Bullying: The Risks and Impacts (Part Two)

Published
02 May 2019

The Impact on Academic Success

There are an estimated 45 million bullying incidents each year across all schools in Australia. The impact that this has across student and adult life is difficult to quantify given the increasing number of incidents that go unreported, predominately due to the rise of cyber bullying as discussed in Part One.

The success and independence of Australia’s future generations is built and enhanced within our schools; however with an estimated 910,000 children experiencing varying forms of bullying throughout their schooling, our future generations are undoubtedly and unnecessarily compromised. Regardless of ability and intelligence, it is often found that targets of bullying present as academically troubled, disengaged and experience difficulties forming interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, the adverse economic impact resulting from these outcomes is considerable and must be addressed by the nation as a matter of urgency.

It is recognised that improving the mental and physical health of students is directly correlated with improvements in academic results, with healthy students demonstrating a higher willingness and ability to learn and develop. This indicates that an isolated approach is perhaps not the most effective method of tackling issues associated with the engagement and academic achievement of our students. Instead, it is contended that the focus should be shifted to the interdependence of internal and external variables that impact student learning experiences. Although academic achievement is attained differently for every student through various learning and teaching styles, academic and social success in school is indubitably found through regular attendance and individual confidence, both of which are heavily affected by bullying. The correlation between bullying victimisation and a decrease in school participation is evident, with targeted students being more likely to miss or drop out of school. In 2018, the Apparent Retention Rate for Australian High School students was recorded as below average at 84.5 per cent. With the dropout rate on the rise, it is essential to understand the underlying reasons students disengage from school so that preventative measures can be implemented in order to ensure stronger and better outcomes for students and communities.

However, even if a student experiencing bullying is attending school regularly, their interest in school is likely to be detrimentally impacted and decrease, particularly for those who are experiencing mental health issues as a result (e.g. anxiety when engaging in classroom discussion and activities). The reason for this disengagement is often due to a decline in confidence, social isolation and increased levels of fear of students who have inflicted the bullying. Continual physical or verbal abuse has shown to be severely damaging to one’s confidence and perceived ability to succeed across different areas, whether it be in the classroom, sporting field or in social environments.

Recent findings highlight the links between social isolation and lower academic attainment due to the negative impact that loneliness has on a student’s mental health and satisfaction at school. Developing a sense of belonging as well as social and emotional connectedness to school is therefore critical for academic success, however this can be easily lost in the face of bullying victimisation. In a large-scale study conducted in Australia on the impact that bullying has on academic performance, physical bullying is found to have the most significant impact on academic achievement overall, while girls are reported to be more vulnerable than boys in the face of verbal abuse. Unsurprisingly, victims of bullying are often left feeling less capable than those around them and require constant reassurance, again demonstrating the necessity of social connectedness for academic success.

Economic Impact

The mental health costs associated with bullying were discussed in Part One, although what is seldom referenced are the economic costs that result from bullying, largely as a result of disengagement and a decline in academic achievement. The estimated cost associated with bullying in Australia for each individual school year group is $2.3 billion, calculated while the student is at school and 20 years following school completion. This extraordinary figure is the cost suffered by the individual on a personal level and the shared consequences that health issues and productivity loss have on communities and family members.

For new school starters in 2018, it is estimated that over the course of their schooling years, they will accumulate costs reaching almost $600 million as a consequence of bullying outcomes. Productivity loss, mental and physical care costs, police involvement and the cost of time that senior staff spend addressing bullying issues are all factors that contribute to this enormous figure. In order to address these factors and develop appropriate prevention strategies, the economic cost and impacts associated with bullying in Australia must be understood by schools and their communities.

Short term economic costs are experienced when carers for students must stay at home due to non-attendance as a result of suspension (of the perpetrators), or anxiety towards attending school (victims). Longer term economic consequences of bullying involve the impact that decreased educational attainment has on future income potential. Academic performance is largely impeded as a result of missing school days, and is evidenced by findings that students who are bullied at school earn an average of $7,000 less per year than those who are not. Across the 20 years following school completion, this results in an overall loss of over $500 million for a single cohort across Australia .

Effective Policies

An individual’s experience at school is influenced not only by their engagement and the quality of teaching, but also by the school's policies and practices. While schools do not solely carry the duty in relation to a student’s school experience, it is fair to say that a student’s success and independence is largely developed during their time at school. For this reason, the policies and practices governing a school must be clear, fair, and contribute to student development. Policies affecting students are powerful levers that help set the tone and direct behaviour in a school, and it is essential that staff are made aware of, and trained on, the bullying policies that are put in place to ensure safe and supportive practices.

In an ideal world, every school will have a safe, respectful and positive learning environment free from bullying and discrimination so that student wellbeing and academic outcomes are maximised. If schools have effective policies and provide education on the impacts of bullying, the consequences of bullying on dropout rates and academic decline will undoubtedly be reduced. If not, the impact on a student’s career success, earnings and quality of life will be compromised and will continue to contribute to the growing mental health crisis across the nation.

Click here to read Part One of this series. 

Jenna McHugh

Originally from the east coast of Victoria, Jenna works in the education team as an Associate in the Sydney office. She spent six years in Melbourne completing a Bachelor of Laws and Psychology and wanted to combine her passion for educational equality with the law.