Although peer victimization in school mainly takes place between children in the same classroom or grade and bullying is generally seen as a group process, little is known about how stability and change in classroom composition affect peer victimization. Hence, this study addressed the following questions: (a) Are newcomers in the classroom more likely to become victims? (b) Does a stable classroom, where children generally have the same classmates over time, lead to less change in bully nominations? To address these questions, this article examined 3 waves of bully nominations in a sample of 3,254 children (50% boys; age 8-12) in 31 elementary schools, displaying three types of schools: stable or unstable administrative or pedagogical multigrade. Both research questions were answered by longitudinal social network analyses of the school-wide networks. The meta-analyzed results of these analyses with small effect sizes showed that (a) although stable classrooms do not necessarily show less change in bully nominations than in unstable classrooms, victim-bully ties are more likely to develop among students in the same grade or same classroom and (b) newcomers were more likely to become victims, more so in unstable schools than in stable schools.
Educational Impact and Implications Statement
This study contributes to the existing bullying literature by providing first insights into the formation and development of bullying relationships within the school context by examining changes in victim-bully networks in schools that do and do not combine classrooms or grades over the school years. The findings of this study suggest that school and classroom stability and change have a minor impact on the formation of victim-bully relationships between children. Bullying relationships were found to develop most easily between children in the same grade, more so in stable classrooms than in classrooms with changing classroom composition, with no clear evidence that newcomers are more at risk of becoming victimized. The formation and development of bullying relationships among students within the same grade was weakest in unstable pedagogical multigrade schools, after controlling for school size. These findings may be beneficial to schools that consistently deal with changing compositions in their student population and highlight that a context-specific approach may be necessary to tackle bullying in stable and unstable schools.