Skip to content

Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme

Evidence rating
3
Cost rating
1
Review: November 2019

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme (OBPP) is a whole-school approach to bullying prevention, which is designed for students in primary and secondary schools (between the ages of 5 and 18). It involves staff, students, parents, and the community in bullying prevention efforts. All students participate in most aspects of the program, while students who bully others and students who are bullied receive additional individualised interventions.

The OBPP addresses the problem of bullying at four levels: school-wide, classroom, individual, and community.  School-level components include establishing a Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee, which participates in a two-day training to build capacity for programme implementation.  Classroom-level components include defining and enforcing rules against bullying, as well as holding class meetings focused on bullying prevention, peer relations, and pro-social behaviors.  Additionally, there are several individual-level components for dealing with individual bullying incidents. The OBPP encourages staff to intervene when bullying is witnessed, suspected, or reported, and provides training so all staff are well prepared to intervene, follow up, and communicate with parents. On-the-spot and follow-up interventions provide staff with actions to take when they witness bullying first-hand and when bullying is reported or suspected but not observed.  Broader community-level components are designed to develop community support for the OBPP so students receive consistent anti-bullying messages in all areas of their lives.

EIF Programme Assessment

Evidence rating
3

Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme has evidence of a short-term positive impact on child outcomes from at least one rigorous evaluation.

What does the evidence rating mean?

Level 3 indicates evidence of efficacy. This means the programme can be described as evidence-based: it has evidence from at least one rigorously conducted RCT or QED demonstrating a statistically significant positive impact on at least one child outcome.

This programme does not receive a rating of 4 as it has not yet replicated its results in another rigorously conducted study, where at least one study indicates long-term impacts, and at least one uses measures independent of study participants. 

What does the plus mean?

The plus rating indicates that this programme has evidence from at least one level 3 study, along with evidence from other studies rated 2 or better.

Cost rating
1

A rating of 1 indicates that a programme has a low cost to set up and deliver, compared with other interventions reviewed by EIF. This is equivalent to an estimated unit cost of less than £100.

Child outcomes

According to the best available evidence for this programme's impact, it can achieve the following positive outcomes for children:

Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing

based on
Improvement on a two-item scale of well-being and satisfaction with school life (self report)
Immediately after the intervention

Preventing crime, violence and antisocial behaviour

based on
Improvement on the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (self-report)
Immediately after the intervention
based on
Improvement on the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (self-report)
Immediately after the intervention
based on
Improvement on the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (self-report)
Immediately after the intervention
based on
Improvement on the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (self-report)
Immediately after the intervention
based on
Improvement on the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (self-report)
Immediately after the intervention
based on
Improvement on the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (self-report)
Immediately after the intervention

This programme also has evidence of supporting positive outcomes for couples, parents or families that may be relevant to a commissioning decision. Please see About the evidence for more detail.

Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme

Key programme characteristics

Who is it for?

The best available evidence for this programme relates to the following age-groups:

  • Primary school
  • Preadolescents
  • Adolescents

How is it delivered?

The best available evidence for this programme relates to implementation through these delivery models:

  • Individual
  • Group

Where is it delivered?

The best available evidence for this programme relates to its implementation in these settings:

  • Primary school
  • Secondary school

The programme may also be delivered in these settings:

  • Sixth-form or FE college
  • Community centre

How is it targeted?

The best available evidence for this programme relates to its implementation as:

  • Universal

Where has it been implemented?

Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Iceland, Lithuania, Mexico, Norway, Panama, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States

UK provision

This programme has been implemented in the UK.

UK evaluation

This programme’s best evidence does not include evaluation conducted in the UK.

Spotlight sets

EIF includes this programme in the following Spotlight sets:

  • School-based social & emotional learning
Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme

About the programme

What happens during delivery?

How is it delivered?
  • The OBPP is a coordinated collection of research-based components that form a unified whole-school approach to bullying. It is a framework for creating systemic change to build a school climate that discourages bullying and addresses it effectively if it occurs.
  • Most of the program components are expected to have been implemented and in use within a period of 12-18 months.
  • While the OBPP is a school-wide program that is intertwined throughout the school day, one important component is for classroom teachers to hold regular class meetings with students. These are done weekly for primary grades and every other week for secondary grades. Regularly scheduled class meetings last 30-40 minutes for upper primary and secondary students. Meetings for younger students are typically 15-30 minutes long.
What happens during the intervention?

The OBPP addresses the problem of bullying at four levels: school-wide, classroom, individual, and community:

  • School-Level Components. The eight school-level components include: (1) establishing a Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee, which participates in a two-day training to build capacity for programme implementation; (2) holding a one-day training for all staff; (3) convening ongoing staff discussion groups to ensure ongoing learning and engagement; (4) adoption of schoolwide rules against bullying and developmentally appropriate positive and negative consequences for following/not following rules; (5) administration of an anonymous questionnaire for students to assess the nature and prevalence of bullying at the school and to evaluate the program over time; (6) refinement of the school’s supervisory system; (7) holding a school-wide kick-off event to mark the start of the programme; and (8) active engagement of parents.
  • Classroom-Level Components. There are three classroom level components: (1) defining and enforcing rules against bullying; (2) holding class meetings focused on bullying prevention, peer relations, and pro-social behaviors (weekly meetings for primary grades for 15-30 minutes each, meetings every other week for secondary grades of 30-40-minutes); and (3) parental involvement through classroom or grade level meetings held periodically during the year. The OBPP also provides guidance about integrating bullying prevention themes across curriculum areas.
  • Individual-Level Components. There are several individual-level components for dealing with individual bullying incidents. The OBPP encourages staff to intervene when bullying is witnessed, suspected, or reported, and provides training so all staff are well prepared to intervene, follow up, and communicate with parents. On-the-spot and follow-up interventions provide staff with actions to take when they witness bullying first-hand and when bullying is reported or suspected but not observed. Interventions are designed to ensure the cessation of the bullying behavior, to provide support to students who are bullied, and to educate students about behavioral expectations. Individual meetings with student or students who bullied others and separate individual meetings with student who was bullied; one initial meeting after incident with follow up meetings as needed; duration varies based on incident and development level of those involved.
  • Community-Level Components. The community-level components are designed to develop community support for the OBPP so students receive consistent anti-bullying messages in all areas of their lives. Community members are partners in supporting the program and can also be members of the Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee.

What are the implementation requirements?

Who can deliver it?

The whole-school programme is delivered by:

  • The Olweus Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee (BPCC), a representative group from the school that serves as the leadership team for programme implementation at the school. This team then meets at least monthly to plan bullying prevention activities, train and motivate staff, students, and parents, and ensure that efforts continue over time. The committee meets approximately one hour per month. It is recommended that committee members have QCF-6 level qualifications.
  • Classroom teachers, who conduct class meetings to discuss bullying, peer relations, and other social and emotional issues with students.  Additionally, teacher representatives serve on the Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee and all staff are encouraged to use a six step on-the-spot intervention when bullying is witnessed, suspected, or reported.  
  • An administrator, who serves on the Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee. Additionally, the building administrator may be involved in follow-up discussions with students who were bullied, students who bullied others, and parents of students involved.  It is recommended that the administrator has QCF-7/8 level qualifications.
  • A representative from support services personnel should serve on the Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee. Additionally, all staff are encouraged to use a six step on-the-spot intervention when bullying is witnessed, suspected, or reported.  It is recommended that the administrator has QCF-3 level qualifications.

What are the training requirements?
  • Committee members and the administrator should have 12 hours of programme training (followed by 12-18 hours of consultation).  Classroom teachers and all staff should have 6 hours of programme training.  Booster training of practitioners is recommended.

How are the practitioners supervised?

Practitioner supervision is provided through the following processes:

  • It is recommended that practitioners are supervised through technical assistance consultation by one host-agency supervisor (qualified to QCF-6 level), with 40 hours of programme training.  
What are the systems for maintaining fidelity?

Programme fidelity is maintained through the following processes:

  • Training manual
  • Other printed material
  • Other online material
  • Video or DVD training
  • Fidelity monitoring
  • Face-to-face training
Is there a licensing requirement?

There is no licence required to run this programme.

How does it work? (Theory of Change)

How does it work?
  • By a systematic restructuring of the school environment as operationalised in the programme fewer students will bully others and fewer will be bullied. The programme is also expected to generally increase student well-being and improve the social climate of the school. The adults at school are expected to be the key agents of change.
  • The various intervention components are coordinated and expected to strengthen each other. For example, student behavior is expected to ‘improve’ by the use of in-class-discussions and roleplaying of classroom/school rules against bullying combined with closer supervision of student behavior in lunch and free play areas.
  • Children and adolescents have reduced levels of being bullied and bullying other students (percentage bullied and bullying students) and improved attitudes about bullying, as measured with a well validated self-report questionnaire, the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire
  • Schools that have implemented the programme with fidelity and continue to follow the principles of the programme will have a better long-term outcomes (being bullied and bullying others) than schools that have discontinued using the programme after original implementation. Schools with continued use of the programme are also expected to have lower long-term levels on such problems than schools who have never implemented the programme (e.g., the national level of bully/victim problems).
Intended outcomes

Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing
Enhancing school achievement & employment
Preventing crime, violence and antisocial behaviour

Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme

About the evidence

Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme's most rigorous evidence comes from three quasi-experimental studies that were conducted in Norway and the United States.

This programme has evidence from at least one rigorously conducted QED along with evidence from an additional comparison group study.  Consequently, the programme receives a 3+ rating overall.

Study 1

Citation: Pennsylvania Evaluation - Limber et al., 2018; Olweus et al. 2019
Design: Quasi-experimental design (extended age cohort design).
Country: United States
Sample: 70,998 children (between 8 and 17 years old) in 210 schools in 49 counties in central and western Pennsylvania.
Timing: After 2 years of programme implementation; after 3 years of programme implementation (for a subset of schools)
Child outcomes: Reduced reports of being bullied
Reduced reports of bullying others
Other outcomes: None measured
Study rating: 3

Limber, S. P., Olweus, D., Wang, W., Masiello, M., & Breivik, K. (2018). Evaluation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: A large scale study of US students in grades 3–11. Journal of School Psychology, 69,56-72.

Available at
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S00224405183005298575916657956

Olweus, D., Limber, S., & Breivik, K. (2019).  Addressing different forms of bullying: A large scale evaluation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. International Bullying Prevention Journal, 1, 70-84.

Available at
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s42380-019-00009-7

Study design and sample

The first study is a rigorously conducted quasi-experimental study.  The study utilises an extended age-cohort design.  Across 3 cohorts of young people, same-aged students from the same schools were compared across periods in time.  For these cohorts, across grades, outcome data was collected on young people before the programme was implemented - this group acted as a comparison group, and their outcomes were compared to age equivalent cohorts - whose outcome data was collected 2 years later, after these cohorts had been exposed to the intervention and had become the same age as the comparison group.  Data was also collected at a later time point, after the programme had been implemented for approximately 3 years, for a subset of the schools in the sample (92 schools, out of 210).

This design is an attempt to capture naturally occurring groups that are likely to be reasonably similar in terms of the outcome variable and related variables before the intervention is delivered.  By comparing age-equivalent cohorts, the study attempts to control for differences in age or ‘maturation’ threats to internal validity (as there is evidence that bully/victim problems change as a function of age).  

This study was conducted in the United States with a sample of 70,998 children (grades 3-11, so between 8 and 17 years old) in 210 schools in 49 counties in central and western Pennsylvania (59% suburban, 29% rural).

Measures

Bullying and bullying-related outcomes were measured using the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (child self-report)

Findings

This study identified statistically significant positive impact on a number of child outcomes.

This includes reduced reports of being bullied, and reduced reports of bullying others.

Findings at the 3-year timepoint suggest that effects are stronger the longer the programme had been in place.

More Less about study 1

Study 2

Citation: First Bergen Evaluation
Design: Quasi-experimental design (extended age cohort design).
Country: Norway
Sample: 2,500 children from 112 classes in 42 junior and high schools.  The modal ages were 11, 12, 13 and 14 for each of the 4 age/grade cohorts included in the study.
Timing: After 1 year of programme implementation; after 2 years of programme implementation
Child outcomes: Reduced reports of being bullied
Reduced reports of antisocial behaviour
Other outcomes: None measured
Study rating: 3

Olweus, D., & Alsaker, F. D. (1991). Assessing change in a cohort-longitudinal study with hierarchical data. In D. Magnusson, L.R. Bergman, G. Rudinger, & B. Torestad (Eds.), Problems and methods in longitudinal research: Stability and change (pp. 107-132). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Olweus, D. (1992). Bullying among school children: Intervention and prevention. In R. D. Peters, R. J. McMahon, & V. L. Quinsey (Eds.), Aggression and violence throughout the life span (pp.100-125). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Oxford, England: Blackwell.

Olweus, D. (1991). Bully/victim problems among schoolchildren: Basic facts and effects of a school based intervention program. In D. Pepler and K. Rubin (Eds.), The development and treatment of childhood aggression (pp. 411-448). Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.

Olweus, D. (1994). Annotation: Bullying at school: Basic facts and effects of a school based intervention program.  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 1171-1190.

Available at
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1994.tb01229.x

Olweus, D. (1997). Bully/victim problems in school: Facts and intervention. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 12, 495-510.

Available at
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF03172807

Olweus, D., & Kallestad, J.H. (2010). The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: classroom effects at different grade levels.  In K. Osterman (Ed.), Research on physical, verbal and indirect aggression (pp. 115-131). New York: Peter Lang.

Study design and sample

The second study is a rigorously conducted quasi-experimental study.  The study utilises an extended age-cohort design.  Across 4 age/grade cohorts of young people, same-aged students from the same schools were compared across periods in time.  For these cohorts, outcome data was collected on young people before the programme was implemented - this group acted as a comparison group, and their outcomes were compared to age equivalent cohorts - whose outcome data was collected almost a year later, after these cohorts had been exposed to the intervention and had become the same age as the comparison group.  Data was also collected at a later time point, after the programme had been implemented for approximately 2 years.

This design is an attempt to capture naturally occurring groups that are likely to be reasonably similar in terms of the outcome variable and related variables before the intervention is delivered.  By comparing age-equivalent cohorts, the study attempts to control for differences in age or ‘maturation’ threats to internal validity (as there is evidence that bully/victim problems change as a function of age).  

This study was conducted in Bergen, Norway with a sample of 2,500 children from 112 classes in 42 junior and high schools.  The modal ages were 11, 12, 13 and 14 for each of the 4 age/grade cohorts included in the study.

Measures

Bullying and bullying-related outcomes were measured using the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (child self-report)

Findings

This study identified statistically significant positive impact on a number of child outcomes.

This includes reduced reports of being bullied, and reduced reports of antisocial behaviour.

More Less about study 2

Study 3

Citation: New National Initiative
Design: Quasi-experimental design (extended age cohort design).
Country: Norway
Sample: 27,139 children from 225 elementary schools, between 9 and 14 years old.
Timing: After 1 year of programme implementation; 2-8 years after original programme implementation
Child outcomes: Reduced reports of being bullied
Reduced reports of bullying others
Improved well-being & satisfaction with school life.
Other outcomes: None measured
Study rating: 3

Olweus, D. (2004). The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: Design and implementation issues and a new national initiative in Norway (pp. 13-36). In P.K. Smith, D. Pepler, and K. Rigby (Eds.), Bullying in schools: How successful can interventions be?  Cambridge University Press

Olweus, D. (2004b). Bullying at school: Prevalence estimation, a useful evaluation design, and a new national initiative in Norway. Association for Child Psychology and Psychiatry Occasional Papers, 23, 5–17.

Olweus, D. (2005). A useful evaluation design, and effects of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Psychology, Crime & Law, 11, 389-402.

Available at
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10683160500255471

Olweus, D. & Limber, S.P. (2010b).  The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: Implementation and evaluation over two decades. In S. R. Jimerson, S. M. Swearer, & D. L. Espelage (Eds.), Handbook of bullying in schools: An international perspective (pp. 377-401).  New York: Routledge.

Olweus, D., & Limber, S.  (2010a).  Bullying in school: Evaluation and dissemination.

Available at
https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2010-13348-015

Olweus, D., & Limber, S. P. (2019). The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP).  Making an Impact on School Bullying: Interventions and Recommendations, 23.

Olweus, D., Solberg, M., & Breivik, K. (2020).  Long-term school-level effects of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP).  Scandinavian Journal of Psychology.

Available at
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/sjop.12486

Study design and sample

The third study is a rigorously conducted quasi-experimental study.  The study utilises an extended age-cohort design.  Across 6 cohorts of young people, same-aged students from the same schools were compared across periods in time.  For these cohorts, outcome data was collected on young people before the programme was implemented - this group acted as a comparison group, and their outcomes were compared to age equivalent cohorts - whose outcome data was collected almost a year later, after these cohorts had been exposed to the intervention and had become the same age as the comparison group.

This design is an attempt to capture naturally occurring groups that are likely to be reasonably similar in terms of the outcome variable and related variables before the intervention is delivered.  By comparing age-equivalent cohorts, the study attempts to control for differences in age or ‘maturation’ threats to internal validity (as there is evidence that bully/victim problems change as a function of age).  

This study was conducted in Norway with a sample of 27,139 children from 225 schools.  This included children from grades 4-7 (and so between 9 and 14 years old).

Measures

Bullying and bullying-related outcomes were measured using the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (child self-report)

Findings

This study identified statistically significant positive impact on a number of child outcomes.

This includes reduced reports of being bullied, reduced reports of bullying other students, and improved well-being & satisfaction with school life.

Note also that Olweus, Solberg & Breivik 2020, Olweus & Limber 2019, & Olweus, Solberg & Breivik 2018 describes a follow-up of this study, comparing a subset of the schools two to eight years after original implementation.  These schools are organised into treatment group and comparison on the basis of whether they have continued or discontinued use of the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire (where continuation is taken as an indicator that the programme or at least parts of it are being implemented, and discontinuation is taken as an indicator that the programme has in subsequently years been implemented to a lesser extent or not at all).  The study suggests that schools that continued the routines and principles of the programme had markedly reduced bullying compared to schools that did not, and also in comparison to the national average for corresponding age groups.

More Less about study 3

Other studies

The following studies were identified for this programme but did not count towards the programme's overall evidence rating. A programme receives the same rating as its most robust study or studies.

Melton, G. B., Limber, S. P., Cunningham, P., Osgood, D. W., Chambers, J., s, V., . . . Nation, M. (1998). Violence among rural youth. Final report to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Limber, S. P., Nation, M., Tracy, A. J., Melton, G. B., & Flerx, V. (2004). Implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention programme in the southeastern United States. In P, K. Smith, D. Pepler, & K. Rigby (Eds.), Bullying in schools: How successful can interventions be? (pp. 55-79). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Press.

Bauer, N. S., Lozano, P., & Rivara, F. P. (2007). The effectiveness of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in public middle schools: A controlled trial. Journal of Adolescent Health, 40(3), 266-274.

Bowllan, N. M. (2011). Implementation and evaluation of a comprehensive, school-wide bullying prevention program in an urban/suburban middle school. Journal of School Health, 81(4), 167-173.

Schroeder, B. A., Messina, A., Schroeder, D., Good, K., Barto, S., Saylor, J., & Masiello, M. (2011). The implementation of a statewide bullying prevention program: Preliminary findings from the field and the importance of coalitions. Health Promotion Practice. 21 March 2011, epub.

Amundsen, E. J., & Ravndal, E. (2010). Does successful school-based prevention of bullying influence substance use among 13- to 16-year-olds? Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 17(1), 42-54.

Olweus, D. (2005). A useful evaluation design, and effects of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Psychology, Crime & Law, 11, 389-402.

Olweus, D. (1999a). Noen hovedresultater fra Det nye Bergensprosjektet mot mobbing og antisosial atferd. [Some key results from The New Bergen Project against Bullying and Antisocial Behaviour.] Manuskript. HEMILsenteret, Universitetet i Bergen.

O'Moore, A. M., & Minton, S. J. (2005). Evaluation of the effectiveness of an anti-bullying programme in primary schools. Aggressive Behavior, 31, 609-622.

Yaakub, N. F., Haron, F., & Leong, G. C. (2010). Examining the efficacy of the Olweus prevention programme in reducing bullying: The Malaysian experience. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 5. http://www.sciencedirect.com, 595-598

Black, S.A., & Jackson, E. (2007) Using bullying incident density to evaluate the Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme. School Psychology International, 28, 623-638

Pepler, D. J., Craig, W. M., Ziegler, S., & Charach, A. (1994). An evaluation of an anti-bullying intervention in Toronto schools. Canadian Journal of Community, 13, 95-110.

Olweus, D. (2005). New positive results with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in 37 Oslo schools. The HEMIL-Center, University of Bergen.

Limber, S. P., Olweus, D., Massiello, M., Molnar-Main, S., & Moore, D. (2012). Evaluation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in a large scale study in Pennsylvania. Unpublished report.

Pagliocca, P. M., Limber, S. P., & Hashima, P. (2007). Evaluation report for the Chula Vista Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Chula Vista, CA: Chula Vista Police Department.

Eslea, M. (1998). The long-term effectiveness of anti-bullying work in primary schools. Educational Research, 40, 203-218.

Smith, P. K. (1997). Bullying in schools: The UK experience and the Sheffield anti-bullying project. The Irish Journal of Psychology, 18, 191-201.

Whitney, I., & Smith, P. K. (1993). A survey of the nature and extent of bullying in junior/middle and secondary schools. Education Research, 35, 3-25

Published December 2019   |   Last updated April 2021