publication of the Council of Ministers’ conclusions on safety in schools, which called on the European Commission and its member states to enhance communication and cooperation so as to address problems and questions in relation to school safety and violence, the European Commission launched a two-year (1998-2000) “Violence in Schools” initiative that aimed to support a range of actions and interventions in order to prevent and tackle violence. These actions and interventions included a series of pilot projects and networks, in-service training, and the exchange of information and best practices approaches.
This initiative was followed by one of the most significant projects funded by the European Commission in relation to tackling school violence–namely, the “Connect” project. This program, which was subtitled “Tackling Violence in Schools on a European-Wide Basis,” produced country reports in 2001 that aimed to provide a cross-sectional view of school violence in the 15 EU member states and Iceland and Norway. It highlighted important challenges in tackling school violence in the region, including the lack of comparable data in different European countries. In particular, the project’s findings included the following points:
- Differences in the way violence was defined in various European states did not allow valid comparison between member states, or cumulative data aggregation at the European level.
- Large differences were noted between officially reported and/or documented cases of violence and data obtained from self-report questionnaires and victim surveys.
- The nature of data from different member states (e.g., structured interviews, victim surveys, self-report questionnaires, teachers’ reports) and an overall lack of systematic data hampered analysis of the problem.
- A range of specific measures and targeted programs had been implemented, including individual work with at-risk pupils in some of the member states, such as Austria, Finland, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.
- A number of countries (e.g., Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxemburg, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) had established legal frameworks and requirements to prevent violence and bullying in school premises. However, without appropriate combination with other initiatives, such policies could prove ineffective.
- A number of other initiatives had been launched to that point, including “preventive approaches to promote pupil responsibility and a positive school climate,” security measures (e.g., help lines, use of alarm bracelets, and video surveillance), whole-school approaches, and teacher training.
- Overall, there was a lack of systematic evaluation of the various initiatives addressing school violence.
Following this project, the Council of Europe sponsored similar themes in a broader initiative (2002-2004), entitled “Response to Violence in Everyday Life in a Democratic Society.” However, in their final declaration at a conference in Strasbourg (December 2-4, 2002), Council members stated that several tragic incidents at schools in Dunblane, Scotland; Erfurt, Germany; Barcelona, Spain; and Paris, France, had received extensive media coverage and had become widely known through media reporting; they noted that in reality the extent of such problems was much more limited and such incidents were relatively rare and rather isolated. The Council concluded that although it was important not to exaggerate the dimension of the problem, these tragic events were reflective of an increasing number of low-level violent incidents in schools and communities. Furthermore, the Council declaration pointed out that circumstances differed significantly between and within the context of different member states (in terms of the forms, contexts, and causes of school violence); thus there was a general need to devise and implement local and interinstitutional strategies to raise awareness, help prevention, and provide response to incidents of violence.
In 2005, the Council of Europe launched an action program entitled “Children and Violence,” whose main objective was to assist with the identification and implementation of consistent policies to combat youth and school crime and violence. This project was integrated within the larger Council of Europe program “Building a Europe for and with Children,” which itself was a three-year program with two important stands–namely, promoting children’s rights and protecting them from all forms of violence. This initiative came in response to the Council’s mandate to guarantee an integrated approach to promoting children’s rights and well-being. The key concepts and central methodologies in this program were transversality, an integrated approach, partnerships, and communication. In fulfilling its objectives, the program relied on both the Council of Europe and its relevant institutions as well as outside partners to achieve sustainable change.
The program’s strategy was subsequently reassessed and adopted for the years 2009-2011 by the Council of Ministers in November 2008.
- Building a Europe for and with Children: http://www.coe.int/t/dg3/children/
- Moore, K., Jones, N., & Broadbent, E. (2008). School violence in OECD countries. United Kingdom: Plan Limited.
- Ruxton, S. (2005). What about us? Children’s rights in the European Union. Belgium: European Children’s Network.
- Siegel, L., & Welsh, B. (2008). Juvenile delinquency: Theory, practice and law. Florence, Kentucky: Wadsworth.
- Smith, P. K. (Ed.). (2003). Violence in schools: The response in Europe. London: Routledge Falmer.
- Violence in Schools Training Action (VISTA): http://www.vista-europe.org/index.php