On the playground

A whole-school approach to preventing bullying behaviour on the playground and other non-classroom environments.

On the playground

An effective approach requires attention to the whole-school environment.

Areas such as the playground, hallways, the canteen and toilets are less structured environments than classrooms and usually have lower levels of teacher supervision. As a result bullying behaviour is more likely to occur in these areas.

The way spaces are organised and used can either encourage or discourage positive student behaviour and interactions.

Having clear expectations for student behaviour and planning for areas around the school to be well supervised can also minimise the likelihood of bullying behaviour.

It is important to consider whether there are areas in the school where bullying is more likely to occur. Teachers and students working together to identify such areas and planning together to address any issues helps to build a good school culture and positive school climate.

All school community members should have the opportunity to identify bullying issues and provide input into how they can be effectively addressed. More information can be found in the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation's  (CESE) literature review, Anti-bullying interventions in schools - what works? (PDF 4741.34KB).

Steps to create safe environments

Consider the following steps in developing safer non-classroom environments.

Identify what is currently happening

Use data already available in the school to identify patterns of problem behaviours, such as bullying, and the locations where these behaviours occur. This could include incident reports, behaviour referrals, teacher observations and anecdotal accounts.

Staff and student surveys can also be used to provide information about perceptions of school climate, safety, bullying behaviours and location ‘hot spots’. See Mapping bullying behaviour below, to see how students can contribute.

In some cases, anonymous surveys may provide more accurate information.

Identify contributing factors

Identify factors that may be contributing to problem behaviours such as the physical structure of buildings making supervision difficult, lack of appropriate activities and equipment, staff not actively supervising areas, too many students in one particular area or unclear boundaries.

Consider improvements

Which physical factors can be modified?

Making changes to the physical environment can make areas safer for students. For example, consider:

  • altering the boundaries of areas to improve safety and supervision
  • increasing staff on duty in areas identified as problematic
  • staff moving around identified ‘hot spots’ and engaging with students (such as speaking with students, addressing inappropriate behaviour quickly)
  • increasing equipment, games or activities available for students
  • providing students with more supported activities at recess and lunchtime (such as supervised games, access to the library or organised activities).

Revise the rules and expectations

Collaborate with staff, students and parents to revisit rules and expectations of student behaviour in the playground. Rules and expectations need to be clearly defined and communicated widely. Students need to be explicitly taught expected behaviours including routines such as transitioning between different areas of the school, noise levels, lining up before entering classes and accessing and using playground equipment.

Display reminders of expected behaviours in all areas (such as the playground, hallways, canteen, toilets and classroom areas).

Actively support and teach students the skills to keep themselves and others safe.

Teach students strategies

Teach students strategies to use if they feel safe to try to stop the bullying. Also teach students why and when it is best to walk away and get help.

For more information about strategies students can use, visit Bullying. No Way!.

Teach students when and how to report bullying. It is important that students are taught how to seek help and what they can expect from the school when they ask for help.

Support individual students

If a student is being bullied or is bullying others, the school should have clear and consistent processes of support such as:

  • Provide safe and highly supervised areas during school breaks for children who feel vulnerable (such as the library, specific areas of the playground, organised activities).
  • Refer students to the school learning and support team or wellbeing team, where appropriate.
  • Use teaching and learning programs to develop students communication, social, resilience, assertiveness and coping skills.
  • Use buddy systems to increase social connections and friendships.
  • Increase supervision of students at particular times or in particular places.
  • Apply evidence based, responsive approaches such as direct sanctions, restorative practices, mediation, support group method, method of shared concern.

Active supervision strategies in out of classroom areas

All school staff have a duty of care to take reasonable measures to protect students from injury or harm. Teachers being observant and responsive in all areas of the school help to maintain a positive school climate. Students are less likely to engage in inappropriate behaviour if they can see that staff are vigilant in monitoring the physical environment, address inappropriate behaviour, and take action when required.

Staff can help organise and supervise games during breaks and praise prosocial, inclusive behaviour. Providing a range of games or activities will help ensure that students with different needs and skills can join in.

School leaders should regularly engage staff in conversations about their responsibility to provide active supervision in the playground, monitor ‘hot spots’ of student bullying and interact with students. This includes:

  • Be visible and responsive to situations in the playground.
  • Engage in positive interactions with students.
  • Constantly scan and proactively intervene to avoid potential problems.
  • Remind students about expectations, rules and responsibilities.
  • Manage inappropriate behaviour quickly and consistently.
  • Ensure the correct use of playground equipment.
  • Encourage a clean, safe environment.
  • Implement the anti-bullying policy consistently.

Monitor and review

Regularly collect behaviour data, such as the number of reports to teachers, to evaluate the effectiveness of the whole-school organisational procedures for the playground and respond quickly to identified concerns. Also look for opportunities to celebrate good student behaviour.

Mapping bullying behaviour

To identify locations where students may be bullied, walk around the playground with the class or a small group of students. Each time students get to an area where bullying may happen, they should say ‘stop’. Students can record the information on a school map as they walk around.

Return to the classroom and have students work in groups of four to discuss the findings. Ask students:

  • What is it about the areas we identified that make us feel unsafe?
  • What are some ideas on improving these areas?

Have students look at their maps of the school and put a circle around the areas they feel the safest and have the most fun. Do they have different places that feel safe? Why?

Have students also look at their maps of the school and put a circle around the areas where they feel least safe and tend to avoid. Why do they feel less safe in these areas?

Use this information as a basis to consider improvements to school practices, with the input of students.

Some of this content has been adapted and reproduced with permission from Bullying. No Way!

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