New analysis of school anti-bullying programs has concluded programs that encourage student bystanders to intervene may inadvertently harm the children they are aimed at protecting.

Lead author and psychologist Dr Karyn Healy from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute’s Child and Youth Mental Health Group reviewed leading international research on the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs over the past decade.

She said global research showed that bullying prevention programs overall result in about a 20 per cent reduction in bullying in schools and a 15 per cent drop in victimisation.

However, in secondary schools the average benefit was zero.

“Unfortunately, this means that programs in high schools are just as likely to make bullying worse as they are to reduce bullying,” Dr Healy said.

Dr Healy said research showed the most effective anti-bullying programs focus on improving behaviour management, improved playground supervision, and parent involvement.

“However a lot of current programs focus on involving peer bystanders to get involved in bullying, which has not been shown to reduce bullying,” she said.

“A summary study showed that, overall, programs that encourages uninvolved bystanders to get involved was associated with significant increases in victimisation,” she said.

“Having lots of peers involved makes the situation more public, which can be damaging to the social reputation of victims.

“Having a trained bystander step in also prevents the victim from handling a situation themselves, and may make them look weak in the eyes of the bully.

Bullying in schools is a widespread problem with the Make Bullying History Foundation estimating 53 per cent of Australian students, or 2.3 million children and teenagers, fall victim to it each year.

Of those, about 20 per cent are harassed weekly.

Half of all schoolyard abuse is verbal and about 20 per cent is physical.

In many cases it goes unreported with one in seven students not speaking to anyone about the bullying they have received.

Originally published as Standing up to mate’s bully makes victim look weak: Research

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