Irish children are bullied less than most others around the world, despite at least one in the average class being victimised every week.
The findings emerge from an international study that shows just under three-quarters of fourth-class pupils here were almost never bullied. They did not experience four out of eight bullying behaviours asked about, and suffered from the others just a few times a year.
However, 5% of Irish children were bullied weekly, meaning they were victims of half the kind of behaviours mentioned once or twice a month, and the rest a few times a year.
The bullying mentioned ranged from being called names to physical attacks like hitting or kicking. Other behaviours listed in the questionnaire were: being left out of games or activities; having lies told about them; having things stolen; being threatened; made to do things they did not want to; and having embarrassing information shared.
The figures are based on the responses of more than 4,800 children at almost 150 Irish primary schools that took part in the Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS) tests in April 2016. The 74% who were almost never bullied compares very well to an international average of 57% of children across 50 countries where the same questionnaires were completed.
The pupils were asked how often in the present school year they had been the subject of different types of behaviour by other children from their schools, including by texting or online. The figures mean that at least one pupil in the average class of 20 pupils or more is very regularly bullied by others from their school. However, that is significantly less than the international average of 14%, or one-in-seven. It also compares favourably to 11% of pupils in Northern Ireland being bullied weekly, and 15% in English schools.
Despite the relatively low levels of persistent bullying, the possible impacts are evident in the fact that those who are bullied about weekly scored 49 points lower on average than those who are almost never bullied. That is 10 points more than the difference internationally between those bullied least and most often, with only 11 other countries showing a wider gap. In most other countries the reading score differences were between 20 and 40 points.
Only children in Kazakhstan and Finland were found to be bullied less than those in Ireland, with 77% and 75% of their pupils, respectively, being almost never victims. By contrast, 42% of South African pupils and nearly one-third in Bahrain were bullied ‘about weekly’.
In a separate questionnaire distributed during the PIRLS reading tests process, principals were asked about discipline issues. The responses from Irish principals suggest our primary schools are among the best-disciplined.
With 83% categorised as having hardly any problems, it places Ireland sixth-highest for discipline. Across all 50 countries, an average of 62% of schools was in the same category.
Schools were ranked based on answers by principals to questions about the degree to which issues like absenteeism, disturbances in class, profanity, vandalism, theft, fighting, and intimidation or verbal abuse of other students or staff, were a problem among their fourth-class pupils. Another 15% of Irish primary schools were found to have minor problems, and just 2% had moderate to severe problems.