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Durban - The chances of being regularly bullied are higher for impoverished children, the HSRC says.

This is one of the “worrying trends” to emerge from an analysis of Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss) data by the HSRC.

International studies have revealed that connections between status and bullying are subtle and it is more than just a question of who has a smartphone or designer shoes.

The chances of being regularly bullied at South African schools are highest among boys and girls at no-fee schools.

However, one fifth of pupils of low socio-economic status who attend independent schools are bullied weekly.

“This implies that irrespective of whether resource-rich or resource-poor schools are considered, the most vulnerable learners within a school appear to be those who arrive at school with the least private support relative to their peers.

“This implies that status categories from outside of school are recycled within schools, leaving the most disadvantaged children consistently worse off.”

HSRC researcher Linda Zuze said that exactly why the most socially vulnerable children were picked on most needed further investigation. She said international studies had found similar links between status and bullying, to suggest that the connection was far more subtle than just “who has an iPhone or the latest designer shoes”.

“It could also be that the kids that are socio-economically worse off compared to their peers tend to feel more insecure and that this may increase their chances of being harassed,” Zuze said.

“What our research does seem to suggest is that kids from all kinds of backgrounds compare each other and that these comparisons feed into already vicious cycles of violence.

“Schools need to work harder to ensure that an ethos of tolerance and respect is prioritised and that the most vulnerable kids at school are protected from acts of violence.”

The HSRC also compared the 2011 Timss data with the provincial results from the 2012 National School Violence Survey, and found that in KwaZulu-Natal at least one third of pupils were victims of weekly bullying.

Generally, provinces where the threat of crime to pupils was high also had high concentrations of bullying at schools.

However, the Western Cape was an exception.

The HSRC said this raised serious questions about practical measures that could be used to improve the safety of schools in communities where gang violence and crime were widespread, and how to prevent community tension from filtering into schools.

Research findings

* School violence is on the increase around the world. Bullying, homophobic bullying, sexual harassment and cyberbullying are all safety concerns.

* There is a clear link between the prevalence of school-related violence and high crime levels in communities.

* Compared with public schools, independent schools are somewhat safer, but even in these schools one in five pupils said they were being bullied weekly.

What the HSRC argues people can do to develop and maintain safe schools:

* Monitor the nature and frequency of bullying at schools, and identify hot spots.

* School leaders and teachers should set the tone for a disciplined and safe school environment.

* Monitor the implementation of the National School Safety Framework at schools. Principals, teachers, governing bodies and pupils must be aware of how threats of violence should be treated.

The Mercury