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Too many children are still being bullied and are unable to thrive in Danish schools. The Mary Foundation, Børns Vilkår (Children’s Welfare) and Save the Children Denmark are ready to introduce a joint, ambitious effort that engages everyone in schools to address the problem together. The new initiative is called Our School Strength and is currently being rolled out in Danish schools.

Far too many children in Denmark are forced to go to school with stomach cramps and the fear of being excluded due to bullying and other problems they face in the school community. According to the latest Danish national student satisfaction survey, at least two or three students in every Grade 4–9 class have experienced bullying. And other studies suggest that many children are not thriving in school due to other factors, such as not enjoying school or feeling lonely.

This has prompted The Mary Foundation, Børns Vilkår (Children’s Welfare) and Save the Children Denmark to develop a programme to promote well-being in schools – Our School Strength – which is the first of its kind in Denmark to offer a single, unified programme for the whole school to promote well-being and to prevent and address bullying from reception class through to Grade 10.

“Bullying and not thriving at school have alarmingly significant consequences and can end up affecting a child’s entire childhood and plague them far into adulthood. And it’s not something that individual teachers or class teams can solve on their own, although we know how much they strive to do so. What we need is a targeted and sustained effort that involves everyone in and around the school. And that’s exactly what Our School Strength supports schools to develop,” said Secretary-General of Save the Children Denmark, Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen.

Teachers and teaching assistants seek help

There is an evident need for this kind of programme out there, where studies show that teachers and teaching assistants are looking for information about bullying.

As an example, a study conducted by Epinion on behalf of the Danish Ministry of Education shows that 30 per cent of primary schools lack knowledge of how to prevent and stop bullying, and that both schools and parents experience significant challenges when trying to address incidents of bullying.

“Managing bullying is complex, and individual children unfortunately still often end up being scapegoated, despite the fact that most people are aware that bullying and many of the other problems associated with a failure to thrive stem from a counter-productive culture in the class or school. That’s why an important focus of Our School Strength is to strengthen the schools’ and employees’ understanding of the social mechanisms involved and to help them act correctly and quickly when they identify a child who isn’t thriving,” expressed Director of Børns Vilkår, Rasmus Kjeldahl.

Strong cooperation

Our School Strength is the result of four years’ collaboration within The Alliance against Bullying,  which was specifically established to strengthen efforts to promote well-being in Danish schools by combining the three founding organisations’ wealth of experience and knowledge about bullying and other problems that prevent children from thriving in school into a single, comprehensive offering.

The programme builds on research and international experience showing that anti-bullying efforts that involve everyone in and around the school and address multiple levels simultaneously are the most successful.

“In The Alliance against Bullying, we believe that we – in collaboration with the schools – have a better chance of combatting bullying and creating well-being among children in Danish schools, if we do it together. We have used our experience and the competencies we each have to create tools that are even better than any we could have developed individually,” explained the Director of The Mary Foundation, Helle Østergaard.

The programme is currently being rolled out to 16 schools in municipalities including Tårnby, Sorø, Islev, Allerød and Sønderborg – and is already being used in schools in the Copenhagen area. Additional schools and municipalities can join the programme from the 2021/22 school year.

The ongoing development of Our School Strength is funded by donations from Ole Kirk’s Foundation, TrygFonden, The A.P. Møller Foundation and The Mary Foundation.

Facts about Our School Strength

Our School Strength is aimed at everyone who spends much of their time in a school – from the caretaker to the principal and from reception class through to the final year.

The programme offers education and practical tools to promote well-being and to prevent and address bullying – also as part of the curriculum. It is based on the individual school’s current activity in relation to well-being and offers the school help in finding out what it wants to work on specifically.

Most of the activities facilitated by Our School Strength can be integrated into existing meetings, team initiatives and teaching situations.

Our School Strength is based on the “community-oriented view of bullying”, where the focus is on preventing and addressing bullying by looking at the group of children and the culture in both the classroom and the school.

Instead of identifying individual children as bullies or victims of bullying, the focus is on working with all the children and the unwritten rules that exist among students, teachers, teaching assistants, management and parents.

The methods and tools used are rooted in the latest research and experience gleaned from other countries.

A preliminary evaluation among pilot schools that have tested Our School Strength shows that it has succeeded in developing into a coherent programme that credibly and professionally strengthens the school’s well-being work.

Read more about the evaluation here

For more information, visit www.skolestyrken.dk

Facts about bullying and well-being in schools


Defined as systematic, degrading acts – such as ridicule, violence, unpleasant comments and exclusion – that typically occur in communities that lack cohesion or have low tolerance. The consequence of which is that a child is excluded from the group. Bullying can stem from a wide range of causes and is not always a conscious act.

Online bullying originates from the same mechanisms as bullying in the schoolyard for example, and often occurs among children who know each other from school. Online bullying must therefore be prevented and addressed in the same way as other bullying – and always on the basis of a thorough examination of what is taking place in the specific situation.

The Alliance against Bullying has created an overview including examples of what bullying can look like. Not all these situations necessarily constitute bullying, but they all require special attention as they can lead to bullying.

See the overview (in Danish) of potential bullying situations in this short video (5 min)

Well-being in schools

A student’s well-being depends on circumstances both in and outside of school. Our School Strength focuses on well-being at school and on making a positive difference in relation to everything that affects students’ well-being.

To ensure that children thrive at school, it is important that students experience social recognition and caring, that they are an active part of the community in the classroom and at school, that there is a positive teaching environment, and that students are able to participate in meaningful learning situations that support their academic development.

Facts about school well-being and bullying in Danish schools

Many children still experience bullying at school:

  • The latest Danish national student satisfaction survey shows that at least two or three students in every Grade 4–9 class (9.5%) have experienced bullying “often”, “very often” or “sometimes”.  This represents an increase on the previous year, when the figure was 8.5%.
    Source: Den Nationale Trivselsmåling (The Danish National Student Satisfaction Survey) 2017/18 and 2018/19, uddannelsesstatistik.dk – primary school.
  • The Danish School Health Survey (Skolebørnsundersøgelsen) which is conducted every four years by the Danish National Institute of Public Health (SDU), shows that 9% of Danish 11 to 15-year-old school children have been exposed to online bullying. Skolebørnsundersøgelsen is the Danish contribution to the international survey The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Study (HBSC)
    Source: Statens Institut for Folkesundhed, SDU: Skolebørnsundersøgelsen 2018: Helbred, trivsel og sundhedsadfærd blandt 11-, 13-og 15-årige skoleelever i Danmark.
  • A study conducted by Epinion for Rabøl Research and The Mary Foundation shows that teachers and teaching assistants are still unsure about how to act when faced with bullying. Forty-four per cent state that they lack knowledge about prevention, while 32% would like more knowledge about how to tackle bullying once it has occurred.
    Source: Hansen, Helle Rabøl & Jens Christian Nielsen (2020): Forståelser af mobning og ensomhed i grundskolen - En undersøgelse i befolkningen og blandt lærere og skolepædagoger.
  • The survey also shows that only 18% of teachers and teaching assistants have received education in bullying during their studies (this also applies to the youngest cohort).
  • A new study conducted by Epinion for the Danish Ministry of Education shows that 30% of public primary and lower secondary schools, 34% of post-lower-secondary schools (efterskoler) and 42% of independent and private primary schools lack knowledge about the prevention of bullying and/or how to stop bullying.
    Source: Undervisningsministeriet (2020): Evaluering af antimobbebestemmelser og Den Nationale Klageinstans mod Mobning.

Many children are not thriving at school:

The Danish School Health Survey also indicates that:

  • One in every seven 11-year-olds experiences stomach cramps at least once a week
  • More than one-third of 11-year-olds feel sad at least once a week
  • 4% of 11-year-olds feel lonely “often” or “very often”

A survey conducted among 1,521 children in Grades 5–8 by Børns Vilkår (2019) shows that:

  • One in every three children who have experienced bullying in their current school year do not enjoy going to school to the point where they do not want to attend school at the moment.
  • Just over half of the children who have been bullied have at least one symptom of not thriving every single day, e.g. a stomachache, difficulty sleeping or sadness.
  • One in three children and young adults (35%) indicate that they either never or only sometimes want to go to school. The reasons they mention include tiredness, long school days, boredom, academic challenges or their relationship with teachers or other students.

Consequences of bullying

  • Bullying can have major consequences for the person subjected to it: victims of bullying experience pain, psychological symptoms, loneliness and dissatisfaction more often than other people.
  • The consequences are not limited to the time children spend at school, but continue into adulthood. Studies that have followed victims of bullying over decades show that they experience higher rates of: mental health problems, loneliness, obesity, elevated levels of inflammation in the body, self-harming behaviours, suicidal thoughts, poor social relationships, below-average education, unemployment, job dismissal and financial problems.
  • Bullying also has negative consequences for those who bully.

Bodil Liv Holm, Communication Manager, The Mary Foundation: (+45) 26 60 78 49 / blh@maryfonden.dk
Julie Troldborg, Media Manager, Børns Vilkår: (+45) 29 80 18 45 / jutr@bornsvilkar.dk
Gudmund de Stordeur Baudinet, Press Officer, Save the Children Denmark: (+45) 21 89 21 45 / gds@redbarnet.dk

Facts about The Alliance Against Bullying and Our School Strength

The Mary Foundation, Børns Vilkår and Save the Children Denmark joined forces to establish The Alliance against Bullying in 2016.

The Alliance against Bullying’s vision is to make it easy for schools to develop a programme that will make it manageable for them to take a targeted approach to promoting well-being and to preventing and addressing bullying in their school.

The Alliance builds on the many years of work by its three founders to promote children’s well-being, including:

  • Free of Bullying – the anti-bullying programme founded by The Mary Foundation and Save the Children Denmark that focuses on preventing bullying in childcare facilities and early years of primary school
  • DropMob – Save the Children Denmark’s initiative aimed at supporting schools to develop anti-bullying strategies and providing a wide range of initiatives that advance well-being and combat bullying in schools, sports clubs and online
  • BørneTelefonen – Børns Vilkår’s children’s hotline, and the #DeVoksnesAnsvar (#TheAdult’sResponsibility) campaign
  • Our School Strength is The Alliance against Bullying’s joint initiative. Learn more here: www.skolestyrken.dk
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