In March 2021, this chapter was updated throughout including new links added to resources for addressing bullying linked to race/faith, and resources to help make schools, colleges or other settings LGBT inclusive. See Section 4, Further Information.
Bullying is 'behaviour by an individual or group, repeated over time, which intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally' (DfE definition).
The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) and its members have a shared definition of bullying based on research from across the world over the last 30 years. ABA defines bullying as: "the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power."
Bullying can include emotional and/or physical harm to such a degree that it constitutes significant harm (see Responding to Abuse and Neglect Procedure).
There is no legal definition of bullying. However, it's usually defined as behaviour that is:
- Intended to hurt someone either physically or emotionally;
- Often aimed at certain groups, for example because of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
Bullying can rapidly escalate into sexual or serious physical, emotional or psychological abuse (link to children harming others).
Under the Children Act 1989 a bullying incident should be addressed as a child protection concern when there is 'reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm'.
Although bullying in itself is not a specific criminal offence in the UK, some types of harassing or threatening behaviour - or communications - could be a criminal offence.
Bullying can be:
- Physical - for example, pushing, poking, hitting, kicking, biting, punching, including for filming with mobile telephones and theft;
- Verbal - for example, threats, name calling, spreading rumours, teasing, belittling, racist or homophobic remarks;
- Emotional - for example, isolating others, tormenting. Humiliation, manipulation, coercion;
- Psychological - for example, gas lighting;
- Cyber-bullying/Online Bullying - takes place using technology and can be the method of verbal, emotional or psychological abuse. Whether on social media sites, through mobile phone, or gaming sites, it can be devastating to the child involved. It can happen at all times of day with a potentially bigger audience;
- By its very nature, cyber bullying tends to involve a number of online bystanders and can quickly spiral out of control. The methods of those who Bully online can be hidden and subtle. The DFE have issued guidance for school staff and parents and carers on how to recognise signs of cyber bullying and support children who are being bullied in this way - see Preventing Bullying.
- Sexual Bullying - there is no official definition but can be described as any bullying behaviour with a sexual element. It can be both physical and non-physical and it can be carried out to a person's face, without them knowing or through the use of technology. This behaviour can be between children and young people of any gender and/or sexual orientation, and between children and adults. For more information see Preventing and Responding to Sexual Bullying;
- Sexual Harassment is a similar term to sexualised bullying. It is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which makes someone feel distressed, intimidated or humiliated for more information see Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges (GOV.UK);
- Children can abuse other children (often referred to as peer on peer abuse) see Harmful Sexual Behaviour Procedure.
There is the potential for bullying wherever groups of children spend time together on a regular basis. Agencies should promote a culture of healthy interaction and discourage bullying. Professionals in all agencies should be alert to bullying and competent to support and manage both the victim and the abuser.
Staff should be supported by locally agreed thresholds and single agency policies to combat bullying. In the most serious cases, these should include discussion with the agency's designated safeguarding children professional and making a referral to LA Children's social care. Separate referrals for assessment and support should be made, one for the child victim and one for the child abuser in line with Children harming others procedure and referral and assessment procedures.
Where the bullying may involve an allegation of crime (assault, theft, harassment for example name calling, threats and abusive phone calls, emails or text messages) and hate crimes a referral should be made to the police at the earliest opportunity.Partner agencies should consider tackling bullying as part of their wider role in safeguarding children and young people. The Anti-Bullying Alliance can provide support to local areas to tackle bullying in their communities.
2. Schools and the Law
By law, all schools must have a behaviour policy in place that includes measures to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils.
This policy is decided by the school. All teachers, pupils and parents must be told what it is.
Schools are the agency most likely to become aware of bullying and schools have statutory obligations to respond. Every school must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils. These measures should be part of the school's behaviour policy which must be communicated to all pupils, school staff and parents
Headteachers also have the ability to discipline pupils for poor behaviour even when the pupil is not on school premises or under the lawful control of school staff.
Schools must also follow anti-discrimination law. This means staff must act to prevent discrimination, harassment and victimisation within the school. This applies to all schools in England.
The Child Victim
The damage inflicted by bullying can often be underestimated. It can cause considerable distress to children, to the extent that it affects their health and development and can be a source of significant harm, including self-harm and suicide.
Children are often held back from telling anyone about their experience either by threats, a feeling that nothing can change their situation, that they may be partly to blame for the situation or that they should be able to deal with it themselves.
Parents, carers and agencies need to be alert to any changes in behaviour such as refusing to attend school or a particular place or activity, becoming anxious in public places and crowds and becoming withdrawn and isolated. Parents should be provided with information as what they should do if they are worried that their child is being bullied - i.e. where they can obtain advice and support including keeping safe on the internet.
Any child may be bullied, but bullying often occurs if a child has been identified in some ways as vulnerable, different or inclined to spend more time on their own. Bullying may be fuelled by prejudice - racial, religious, homophobic and against children with special education needs or disabilities or who are perceived as different in some way. In cases of sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying, schools must always consider whether safeguarding processes need to be followed. This is because of the potential seriousness of violence (including sexual violence) that these forms of bullying is characterised through inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Children living away from home are particularly vulnerable to bullying and abuse by their peers.
The Child Bully
Children, who bully, have often been bullied themselves and suffered considerable disruption in their own lives. The bullying behaviour may occur because the child is unhappy, jealous or lacking in confidence.
Work with children who bully should recognise that they are likely to have significant needs themselves.
4. Further Information
- The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA): Founded in 2002 by NSPCC and National Children's Bureau, the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) brings together over 100 organisations into one network to develop and share good practice across the whole range of bullying issues;
- Kidscape: Charity established to prevent bullying and promote child protection providing advice for young people, professionals and parents about different types of bullying and how to tackle it. They also offer specialist training and support for school staff, and assertiveness training for young people;
- The Diana Award: Anti-Bullying Ambassadors programme to empower young people to take responsibility for changing the attitudes and behaviour of their peers towards bullying. It will achieve this by identifying, training and supporting school anti-bullying ambassadors;
- The BIG Award: The Bullying Intervention Group (BIG) offer a national scheme and award for schools to tackle bullying effectively.
- ChildNet International: Specialist resources for young people to raise awareness of online safety and how to protect themselves;
- Internet Watch Foundation: For reporting illegal images and content;
- Think U Know: Resources provided by Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) for children and young people, parents, carers and teachers;
- Digizen: Provide online safety information for educators, parents, carers and young people;
- Advice on Child Internet Safety 1.0: The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) has produced universal guidelines for providers on keeping children safe online.
- Ditch the Label: Resources to use when tackling gender stereotypes;
- Schools Out: Offers practical advice, resources (including lesson plans) and training to schools on LGBT equality in education;
- Stonewall: Resources to help schools, colleges and other settings ensure they are LGBT inclusive.
- Mencap: Represents people with learning disabilities, with specific advice and information for people who work with children and young people;
- Changing Faces: Provide online resources and training to schools on bullying because of physical difference;
- Cyberbullying and Children and Young People with SEN and Disabilities: Advice provided by the Anti-Bullying Alliance on developing effective anti-bullying practice.
- Racist and Faith Targeted Bullying: information on racist and faith targeted bullying including top tips for schools, advice countering intolerance and prejudice, promoting shared values and what the law says;
- Show Racism the Red Card: Provide resources and workshops for schools to educate young people, often using the high profile of football, about racism;
- Kick it Out: Uses the appeal of football to educate young people about racism and provide education packs for schools;
- Anne Frank Trust: Runs a schools project to teach young people about Anne Frank and the Holocaust, the consequences of unchecked prejudice and discrimination, and cultural diversity.
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