Australian school students most bullied among comparable English-speaking countries, report finds

<span>A report has found found Australia’s disciplinary climate to be significantly worse than the OECD average and ahead of only New Zealand and Sweden.</span><span>Photograph: Lbeddoe/Alamy</span>
A report has found found Australia’s disciplinary climate to be significantly worse than the OECD average and ahead of only New Zealand and Sweden.Photograph: Lbeddoe/Alamy

Australian school students are bullied at higher rates than other comparable English speaking countries, a new report has found, with experts warning classroom disorder is leading to poorer school outcomes.

The Australian Council for Educational Research (Acer) on Tuesday released its second report interrogating the latest data from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) test.

The report compared the responses of students and principals across 24 of the 81 participating Pisa countries, which were chosen to provide a reflective snapshot of Australia’s performance.

Related: Students reject apology over antisemitic bullying at Melbourne school

It found Australia’s disciplinary climate was significantly worse than the OECD average and ahead of only New Zealand and Sweden. Exposure to bullying among Australian students was higher than all comparison countries except Latvia.

Around one in six students surveyed in Australia (16%) said students had made fun of them, while one in 10 said they had nasty rumours spread about them (10%) and 6% reported being hit or pushed by others.


Australian students also felt less safe at school than the OECD average, behind only Poland, New Zealand, Hong Kong and the United States.

About two-fifths of students in Australia reported noise and disorder in most classes, (42%) and high levels of distraction due digital resources like smartphones and apps (40%). One-third claimed students didn’t listen to what the teacher said (33%).

The report found a significant correlation between school performance and order in the classroom. Australian students with the highest exposure to bullying scored 27 points lower on average than their counterparts – equivalent to a year of learning.

The report’s lead researcher, Lisa De Bortoli, said it showed the reasons for educational outcomes were “multifaceted”.

The latest 2022 Pisa test, which measures the performance of 15-year-olds across the OECD, continued a longer-term trend of national decline of Australian students’ scores.

“It’s not just what happens in the classroom, but the culture of a school and what students bring, their social and emotional characteristics,” De Bortoli said.

“This shows what a high-performing student looks like – we know students with more positive student-teacher relationships, a greater sense of belonging, more favourable disciplinary climates … by far are more likely to be achieving quite highly.”

Teacher shortages were also significantly burdening Australian classrooms.

Just four comparison countries including Denmark and Switzerland had less teacher shortages than Australia, the report found, while student-teacher ratios were also well below the OECD average.

De Bortoli said when comparing areas with high teacher shortages to areas without, the difference in outcomes equated to more than two years of learning.

At a national level, the Northern Territory had the worst disciplinary climate, while Tasmania reported the highest level of bullying and lowest level of feeling safe at school.


Students in Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT reported the lowest levels of bullying, while non-First Nations students reported a greater sense of belonging than First Nations students, who were also bullied at higher levels.

It comes amid increasing rates of school refusal, linked to classroom disruption and post-pandemic stressors.

The annual Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing survey, released by the ACU earlier this year, found the worst recorded levels of physical violence, threats of violence and bullying in its 13-year-history.

ACU investigator and former principal Dr Paul Kidson told Guardian Australia many of the issues facing the sector came down to resourcing, including the increased burden of administrative tasks and schools falling short of full funding.

He said support and respect towards educators was waning after the pandemic, with offensive and threatening behaviour “beginning to escalate”, from bringing knives to school to physically pushing teachers.

“This is a workplace for hundreds of thousands of employees … it’s a major and urgent issue to be addressed,” he said.