The experience of being bullied at school and its effect on reading proficiency in grade 4

Case Studies & Research
Publications Office of the European Union
33 p.

In this report, we utilize data from the latest cycle of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) conducted in 2021 to investigate the impact of school-based bullying on students' reading performance. Our study focuses on a sample of nearly 100,000 students across 19 educational systems within the European Union. Our research seeks to expand the existing knowledge surrounding the effects of bullying on academic outcomes, particularly in a cross-national context, as previous studies primarily concentrated on single countries.

Our findings underscore a significant relationship between exposure to bullying and reduced performance on the PIRLS reading proficiency test when compared to non-bullied peers. Using propensity score matching, we estimate this difference to be 13% of the standard deviation, even after controlling for various student characteristics (e.g., gender, age, parental education, or immigrant background), as well as school and country fixed effects. Notably, this effect is larger, in absolute values, than the gender gap in reading and the difference between students who speak the test language at home and those who do not.

Moreover, our study points out to the role of a student's sense of school belonging in mediating the connection between bullying and reading performance. We find that the sense of belonging can predict both the likelihood of being bullied and a student's reading performance.