Tackling Violence in Schools: A Report from Iceland

Ragnar F. Ólafsson & Sólveig Norðfjörð


The country

Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe with 2.7 inhabitants per square kilometre. The population is 275,000, of which about half lives in the capital Reykjavik and towns and villages in its immediate surroundings. The centre of the country is mostly uninhabited. The main agricultural area is in the south west of Iceland.

The population is homogenous in culture and origin. The main language is Icelandic, spoken with hardly noticeable regional differences. The country was populated mostly from Scandinavia, especially Norway in the 9th and 10th century, with some admixture of Celtic blood from Ireland and the Scottish islands. Only in the latter half of the 20th century have there been immigrants to speak of: The majority of immigrants come from the Nordic countries, Western Europe and North America, with recent additions from Asia (e.g. Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam) and Eastern Europe (e.g. Poland, Yugoslavia, Russia). The largest religious denomination is the Evangelical Lutheran Church to which 90% of the population belong.

Literacy is 99.9%. Life expectancy is 77 years for men and 81.5 years for women. (Iceland Practical Information, 1999/2000)

The school system

Education is mandatory from 6 to 16 years of age, grades 1-10, and takes place in close to 200 schools around the country. There are 40 schools and colleges at upper secondary level. University level education is offered at eight establishments in Iceland and 39% of Icelanders aged 20-24 are studying at university or a comparable institution, in Iceland or abroad (The Educational System in Iceland, 1995; Tölfræðihandbók um háskólastigið, 2000).

Compulsory education

There is no division between primary and lower secondary education. In general, pupils attend the school which is nearest to their home in the school district which they live. Most schools at this level cover the entire span from 6 to 16 years. There is no charge to pupils for compulsory schooling, and the government provides materials and textbooks free of charge. The largest urban schools have up to 1000 pupils, but about half the schools in the country have fewer than 100 pupils. All these schools are co-educational.

The school year lasts for nine months and starts late August. There are at least 170 school days each year. Smaller rural schools generally have only a single teaching shift, i.e. all pupils attend school at the same time, but many of the larger schools in urban areas are unable to accommodate all their pupils at the same time due to a shortage of space. Classes are then staggered, with one portion of the pupils attending school during the earlier part of the day and the remaining portion during the latter part of the day. Classes are held five days each week and school hours vary. The number of hours teaching varies according to the age of the pupils starting from 30 teaching hours per week to 35 hrs.

Icelandic, mathematics, natural sciences, social and religious studies and physical education are subjects which all pupils study from grade 1 through grade 9. In the 10th and final grade, all pupils study Icelandic, mathematics, English, Danish, natural sciences, social studies, life skills and physical education. Other subjects and electives vary, e.g. arts and crafts, ICT and home economics.

Provisions for special needs

Pupils are generally expected to cover the same subject material at approximately the same speed. Pupils having difficulty are provided with remedial teaching, primarily in Icelandic and mathematics, but remain with their class for most of their lessons. Teachers use teaching methods suited to their students, their educational aims and the conditions under which they teach.

There are provisions for the rights of immigrant children in the law on compulsory education which states that all children whose mother tongue is not Icelandic shall receive help to learn Icelandic as a second language. Such students shall, as far as possible and with the agreement of the local municipality in question, receive instruction in their mother language.

Pupils that have academic or social difficulties are offered a considerable amount of remedial instruction, after their difficulties have been diagnosed. This can take place in two ways: either the remedial teacher works with the class teacher in the classroom, where he or she assists the pupil, or the pupil is tutored by the remedial teacher on an individual basis or in a small group. Some schools also have individual departments for students with severe learning disabilities. There are also some special schools for children with special educational needs (see


Exams and other forms of assessment are generally carried out by individual teachers and schools. The assessment is therefore not standardised and varies a lot between different schools and teachers. Pupils in the 4th and 7th grades sit national co-ordinated examinations in Icelandic and mathematics. These examinations are composed, marked and organised by the Institute for Educational Research. Pupils in the 10th grade also sit nationalised co-ordinated examination in Icelandic, mathematics, Danish and English .

At primary level (grades 1-7), the same teacher instructs a class in nearly all subjects. At lower secondary level (8-10) teachers usually teach one or more subject to a number of classes. Teachers may or may not follow the same class from one year to another. To qualify as a compulsory school teacher, a three-year course at a teacher training college is required (The Educational System in Iceland, 1998).

Upper secondary school

Lower secondary school ends with nationally co-ordinated examinations to provide an indication of each pupil’s standing at the end of compulsory education and assist him/her in choosing a course of upper secondary education. Although all pupils are legally entitled to upper secondary education regardless of their achievement in primary and lower secondary school, there are varied admission requirements to different programs of study. Pupils have the possibility to enrol in preparatory courses in upper secondary schools if the grades they received do not meet required entrance standards. The school year is nine months and divided into autumn and spring terms. Student usually attend 32-40 lessons per week where each lesson lasts 40 minutes.

The largest schools have around 1500 students while the smallest have fewer than 50. Courses of study at the upper secondary level can be divided into academically and vocationally oriented courses. This division is though by no means without exceptions as these fields often overlap. Upper secondary schools either have traditional classes where all the pupils in the class follow a particular program or they operate according to a unit-credit system. In the unit-credit system, pupils for a given course form a group for that particular course. This system allows pupils to regulate the speed at which they complete their education by selecting fewer or more subjects at a time.

Upper secondary school generally offer educational counselling which often includes helping pupils with their personal problems. According to the law on upper secondary school, disabled students should get instruction according to their needs and be given special support in their studies. If it is possible, they are to be integrated into main-stream education, attend regular class and follow the same subjects as other pupils, but with special assistance.

Assessment and examinations have been the responsibility of each school. Nationally co-ordinated examinations in upper secondary education have not been practised yet but preparation has started for nationally co-ordinated final examination in certain subjects beginning in the school year 2003-2004.

Teachers of academic subjects are required to have completed at least four years of university education. At least two of them should be in a major subject and one in the study of education and instructional methodology. Teachers of vocational or other technical subjects must be qualified in the field they teach or be a master craftsman in the trade in question and have at least two years experience working in the field. Additionally they are required to have completed a one-year program of study in education and instruction methodology (The Educational System in Iceland, 1998).


Education in Iceland has traditionally been organised within the public sector and there are very few private schools. Only about 2% of primary and lower secondary pupils are in private schools. Local municipalities pay almost the entire cost of compulsory education. The operating costs of upper secondary education are funded by the State. Construction and equipment costs are divided between state and the municipalities. Compulsory education, including textbooks and materials, is completely free but at upper secondary level and in state-run higher education only the tuition is free of charge. Universities are mostly financed by the state (The Educational System in Iceland, 1998).

Violence in schools: linguistic / definitional issues

The word used to describe violence is “ofbeldi”, referring to physical violence unless otherwise stated, as in connection with “andlegt ofbeldi” where it would mean “mental violence”. The type of definition and questioning used by researchers is important as the reported incidence of violence is likely to vary depending on the words used to assess it.

To take into account these definitional issues, some researchers have adopted multiple questioning, i.e. asking for the incidence of violence with more than one question using different words to identify various types of violence (see studies below). Answers are e.g. likely to differ depending on whether participants are asked if they have been “subjected to violence” or if they have been “kicked”.




The frequency of violence and delinquency was 50.6 incidents for every 10,000 inhabitants according to police reports in 1999. Of perpetrators, 91.4% were male, 8.6% female; and of victims 75.2% were male and 24.8% female. Of perpetrators 3.2% were younger than 15 years old and 35.7% were 15-20 years old which was the highest proportion of all age groups. Of victims, 4.9% were younger than 15 years old and 25.5% were 15-20 years old which again was the highest proportion of all age groups. Of all the incidents reported to the police 1999, 2.5% happened at schools (Ríkislögreglustjórinn, 1999).

A few studies have been conducted relatively recently in schools which address at least indirectly the issue of violence. Individual questions in studies conducted with other main objectives can also provide some information. These are studies which have been conducted in schools and with pupils as participants. However, the violence being assessed has not been specifically limited to violence in the schools, but refers to violence in general. The relevant parts of these studies will now be summarised.

In a recent International study conducted in primary and lower secondary schools in 37 countries, pupils were asked about whether they feared violence within their school. The results showed that about a quarter of Icelandic pupils aged 12-14 said that during the last month they had feared being subjected to violence within the school. (TIMSS, 1999 – cited in Bjarnason, Ásgeirsdóttir, Þórlindsson, Sigfúsdóttir & Bernburg, 2000). There are also indications that the general public’s perception of violence as a problem is increasing. Gunnlaugsson (1996, cited in Bjarnason et al., 2000) showed that in 1989 only 14% of Icelanders thought that crime and violence were a big problem, but in 1994, this proportion had gone up to 30%.

A questionnaire study of violence among Icelandic adolescents (Þórlindsson & Bernburg, 1996) was conducted among pupils in the last year of compulsory school (15-16 year olds). The questionnaire was administered in schools and was answered by 87% of all youths in this age group (N=3810). The questionnaire addressed issues of social relationships, academic progress, smoking, alcohol and drug use – and whether they had been subjected to or subjected others to violence. There were also questions about criminal activities/behaviours. Participants were asked whether they had been subjected to violence (as victims and/or perpetrators). It was thus left to the participants how to define violence (“ofbeldi”). Additionally, participants were asked whether they had been punched, kicked, threatened with a knife etc. to provide a more objective indication of “violence”.

The prevalence of violence according to the former approach (i.e. where the understanding of violence was left to the participant) was such that about 15% of pupils in 10th grade say they had been subjected to violence during the last 12 months, and 4% reported that this has happened more than 3 times during this period. Considerably more boys than girls claimed they have been subjected to violence (18% and 12% respectively). 65% of boys in this age group had been punched, kicked, hit or head-butted at least once during the past 12 months; the corresponding number for girls was 39%. About 36% of boys had been subjected to at least one of these behaviour three times or more and about 8% nine times or more. The corresponding figures for girls were 13 and 2%. (Þórlindsson & Bernburg, 1996).

Thus, the incidence of violence in percentages is highly dependent upon whether the definition of general violence is left to the participants, or whether they are asked about specific types of behaviour and experiences. For example, those who reported having been punched (36%) were about twice as many as those who reported having been subjected to “violence” during the same 12 months. This indicates that participants employ a relatively narrow definition for the term “ofbeldi” (violence) (Þórlindsson & Bernburg, 1996).

The percentage of participants who reported having subjected others to various types of violent behaviour indicate that 2/3 of boys and 1/3 of girls have subjected others to violence of the types listed above. There is thus a roughly equal proportion of perpetrators as there are victims.

Violence and theft

1.2 % of boys and 0.4% of girls had employed violence with the objective of stealing during the last 12 months. (Þórlindsson and Bernburg, 1996). The authors link the violent behaviour with various other indicators of a more general lifestyle and show that violence is associated with antisocial behaviour such as alcohol and drug use, burglary and theft.

Adolescents that show anti-social behaviour are more likely to have looser ties with traditional social institutions such as the family and schools. Þórlindsson and Bernburg (1996) found that those who do not employ violence find it easier to receive warmth and care from their parents. This relationship is stronger among girls than among boys (r=.20 and .12 respectively). Of those girls who found it “almost never” easy to find warmth and care from their parents, about 55% had subjected others to violence 2 times or more during the last 12 months. This percentage dropped to 31% for those who found it “sometimes” easy to find warmth and care from their parents. Violence is also associated with lower academic achievement. (r=.21), and absence from school (r=.18). In a complementary analysis, Bernburg and Þórlindsson (1999) show that there is a significant relationship between using violence and having friends that use violence. This relationship holds when ties to family and school are controlled for.

Another study on school age adolescents, aged 15 and 16, was conducted in 1997 (Þórlindsson, Sigfúsdóttir, Bernburg and Halldórsson, 1998) and included questions on violence. The questionnaire study covered the whole country and was given to all pupils present at school on the day of the study. The questionnaire was distributed in two versions, and one of those contained detailed questions about violence. The total sample was 7785 pupils, i.e. 91% of the population of pupils in those two age-groups. Thus about half of those took the part of the questionnaire which covered violence.

Almost half of pupils claimed they had punched, pushed, kicked or hit someone during the last 12 months (Bjarnason, Ásgeirsdóttir, Þórlindsson, Sigfúsdóttir & Bernburg, 2000). These figures were much lower for girls than for boys; 27% of boys reported having caused injury during the last 12 months vs. only 6% of girls. The number of pupils who claimed to have subjected someone to “violence” was much lower than the figures on individual behaviour like kicking and punching. This indicates again that the pupils have a narrower definition of violence which does not include e.g. all kicking and punching.

The discrepancy between the figures on “violence” and individual behaviour such as kicking and punching may indicate that part of the kicking and punching takes place in violent games and/or are seen as minor incidents of pure accidents. The judged suitability of the term “violence” (ofbeldi) may be dependent on the situation. It is also likely that the definitions and use of “violence” is different between adults and adolescents. Events which adults would classify as violence may not be looked at that way by adolescents.

Violence at the hands of whom?

It appears that the reported violence takes place first and foremost between the adolescents themselves. About a third of the sample claimed to have been a victim of such violence. Around 20% of pupils said they had been subjected to violence on behalf of their “friend”. 32% of boys had been subjected to violence by “other adolescents”, while only 18% of girls had had this experience. About 6% of adolescents had suffered violence from a “close adult” and about 5% from “other adults”. (Bjarnason et al., 2000)

Proportions of victims and perpetrators

About 17% of boys are both victims and perpetrators of violence, 16% are perpetrators only and 6% are only victims. The same figures for girls are 5.4% and 6% respectively. The authors point out that girls and boys seem to be equally likely to be “only victims” while perpetration is more likely at the hand of boys. Within the female “only victim” group, about half of the victimisation is a the hands of adults, while only 13% of boys, who are only victims, have suffered violence from adults (Bjarnason et al., 2000)

The perpetration of violence was examined in relation to various other variables such as regional areas, educational level of parents and marital status of parents. Regional area explains relatively little of the variability in violence. Violence is slightly higher among children of single parents and those who have a step-parent than among those who live with both genetic parents (40 vs. 32% for boys; 14 vs. 7% for girls). There are no differences according to educational status of parents. This indicates that in Iceland, the social status of parents accounts for little of the incidence of violence perpetration.

Academic record

The relationship between academic record and violence was examined in Bjarnason et al. (2000). Participants were asked how often they felt studying was pointless. The correlation between this and the perpetration of violence was r=.20 for boys and r=.18 for girls. A similar relationship was observed with respect to preparation for classes. The more often pupils were not prepared for classes the higher the incidence of violence perpetration (r=.23 for boys; r=.20 for girls). The relationship between violence perpetration and academic achievement is somewhat weaker, but in the same direction (r=.13 for boys and girls) (Bjarnason et al., 2000)

Analysing the same data, Bernburg and Thorlindsson (2001) found a relationship between perpetration of violence and the perceived prevalence of such activities and attitudes amongfriends. Using multivariate methods, they found that the relationship between violent behaviour and perceived violent behaviour and attitudes among friends holds even when academic record and ties with the family are controlled for.

Physical violence and bullying

In a study of bullying among 10, 12 and 14 year old children in Icelandic schools (N=1,777) some questions pertained to physical violence, both as perpetrator and victim (Ólafsson, Björnsson & Ólafsson, 1999). The results are shown in Table 1.

Table 1.  Percentage of 10, 12 and 14 year old participants who report having been involved in various violent behaviour as victims and/or perpetrators 2 to 3 times or more per month during last winter

victim perpetrator
age gender age gender
10 12 14 M F 10 12 14 M F
involved in fight 15 10 5 17 3 12 10 6 16 3
beaten or hit 11 6 5 11 4 not measured
pushed or kicked on purpose 14 10 8 15 6 9 11 13 18 3
violence 8 5 3 8 3 3 6 8 10 1
hurt on purpose 15 8 7 14 6 7 9 11 15 3

The results show a marked decrease in being subjected to various violent behaviour with age. The victims are also more markedly boys than girls. On the perpetrator side, there is an increase with age on all behaviour (especially “subjecting to violence”), but a decrease in “involvement in fights”.

Broadly this indicates that there is a proportional shift of roles with age from victim to perpetrator. This also indicates a decrease with age in the involvement in fights, while violence takes on a bigger role. Whether this reflects only an age difference in the understanding and use of these terms is unclear. Violence (“ofbeldi”) is a more adult term, in the sense that it may not be understood by all younger children; adults would be more inclined to use it to describe violent physical interaction and it also has more serious connotations than any of the other questions. The results may also indicate a decrease with age in playful fighting among equals, and an increased capacity in older children to subject the younger ones to one-sided violence.

Physical violence can also be a part of bullying. The relationship between physical violence and bullying-victimisation was examined in Ólafsson, Björnsson and Ólafsson (1999). A factor analysis revealed clear victimisation factors. Among those were Physical victimisation (e.g. “someone hurt me on purpose”, “I was beaten or hit”),Negative emotional experiences (e.g. “I felt bad because of how the other kids treated me”, “…was scared”, “…cried”),Indirect bullying (e.g. “someone spread out stories about me”, “someone pretended to be my friend and then betrayed me”) and Social exclusion (e.g. “no-one wanted to speak to me”, “everyone was against me”).

There were significant correlations between the Physical victimisation factor and the other victimisation factors, showing that being subjected to physical violence is associated with various other types of bullying experiences. However, the correlation between Physical victimisation and self reported bullying-victimisation (i.e. answers to the question “How often have you been bullied this winter”), is only .37, while it is .47 for the Negative emotional experience factor and .43 for the Social exclusion factor. Thus, physical victimisation is linked to a lesser degree with self reports of being bullied than the other traditional victimisation elements, as measured by the above victimisation factors.

Interestingly, among the victimisation factors, Physical victimisation also had important correlations with factors measuring bullying as a perpetrator. Correlations between the Physical victimisation and 4 perpetrator factors were between .31 and .54, while the respective correlations of the other victimisation factors (e.g. Social Exclusion and Negative Emotional Experience) with these perpetrator factors ranged only from .03 to .17.

Thus, it seems that being subjected to Physical violence is almost as much associated with being a bully, as it is with being a victim of other types of victimisation experiences such as Social exclusion and Negative emotional experience.

The link between Physical victimisation and bullying as perpetrator is further evidenced when one looks at the way people cope with bullying experiences. There is a correlation of .26 between being subjected to Physical violence and actively seeking revenge, or responding by counter-attack. There is however hardly any correlation between the Physical victimisation factor and passive responses such as showing submission and feeling helpless. These latter responses are more associated with other types of victimisation such as Social Exclusion. The choice of coping tactics of victims of Physical violence is in that way similar to the responses that bullies exhibit, when/if they are subjected to bullying themselves.

A study conducted among Icelandic teachers, with the collaboration of teacher associations, indicated that teachers find it difficult to tackle bullying. Results showed e.g. that teachers feel they lack training in the area and claim that there is not enough time available to deal with these complicated issues. (Ólafsson & Thor, 2000).


No study has been conducted on violence against children of foreign origin in Iceland. Pétursdóttir (2000, private communication), at the Information and Cultural Center for Foreigners is under the impression that open physical violence against immigrants is still at a minimum level in Iceland, but that prejudice and mental harassment is most certainly taking place. The Center has however heard of incidents where physical violence was used and racist comments made, but Pétursdóttir points out that to date there is no formal body or institution where it is possible to report harassment or discrimination because of origin or race, contrary to many other European countries. Thus it can be said that even if violence took place because of origin or race, then it is very likely that this information would not become apparent. Equally, the police point out that race or immigrant status is not reported systematically when charges are pressed for violence. (Valsson, 2001).



Current national policies regarding violence in school


In response to a number of international agreements that Iceland is party to, a special discipline has recently been established, called Life Skills (“Lífsleikni”), which addresses issues such as human rights, gender equality, the protection of the environment etc. The curriculum contains various elements that would be relevant to tackle violence in schools. The discipline is also a response to demands on schools to take on an increased role with respect to the general upbringing of the pupils. The discipline is to be taught at least for 1 class hour per week from 4th grade onwards to 10th grade (i.e. between ages 9 and 15 years). The schools can on their own prerogative increase this time. Below are paraphrased some of the aims of this program as described in the curriculum provided by the Ministry of Education (see web site in reference list).

The discipline aims to enhance the general development and maturity of children, their physical health and psychological strength. It should increase their social maturity, moral values and respect for themselves and others. It also aims to increase their initiative, creativity and ability to adapt to demands and challenges in daily life. The main responsibility for these topics is seen to lie with the children’s parents/guardians, and the school is seen to assist them in achieving these goals for their children. An emphasis is put on creating a positive and safe educational environment characterized by support and cooperation from all the school, pupils and staff alike. Life skills is meant to provide an opportunity for the social development of pupils. The curriculum deals with factors linked to participation in a democratic society, being a member of a family, having friends, working with others and be able to see things from other people’s point of view. It addresses issues such as social skills, expressing ideas, arguing one’s case, setting goals and taking initiative. The discipline also provides a forum to address current issues that can arise pertaining to the well being of pupils and their feelings in general.

To achieve these aims, it is seen as important to link Life Skills with other disciplines, which also address these issues to varying degrees. It is pointed out that an evaluation of pupils in terms of how well they have achieved these aims is difficult as many of them are abstract and subjective and do not lend themselves easily to testing, but factual elements of this curriculum can however be tested. Self-evaluation can also be applied to assess how well the aims have been achieved, and this enables the teacher and parents/guardians to follow the progress. Among the various aims of this discipline for different age groups are:

  • to respect and understand the purpose of rules in human interaction
  • to be able to put the concept of equality of rights in different contexts
  • to increase their ability to cooperate with others
  • show respect for themselves and others
  • to listen to others point of view
  • to realize that not everyone is alike and respect people who look or dress differently and have different tastes.

It is seen as important that pupils are able to understand that different customs and rules can apply within a family without it having to affect the mutual respect and unity of the family. They are encouraged to understand that uncontrolled emotions can result in violence or other negative and thoughtless action. It is seen as important that they learn to follow complicated rules in play and work, alone or with others, and to realize that each person has personal and emotional limits that is possible to break with negative behaviour.

The pupil is encouraged to develop empathy and respect for other people’s opinions and values, and increase their ability to have rich interactions with others regardless of gender, race, nationality, religious beliefs and physical or mental ability. It is seen as important that the pupils acquire a social vision that enables them to understand and respect the rules of society and thus develop the strength and responsibility to affect and improve their environment with democratic means and discussion.

This discipline is new in the curriculum and still in developing stages. It is however the forum which would be most suitable to tackle violence in schools.

An action plan for schools

In response to the increased concern and public debate regarding bullying in schools, and in light of the results of the two studies funded by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry established a committee to prepare an action plan against bullying to be applied in schools at compulsory school level. The committee recently published its suggestions and they will now be summarized. They address:

  • prevention
  • an action plan for schools
  • suggestions for a program to increase education and information about the issue.

Prevention includes the following suggestions: an emphasis on positive and democratic atmosphere in schools, a clear statement from schools that bullying is not acceptable and will be tackled, open discussions about bullying, that school regulations should be clear about acceptable behaviour, that teachers are provided with added support in the form of education and information, an emphasis on cooperation between homes and schools from the beginning of school attendance, also a strong collaboration with various associations and youth-centers. It is emphasized that the school organisation should not offer opportunities for bullying with isolated places on the school grounds and dressing-rooms and finally, that schools should investigate systematically situations, attitudes and work-practices that affect prevention work and the action plans of each school.

The action plan includes the following suggestions: a bullying policy should be clear so that every-one knows what to do when bullying takes place and the plan should be published in the school curriculum. Each school should establish a bullying team, with a professional grounding, and it should be clear to everyone who belongs to it and what part they play. Bullying should not be viewed as the teacher’s private problem and finally, communication networks inside and outside school should be well defined.

Regarding suggestions for a program to increase education and information about the issue, the committee suggests that the ideas of Dan Olweus should be implemented and propose that a Conference be held in the autumn of 2001 to introduce his ideas and provide, in addition, for a course based on his theories to be made available for teachers the year 2002. The committee also suggests that more education about bullying be provided in the general education of teachers (Morthens, Snævarr, Sighvatsson, Kristjánsdóttir, Thoroddsen & Helgason, 2001).

Local initiatives or programs

The Red Cross in Iceland has spearheaded an initiative for young people against violence. The aim of the project is to make people more aware of different types of violence and of ways to tackle them, both with reference to the perpetrator and the victim. The project encourages people to be active in the battle against violence. As part of this, Red Cross representatives have travelled around the country on educational tours and published a brochure in collaboration with other parties. The Red Cross has also organized a photography competition on the topic and implemented many other initiatives.

The town of Hafnarfjörður has sent three people to the U.S.A. to study a method originating from Gerald Patterson calledParent Management Training. Its goal is to teach parents to deal with all kinds of behaviour problems including violence and direct children away from behaviour that is likely to develop later into antisocial behaviour. The method is seen to be most effective with children between four and six years old, who are about to start school. The method is less suitable for children with very unstable or weak social background, e.g. with poor family back up. After the course, the trainees will be able to educate more people in the implementation and practice of this program and in the future e.g. the social services in Hafnarfjörður will be able to use this method to evaluate and treat children with behaviour problem.

The Youth and Sports Council of Reykjavík had also been active in the struggle against bullying. They have published educational materials both for their counsellors and for children. The project for the children consists of a two-hour educational visit in classes with thirteen-year-olds and includes a survey about the experience of bullying. Later on, they come again to the classes and administer the survey again to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. The Council is now planning a similar project to suit nine and ten year olds. A preliminary evaluation of this program has given encouraging results (Ólafsson, Björnsson & Ólafsson, 1999).

The Ombudsman for Children in Iceland held a conference about bullying and published a report that was distributed widely in the country. There is also information about bullying in the Ombudsman’s web site. The children’s Ombudsman has also called attention to violence on TV.

There are a few self-help groups for victims of bullying and some victims or former victims have come forward and talked about their experiences in the media and elsewhere. These include media personalities, actors etc. A wealth of information about bullying is accessible in brochures and books, both original and translated. Novels for children have been published recently, which address bullying issues. The media is active in publishing articles and interviews. Some of the available material is mentioned in the appendix.


There is relatively little information available on violence in Icelandic schools and little systematic data has been collected on the issue. A few studies provide percentage data on the incidence of violence in general which pupils of ages 10 to 15 have experienced, and links with various other variables, such as family relationships, academic achievement, drug use etc. have been established. Physical victimisation has been linked to other forms of bullying-victimisation, and also to bullying as perpetrator.

A new discipline, Life Skills, has been introduced to the national curriculum, and seems to provide a suitable forum to tackle violence in schools. The Ministry of Education has also put forward guidelines to schools with suggestions on prevention, an action plan to tackle bullying and suggestions for increased education and information to be made available on the topic. Various initiatives against violence in schools have been run by the Red Cross in Iceland, the Reykjavik Youth and Sports Council has made available an anti-bullying program pack for schools and the town of Hafnarfjörður has provided training opportunities that will be useful to tackle violent behaviour. A variety of new materials have become available to facilitate interested parties in tackling bullying and/or violence in schools. The Children’s Ombudsman has made available various materials in the area, and has initiated activities to tackle bullying.

British and Scandinavian material has been translated and adapted. Individual teachers and psychologists have also taken initiatives on their own. Thus, the issue of bullying and violence in schools is very much in the public domain and there is a steadily increasing activity to tackle these issues at all levels.



Bernburg, J.G. & Þórlindsson, Þ. (1999). Adolescent violence, social control and the subculture of delinquency: Factors related to violent behaviour and non-violent delinquency. Youth and Society, 30, p.445-460.

Bernburg, J.G. & Þórlindsson, Þ. (2001) Rooting activities in social context: A closer look at the role of opportunities in deviant behaviour (forthcoming in Justice Quarterly in september)

Bjarnason, Þ., Ásgeirsdóttir, B.B., Þórlindsson, Þ.,Sigfúsdóttir,I.D. & Bernburg, J.G. (2000). Ofbeldi meðal íslenskra skólabarna og félagslegir skýringaþættir. Reykjavík: Rannsóknir og greining.

The Educational System in Iceland. (1995). Reykjavík: Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.

The Educational System in Iceland. (1998). Reykjavík: Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.

Eurybase 2001. The Information Database on Education Systems in Europe. The Education system in Iceland. (

Gunnlaugsson, H. (1996) Empiri og ideology in kriminology. Nordisk Tidsskrift for kriminalvidenskab, 83(1), 14-26. Cited in Bjarnason et al., 2000.

Iceland Practical Information (1999/2000). The Official Guide for Business Visitors. Reykjavík: Export Publication.

Morthens, M., Sighvatsson, G., Thoroddsen, J., Snævarr, S., Krisjánsdóttir, U. & Helgason, Þ. H. (2001). Tillaga starfshops um einelti í grunnskólum. Reykjavík: Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.

Ólafsson, R.F., Björnsson, J.K. & Ólafsson, R.P. (1999). Umfang og eðli eineltis í íslenskum grunnskólum. Reykjavík: Rannsóknastofnun uppeldis-og menntamála.

Ólafsson, R.F., Ólafsson, R.P. & Björnsson, J.K. (1999). Mat á áhrifum fræðslu til að stemma stigu við einelti. Reykjavík: Rannsóknastofnun uppeldis-og menntamála.

Ólafsson, R.F. & Thor, Ó.H. Úrræði skóla við lausn á eineltisvandamálum. Reykjavik: Rannsóknastofnun uppeldis- og menntmála.

Ríkislögreglustjórinn (2001). Brot gegn lífi og líkama. Reykjavik, Ríkislögreglustjóri.

TIMMS (1999). Niðurstöður fjölþjóðlegrar samanburðarrannsóknar í stærðfræði og náttúrufræðigreinum. Unpublished; cited in Bjaranson et al., 2000.

Tölfræðihandbók um háskólastigið (2000) Reykjavik: Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.

Valsson, K.S. (2001) Unnið gegn fordómum og fáfræði. Daily-DV, Jan, 30.

Þórlindsson, Þ. & Berburg, J.G. (1996). Ofbeldi meðal íslenskra unglinga. Reykjavík: Rannsóknastofnun uppeldis- og menntmála.

Þórlindsson, Þ., Sigfúsdóttir, I.D., Bernburg, J.G., & Halldórsson,V. (1998). Vímuefnaneysla ungs fólks: Umhverfi og aðstæður. Reykjavík: Rannsóknastofnun uppeldis- og menntmála.

Appendix:  Various Materials available on bullying

“At stoppa mobbning gar”, a manual against bullying.

“Blunder into for mobbningen”, published by the Ombudsman for Children in Sweden.

“Er ekki allt í lagi” Slides show about teenagers, that draws attention to physical violence among other things.

“Ég er bara ég” by Ásdís Olsen and Karl Ágúst Úlfsson.

“Gegn einelti: handbók fyrir skóla” a manual against bullying for schools, translated and adapted by Ingibjörg Markúsdóttir, from P. K. Smith and S. Sharp.

“Einelti” by Guðjón Ólafsson, published 1996 by the Institute for Educational Research, Iceland. A manual on bullying.

“Í sátt og samlyndi” a translated book from Lorraine Lee Morgan, Molly Laird and Susan Carol.

“Leikur á borði” a novel for children about bullying written by Ragnheiður Gestsdóttir.

“Saklausir sólardagar” a novel for children about bullying written by Valgeir Skagfjörð.

“Mobbing” a Norwegian film against violence in school both for adults and children.

“Saga Dóra” an Icelandic film about boy who is bullied in school with the serious consequences emphasized.

The Ministry of Education web site: