Jun 04, 2014


CAPSLE is a school-based program for elementary school children intended to reduce aggressiveness and victimization and increase bystander helpfulness by raising awareness throughout the entire school. An experimental evaluation of the program found that the school-based intervention had a moderately positive impact on aggression, helpful bystanding, aggressive bystanding, victimization, and empathy.


Target population: Elementary school children

Creating a Peaceful School Learning Environment (CAPSLE) is a school-wide intervention aimed at reducing bullying behavior by modifying the educational and disciplinary school climate. The program is focused more on the bystander than the bully and uses the principles of mentalization. Mentalization is the ability to reflect on thoughts and feelings (one’s personal feelings as well as a bully’s) and the ability to recognize that thoughts lead to behaviors.

The CAPSLE program uses five mechanisms to encourage awareness and action by bystanders: (1) a positive awareness campaign that focuses on the subjective experiences of bullies, victims, and bystanders, (2) a classroom management plan that requires teachers to expand on thoughts and feelings associated with aggressive classroom acts, (3) a defensive martial arts program, (4) peer or adult mentorship, which allows opportunities for students to reflect on interpersonal interactions, and (5) reflection time, where students can share their experiences with their class.

Specifically, the program uses posters and class discussions to encourage students to reflect on how they respond to anger and the effects anger and victimization have on them. Posters also facilitate the labeling of feelings and help students to acknowledge that feelings of distress are real and okay. The martial arts training uses role playing to demonstrate the importance of bystanders. Another component of the program is the selection of a “helpful bystander.” A “helpful bystander” is a student who is neither a victim nor a bully, but has the ability to motivate other students because she or he is a natural leader.

School staff are responsible for implementing the program and are led by a group of their peers. There is a free manual available at


Fonagy, P., Twemlow, S. W., Vernberg, E. M., Mize Nelson, J., Dill, E. J., Little, T. D., & Sargent, J. A. (2009). A cluster randomized controlled trial of child-focused psychiatric consultation and a school systems-focused intervention to reduce aggression. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50(5), 607-616.

Evaluated population: Nine elementary schools in a single school district were included in the analysis with a total of 1,345 students. Sixty-four percent of participants were low-income, 57 percent lived in single parent households, and 42 percent were minorities. Although all students (K-5) participated in the program, only 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders were evaluated.

Approach: Schools were randomly assigned to one of three conditions (three schools in the CAPSLE program, three schools in the School Psychiatric Consultation (SPC) program, and three in the control group). The CAPSLE program is a school-wide intervention aimed at reducing student aggressiveness and bullying by changing the school climate. The SPC program involves individual consultations by child psychiatrists with students who have adjustment problems (i.e. aggression, academic problems, or mental health problems). . The control group received treatment as usual; normal school policies were maintained.

For the CAPSLE program, a group of school staff led the school in the implementation of the program (the CAPSLE team). At the beginning of the first year, all school staff participated in a day of group training. Throughout the first year the CAPSLE team consulted with school staff monthly and students received nine sessions of self-defense training. At the beginning of the second year, school staff participated in a half-day refresher course and a three-session self-defense course was provided. Additionally, a professional led biweekly supervision meetings with the CAPSLE team during both years. At the beginning of year three, the CAPSLE team stopped working with the schools and only one in-service refresher training was provided to school staff.

Peer nomination and self-report methods were used to assess victimization and aggression. Self-reports were used to assess bystanding behaviors and beliefs and behavioral observations were conducted to assess disruptive and off-task behavior. Researchers used imputation (a statistical method that assigns values for missing data) to account for missing data and adjusted for clustering (since schools were randomly assigned, but student responses were used).

Results: Program impacts after two years of active intervention were reviewed. Year 3 findings were not reviewed because the intervention changed between Year 2 and Year 3. Findings were mainly positive. Aftertwo years of intervention, there was an overall increase in both the CAPSLE and SPC conditions for peer-reported aggression, peer-reported victimization, peer-reported aggressive bystanding, helpful bystanding, and empathy and a decrease in self-reported victimization. However, CAPSLE was found to lower rates of aggression, victimization, aggressive bystanding, and increase rates of empathy. Interestingly, CAPSLE was also found to decrease rates of helpful bystanding and had no impact on beliefs about the legitimacy of aggression or on self-reported aggression and victimization. Finally, participants assigned to the CAPSLE program had lower levels of observed disruptive and off-track behavior (but received more teacher re-direction) than participants in the SPC and control conditions.



Fonagy, P., Twemlow, S. W., Vernberg, E. M., Mize Nelson, J., Dill, E. J., Little, T. D., & Sargent, J. A. (2009). A cluster randomized controlled trial of child-focused psychiatric consultation and a school systems-focused intervention to reduce aggression. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50(5), 607-616.


Contact Information

Peter Fonagy

Research Department of Clinical Educational and Health Psychology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK

KEYWORDS: Children, Elementary, Males and Females, School-based, Cost, Manual, Skills training, Helping Behavior/Social Responsibility, Bullying, Aggression, Social Skills/Life Skills

Program information last updated on 6/4/14.