Violence is taken to mean aggressive behaviour that is intended to cause physical or emotional harm to others. Usually this is directed by an individual or group of pupils towards another pupil or group. Occasionally it can be ‘self harm'. Psychologists have made the distinction between ‘instrumental' violence and ‘hostile' violence. The former seeks to secure a particular goal (for instance, a pupil may behave aggressively in order to deflect a teacher away from a failure to understand something being taught). The latter comprises aggression which is intended solely to inflict harm or pain. It is often difficult for teachers to distinguish between the two. Physical bullying is a good example of violent behaviour.

Violent behaviour is on the spectrum of learning behaviours. When applied in school it is often irrelevant to try to determine what is and what is not violent behaviour. E.g. how much harm must be caused for a behaviour to become violent. When addressing the issue it is the effects of violence which cause concern. Consequently many commentators follow the advice of Smith (1998) and employ the concept of "Convivençia"  a Spanish word with no literal English translation but a sense close to "Harmony" - and define Violence as that which threatens or reduces Convivençia in a schools




Violent behaviour by pupils in school is a tremendously emotive but recurring topic. It appears frequently as a news item on TV news programmes and in newspapers across the world. In particular outbreaks of extreme violence including killings and assaults or usually on an individual case basis the terrors and misery induced by bullying.

Like more general, less severe forms of behaviour, violence has many causes, which often overlap. One of the most popular and well-researched explanations concerns the ‘biopsychosocial' perspective. This views the underpinning causes to be male biology (for example, neuro-chemistry), male socialisation (masculinity, dominance and power), school failure, and such related factors as gang membership, alcohol or substance abuse and punitive parenting.

There has been a well-documented public fear (some commentators have referred to a ‘moral panic') concerning a perceived rise in levels of violence in schools. History suggests that such fears will always be present - the literature on ‘school riots' (see Adams, 1992) is illustrative of such concerns. Yet there is little substantive evidence in the research literature to suggest that schools are more violent now than, say, 50 or 100 years ago. Smith (2003) reports that there is no consistent pattern across Europe with some countries experiencing an apparent rise and others a fall with no change in many countries.

There is some evidence to suggest that while general levels of violence remain fairly constant the way violence is expressed changes over time -e.g. an increase in cyber bullying or copycat violent behaviours such as "happy slapping" where fights are videoed on mobile phones.

Much research and programme development has taken place across the world and given the multi-cultural nature of European countries there is much to be gained by taking account of international work in this area and to promote the exchange of policies strategies and training programmes across Europe. UNICEF are particularly active in this field.

In Autumn 2006 the UN study on violence against children was published.

In relation to violence reduction in schools it states:

"Bearing in mind that all children must be able to learn free from violence, that schools should be safe and child friendly and curricula should be rights based, and also that schools provide an environment in which attitudes that condone violence can be changed and non-violent values and behaviour learned, I recommend that States:

  • 1. Encourage schools to adopt and implement codes of conduct applicable to all staff and pupils that confront all forms of violence, taking into account gender-based stereotypes and behaviour and other forms of discrimination;
  • 2. Ensure that school principals and teachers use non-violent teaching and learning strategies and adopt classroom management and disciplinary measures that are not based on fear, threats, humiliation or physical force;
  • 3. Prevent and reduce violence in schools through specific programmes which address the whole school environment including through encouraging the building of skills such as non-violent approaches to conflict resolution, implementing anti-bullying policies and promoting respect for all members of the school community;
  • 4. Ensure that curricula, teaching processes and other practices are in full conformity with the provisions and principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, free from references actively or passively promoting violence and discrimination in any of its manifestations."

Current government policy for schools provides both guidance on ‘safer schools' as well as information for teachers on appropriate forms of restraint  


Implications for Teaching:


In addressing the issue and creating Convivençia teachers are well advised NOT to employ awareness raising campaigns which have been shown to be positively detrimental if done without the accompanying whole school action to address the causes of violence. For example anti-bullying weeks may raise awareness amongst pupils prone to identify with the anti-hero and alert them to the possibility of becoming a bully to satisfy their own social and emotional dysfunction.

The Council of Europe training pack on violence reduction in schools (Gittins 2008) advises that there are 5 elements to a successful whole school approach to violence reduction and the creation of Convivençia

  • 1. Carry out a school self-review of the level and nature of violence in an institution
  • 2. Implement an action plan based on the Self Review with
  • 3. Train staff in how to establish a school climate of Convivençia free from violence
  • 4. Train staff in how to respond to violence in ways that prevent a recurrence
  • 5. Include training for parents and other members of the local community

Many schools are unaware of the levels location and nature of violence experienced by their pupils and a self review which involves them as key witnesses and participants not only helps develop a more accurate picture on which to base an action plan, it also starts to engage the whole school community in the issues

A whole school approach to address causes will offer opportunities for relationship building along the lines of the  behaviour for learning  model.

Trainee and newly qualified  teachers should be aware of what the school's policy states regarding managing aggressive behaviour this should be available as part of the handbook for teaching staff, and built into each school's behaviour policy. But it will pay long term dividends for all teachers to develop proactive approaches. These include developing the skills to identify individual ‘triggers' for aggressive behaviour, techniques for de-fusing problem situations, being aware of one's own body language and ‘signals', and identifying a ‘contingency plan', which you can use if a serious incident takes place.


Indicative Reading


Gittins. C. (2008) The Council of Europe Training Pack on Violence Reduction in Schools  Download from the Baheviour4Learning site

The training Pack is designed for cascade training using four resources:

  1. The Council of Europe Handbook; ‘Violence Reduction - How to Make a Difference' which contains information and a range of practical activities in how to organise a whole school programme to address violence.
  2. The Facilitator Manual for violence reduction in schools, which contains a training programme for Facilitators in how to train senior school staff in the use of the Handbook to implement a whole school approach to violence reduction
  3. The Facilitator Reference Guide with a description of training methodology and techniques to assist Facilitators train in ways that will be effective in helping senior staff implement their strategies to reduce violence.
  • 4. A Self Review Instrument to measure violence in the school or institution and, as importantly, to identify how well organised the school or institution is to implement the improvements they want.

Cowie, H., Jennifer,D (2007). Managing violence in schools - A whole school approach to best practice London Chapman

Smith, P.K.(ed) 2003 Violence in schools: the response in Europe. London and New York Routledge Farmer


Violence, Bullying, Europe; Convivençia

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