School Programs - What Works, What Doesn’t

My ideas are already going on but there is one thing when they kick the kids out of school, it does not always bother them because maybe they don’t like school and maybe their parents don’t do anything about it.
Grade 6 student


The major evaluation studies of school-based programs are reviewed in the CPHA Safe School Study Research Report.1 Readers interested in the program components, methods, design, and outcomes of these studies should refer to this document. We have grouped interventions into two categories: school/classroom/environmental change strategies; and individual change strategies.

School/Classroom/Environmental Change Strategies

What Works

  • Strong teacher/adult leadership, student-teacher bonding
  • Clear, consistent and fair behavioural norms.
  • Cognitive-behavioural instruction (gender-responsive and culturally competent).2
  • Ongoing teacher/administrator training (teachers are most likely to respond to physical bullying compared to verbal and social).
  • Effective supervision and playground design
  • Restorative Justice interventions which prioritize victim safety and are led by trained facilitators.3
  • Parent training.4
  • Involves multiple stakeholders
  • Involves youth in program development and delivery
  • Targets multiple risk and protective factors
  • Involves age-appropriate materials, etc.
  • Focuses on early, long-term intervention
  • Involves a targeted approach (gender-specific, culturally sensitive, etc.)

What Doesn’t Work

  • Inflexible zero tolerance policies which don’t consider intensity, longevity, context (special needs, minority students are disproportionately excluded).5
  • Suspension/expulsion of students without school re-entry plan or daytime structure (academic support and counselling). In-school suspensions are best way to ensure participation in academic, therapeutic programming. This strategy requires additional school resources.
  • Segregation of students with emotional/behavioural difficulties.6
  • Sports, arts, or recreational activities that exclude those who want to participate

Individual Change Strategies

What Works

  • Cognitive-behavioural approach (see section 3. Foundations for Standards).
  • Inclusion of students in out-of-class activities to increase sense of belonging and skills.
  • Closely supervised peer intervention strategies (peer counseling and mediation). Girls are most likely to participate and intervene to support victims. Boys are unlikely to participate in these strategies without recruitment and support.7

What Doesn’t Work

  • Unstructured counselling (individual and group).
  • Grouping too many aggressive students together (can increase anti-social behaviour).8
  • Exclusion of parent/guardian from intervention. Unstructured recreation/arts/leisure activities.
  • Classroom anti-bullying instruction without cognitive-behavioural component.

Totten, Quigley and Morgan, 2004.
Totten, Caputo and Kelly, 2003.
Kazdin, 1997.
Totten and Quigley, 2002; Kingery, 2000; Shannon and McCall, 2000.
Lee and Smith, 1993; Frempong and Willms, 2002; Willms, 2000.
Cowie and Olafsson, 2000
Dishion, McCord and Poulin, 1999; Poulin et al, 2001; Welsh, 2000.