Box and Interview Method

This method was successfully used in a Dublin school over four years

A summary of the Box and Interview Method


An Anti-Bullying Code is agreed by Principal and Board of Management and this Code is then incorporated into the School rule book, signed by parents. An Anti-Bullying Co-ordinator is chosen with overall responsibility for putting the Method into operation.  Other Co-ordinators and other volunteers will later be of help.


Boxes with locks and keys are made  available to the Anti-Bullying Co-ordinator, also stationary and 3 large hard backed copies, a filing cabinet, files, a room in which confidential material can be safely locked away. * [See also note below on New Procedures]


On a particular day of the week volunteer teachers hand each and every student a form asking 3 questions 

"Have you been bullied during the past week? . .

Do you know of anyone in your class who has been bullied during the past week.?". .

Do you know of anyone in the school who has been bullied during the past week"

The following day the signed and filled-in forms are put in signed envelopes by the students and placed in the locked Box which must never be seen in the hands of a student.


The Co-ordinator sifts through the replies in private, sorts out the victims' names, and discreetly interviews a number of people to find out more.  Later she or he interviews the people responsible for the bullying, stops the bullying, if necessary with the help of parents, and takes extra measures to prevent a repetition.


The process is repeated on the same days every week throughout the year.


The whole school agrees to adopt this method.


IMPORTANT NOTE: As the above is only a summary, it would be counter-productive to rely on it alone. If trying out the method please , read all the extra information and advice in the full description of it that follows.  


Full description of the Box and Interview Method


The following are the main (18) features of the Box and Interview Method in full:


(1) The appointment of an Anti-Bullying Co-ordinator (ABC)

The School with approval of management, staff, parents and student body sanctions an Anti-Bullying Co-ordinator (ABC) for the school.

The function of the ABC will be the implementation, with the support of board, patrons, principal and staff, of the Anti-Bullying Programme within the school.  Other volunteer teachers may offer help on the many facets of work necessary to implement the programme.  Some or all of these volunteers may be allocated work by the Coordinator.


(2) An Anti-Bullying Code

The Principal and Board of Management agree on an Anti-Bullying Code for the school, basing it on the Department of Education and Skills New Procedures (2013) and the 1993 Guidelines. This Code is then incorporated into the booklet containing the school rules which is circulated to the parents of all incoming First Year students. For the Anti-Bullying Code used with this method from the beginning, and still recommended by me, see Appendix 1 below.


(3) The new System is announced and explained to all staff, students and parents, and their approval received


The Principal does this before the beginning of the school year, e.g. at the end of the old. Parents are asked to give their agreement to the new system and, before the school year starts, are asked to sign their agreement to the Anti-Bullying Code at the same time as they sign their agreement to the school rules. The agreement of management, principal, vice principal, assistant principals and staff are, of course vital. The agreement of students, by majority, is also most important.


(4) Interview room provided

A room complete with secuure filing cabinet, files, three hard backed copies, table and chairs is made available for interviews. The Anti-bullying co-ordinator (ABC) will be in charge of this room and will make it available to other members of the team. Computers are not used for data concerning alleged bullying behaviour.


(5) Meeting with First-Year Students

On the day before Opening Day in September, the First Year students spend an hour or two in the school. The Principal and ABC address them on the subject of bullying; and in particular draw their attention to the Department's New Procedures (2013) the Guidelines (1993) and the method to prevent bullying in the school, in this case the Box and Interview method.


(6) Lockable, movable boxes are made available to the ABC.

A number of lockable boxes will be needed (about one for every 100 students). They should be sturdy, yet easy to carry around, large enough to hold about 30 letters. Each box will have an opening large enough to allow an ordinary sized envelope to be put through it. One model might be 15" x 6" x 6".

[picture of the first box]

 The box should be always kept in a safe place.

(7) Handing out Form A

Once a week, on an appointed day, each student in the school is handed a form with three questions, and an envelope. The handing out is done by one of the volunteer teachers. The student is then required to take the form and envelope home, and to write an answer AT HOME to each of the three given questions on bullying. The form must be filled out whether or not the student has any information to give on the subject of bullying. Each student places his/her name on the top of the form (no anonymous information is accepted) places the form in an envelope which is then sealed, writes his or her name on the outside of the envelope. This envelope, containing the completed form (Form A) is brought to school on the following day.

Form A
  1. Have you been bullied or hurt within the last week?
  2. Do you know of anyone in your class who is being bullied or hurt?
  3. Do you know of anyone in the school who is being bullied or hurt? 

Other questions used in Form A from time to time might be

  1. Have you been bullied or hurt since you came to this school? (for all students in their very first note)
  2. Have you been bullied or hurt before you came to this school by someone who is now in the school? (for all students in their first note)
  3. Have you got any other information concerning bullying?
  4. Other remarks

From time to time a question is appended regarding some bullying incident within the school which may be of common knowledge.

(See also (8) below.)


(8) The Letter Box

On the day after the letters are written, each student places his/her letter in the locked, movable letter box presented to him/her by a teacher volunteer, who ensures that the name on the outside of each envelope corresponds to the person putting it in.

If a student has not brought in an envelope-cum-form on the appointed day, his or her parents receive a standard letter from the ABC. (Form B See Appendix 2). The student in question brings this letter home, and the parents' signature is required for the following day.

In addition, students who come without the completed forms are asked by the teacher who collects them to write one there and then. While doing this, they are given suitable privacy from their fellow students. If there is sufficient time, in addition to the three questions, they are asked to list 10 or 15 items which they deem to be bullying. (This is to prevent any student from writing three quick answers and ostentatiously sitting with pen discarded and arms folded to let everyone know that no information has been passed on). The names of these students are also noted and given to the ABC who will interview them individually to ensure that physical or moral force has not been used to dissuade them from handing in a letter.

A box, whether empty or full, should never be given to one of the students. This rule is to maintain absolute confidence in the system and was recommended by younger teachers who had very recently been students themselves.

A box should never be left unattended whether full or empty and should be kept, when not in use, under lock and key in the interview room.


(9) Follow-up - reading and filing

The teacher who collects the notes brings them to the interview room and there, at an allotted time, opens and reads them in total privacy. Those containing allegations of bullying behaviour are filed in a class file and locked into a filing cabinet where they will be later found by the ABC.

Each Co-ordinator then writes in a large hardback copy-book (B) a summary of the information that he or she has received and returns this copy-book (B) to the filing cabinet safely. * (See also the new Procedures)


(10) Follow-up - the Interviews with students

At a suitable time, the ABC interviews the alleged victim and the alleged bully or bullies. The ABC keeps written notes of these interviews in a large hard-covered copy (A) which is later placed in the filing cabinet. Some of these notes are written in the presence of the interviewee. All general notes of information, whether from students, staff, parents or others, will be recorded in Copy-book A. This should be very large.

In the case of the alleged victim, it is important never to make it obvious to others that he or she is being interviewed by the ABC. One way of overcoming this difficulty is to call in a number of people at random, one by one, especially those who have given no information and ask if they really believe that there is no bullying going on in their class. Among this group, call in the alleged victim and, in an equally short interview, ask if she or he is being bullied, tell her or him that you have received information to that effect and find out what she or he wishes to be done. It's important that the same time is given, more or less to all of these interviews. The interviews are all short-noted.

In the case of the alleged bully, it is fair to give him or her the same protection of "cover" in the interview. The ABC will tell the alleged bully that a complaint has been received (often this will be from more than one person) and that a note is now being taken of it. If there is a quick admission, this is noted in Copy-book A and advice or admonition is given; if there is a denial, this is also noted in Copy-book A, advice is given and the interviewee is cautioned not to talk about the interview with other students.

The ABC should be aware of the danger that a student may be "set up" and complained about when he or she is not guilty of any bullying whatever. (This is less likely to happen when the name of the informant is on the letter and envelope) as it should be. Whenever it does happen, and is uncovered, it should be treated in the same way as bullying itself.

If a student contends that the behaviour involved was not real bullying, she or he may be reminded of the relevant part of the Anti-bullying Code of the school and the Department's guidelines and procedures, or may be invited to read the relevant part, to impress on her or him that the school and Department regard the behaviour as bullying.

The person accused of bullying is told not to discuss the interview in any way with the alleged victim, and vice versa. (The reason for this is to avoid any possible repetition of bullying or threats until the matter has been resolved). The ABC makes a coded note of this admonition also in Copy-book A.

In practice, it is wise to regard any breach of this confidentiality, or any other attempt by someone within the school to break the confidentiality of the system, to be every bit as serious as bullying itself.

In interviewing the person alleged to have hurt another intentionally, no hint will ever be given of the identity of the informant whether or not the informant is the victim or another student.  Confidentiallity in this area is a must.

The notes will mostly be written in Copy-book A in the presence of the interviewee.

In all cases, the student will be reminded of the confidentiality of the interview itself and the prohibition against discussing the matter with any other student.

The ABC  informs the parties concerned, individually, that he or she (the ABC) is investigating the matter. In the meantime, the alleged bully is warned of the seriousness of the allegations and the determination of the ABC to investigate further and stop all bullying behaviour and that if the complaints continue during this critical period, parents of both students may be called in for an interview. In my opinion, it is better to conduct these interviews separately.

In addition the ABC will also keep under lock and key, normal class lists of names, with his or her own secret code of signs on the lists that will tell her or him at a glance the students who have been alleged most often to be either bullies or victims.

Normal rules for interviews, legal requirements and normal protocol should be observed, and interviews should be conducted calmly and without anger. One special precaution: Interviewees should be kept at a sufficient distance from the ABC's notes so as to ensure that in no way can they glean information from them about other students.

It goes almost without saying that a victim should never be interviewed immediately after an alleged bully, and vice-versa.


(11) Follow-up - Helping the victim and the bully

It may sometime be necessary to take immediate action, e.g. by changing the alleged bully's place in class, or the alleged bully's classroom. Unless the victim wishes otherwise, a victim should not be moved -- the alleged bully should be discommoded if there is any change of place necessary.

Advice and admonition to the bully, increased and discreet monitoring by all staff and the recurring collection of the forms will also be of benefit to the victim.

The bully also needs help.  The ABC should remind her or him of the wrongness of bullying. In the course of the investigation an ABC might have found out that the bully has serious problems to contend with. The ABC should be firm but sympathetic.  The ABC is not an enemy of the bully. Occasionally, either an alleged bully or victim might be referred discreetly to school counsellor.  This should never be done as a reprimand or punishment and should be discussed beforehand with the person involved.  See also no (18)

Other types of help are included in the paragraphs below.


(12) Follow-up - Advising members of staff

It may often be advisable, and sometimes absolutely necessary, to advise members of staff to keep a discreet eye on a student about whom bullying behaviour has been alleged, or concerning whom information has been received that he or she is being bullied. Discreet co-operation at this level will solve many problems and is vital to the success of the system.


(13) Follow-up - Advising the parents

Parents may be informed if a student has been accused of milder bullying incidents three times in spite of caution, or if the matter is deemed to be serious. The procedure here is that parents are contacted by telephone and invited to an interview. The case(s) are not discussed on the telephone. A short e-mail might also be used if there is no reply to the telephone.  Otherwise, a letter home. In all cases, the only information given is that the person making the request is the Anti-Bullying Co-ordinator. Parents of victims are also interviewed, but my advice is to get the victim's permission if at all possible. If there is a delay before the parents of an alleged bully arrive at the school, a careful watch should be kept by all teachers during tha period to prevent further aggravation to the victim.

(14) Follow-up - Interview with parents

These take place in the school building, but always outside of school hours. In each case, before parents come in, the ABC and helpers write out a report on the person in question, relying mainly on the notes written in the large copy-book (C). Each incident involving their child is covered in this report, and the date is given for each incident.

The report is then read to the parent(s) of the alleged bully. There is nothing in this report apart from the factual knowledge of the ABC. The ABC herself or himself does not allege bullying behaviour but informs the parents of all allegations without revealing the identity of the informants. For example, a typical paragraph of such a report might read as follows:

"9/11/95 Five students complained in their notes that (your son) Jack was bullying a certain boy. When I interviewed them, one of them said "Maybe it was only fun", and four said that they had seen Jack kicking the boy, tearing his copy-book, threatening to "get him" on the way home if he told, and one of them said he had heard Jack telling the boy not to write anything in his bullying letter. Other students later confirmed some of the incidents reported.

"In the interview with Jack, he at first denied that any of these incidents had taken place. But when I told him that I had received a large number of complaints from unnamed sources, he admitted that he had given the boy "a tip with his foot" and that he thought that it was his own copy he had torn up.

"He said that they were friends, and that he was only messing. I told him not to touch the boy again, or anything belonging to him. And that the interview was confidential.

"10/11/95 A teacher reported to me that this boy was crying in the yard, and, when questioned, he said that Jack had hit him with a hurley." . . .

After hearing a few paragraphs like this, few parents will have any doubts about the behaviour of their child.

A similar type of interview might be carried out with the parents of the alleged victim, usually with the victim's consent.


(15) Follow-up - speaking to those, other than students, accused of bullying

(i) If information has been received by the ABC to the effect that a teacher or other adult employed by the school, has been engaged in bullying a student, or another teacher, the ABC should speak to the person so accused, relating the complaint and hearing his or her side, advise the person accused not to deal with the matter either in public or private with the alleged victim, advise that the Principal will be informed, and inform the Principal.

(ii) If the Principal is accused of the bullying, the ABC should report the matter first to the Principal, advising him or her not to deal with the matter either in public or private with the alleged victim, hear the Principal's side, and advise that the complaint will be reported to the  Board of Management, then report the complaint to the board.

If the victim in such a case reports back that the bullying has not stopped, the ABC should report the matter to the Ombudsman for Children

(iii) If a student has been accused of bullying a teacher or Principal, the follow-up including interviews  will be the same as for the reported bullying of a student by another student


(16) Follow-up - informing the Principal

When the ABC and assistant committee have failed to stop bullying they should (other than in the case mentioned in (15) (ii) above) hand over the matter to the Principal. In some cases they may decide also to inform the School Counsellor if this has not alreadyhappened.


(17) Follow-up - Next week's letters

The following week's letters will be scanned carefully for evidence as to whether the  bullying of a victim has continued, and appropriate action again taken, including a repetition of the whole process.    


(18) Other help if necessary

Help is also available from the Psychological Service, Department of Education and Skills.

*The New Procedures state that data must be stored in line with Appendix 2 of the New Procedures

This page was last edited 19 January 2013