This chapter was amended in January 2022 to include information on sexual harassment and violence following the Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted) and Keeping Children Safe in Education and the definition of sexting was expanded to include taking and distributing nude or semi-nude images.
Bullying is defined as 'behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, which intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally' (DfE definition). Repeated bullying usually has a significant emotional component, where the anticipation and fear of being bullied seriously affects the behaviour and well-being of the victim.
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.
An Ofsted thematic review (Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted)) identified substantial levels of sexual harassment for both girls (90%) and boys (nearly 50%) – usually in unsupervised settings. Sexual harassment and sexual violence exist on a continuum and may overlap. Where the latter occurs, there could be a criminal offence committed.
How does bullying differ from teasing/falling out between friends or other types of aggressive behaviour?
- There is a deliberate intention to hurt or humiliate;
- There is a power imbalance that makes it hard for the victim to defend themselves;
- It is usually persistent.
It can be inflicted on a child by another child or an adult.
What does bullying look like?
Bullying can include:
- Name calling;
- Making offensive comments;
- Physical assault;
- Taking or damaging belongings;
- Cyber bullying/online bullying - inappropriate text messaging and e mailing; sending offensive or degrading images by phone or via the internet;
- Producing offensive graffiti;
- Gossiping and spreading hurtful and untruthful rumours;
- Excluding people from groups.
Although bullying can occur between individuals it can often take place in the presence (virtually or physically) of others who become the 'bystanders' or 'accessories'.
Why are children and young people bullied?
Specific types of bullying include:
Prejudice Related Bullying
Under the Equalities Act 2010 it is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of:
- Being or becoming a trans person;
- Being married or in a civil partnership;
- Being pregnant or having a child;
- Race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, including Gypsy, Roma, Traveller heritage;
- Religion, belief or lack of religion/belief;
- Sex /gender;
- Sexual orientation.
These are called ‘protected characteristics’.
Other vulnerable groups include:
- Young carers;
- Looked after children;
- Bullying related to home circumstances;
- Bullying related to appearance or health.
Although the above do not currently receive protection under the Equality Act 2010, bullying for these reasons is just as serious.
There is no hierarchy of bullying – all forms should be taken equally seriously and dealt with appropriately.
Prejudice Related Language
Racist, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and disabilist language includes terms of abuse used towards people because of their race/ethnicity/nationality; because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans, or are perceived to be, or have a parent/carer, sibling, or friend who is; because they have a learning or physical disability. Such language is generally used to refer to something or someone as inferior. This may also be used to taunt young people who are perceived to be different in some way or their friends, family members or their parents/carers are perceived to be different.
Dismissing such language as banter is not helpful as it is being used to mean inferior, bad, broken or wrong.
Where does bullying take place?
Bullying is not just something that happens at school. It may also persist outside school, in the local community, on the journey to and from school and may continue into Further Education.
The increasing use of digital technology and the internet has also provided new and particularly intrusive ways for bullies to reach their victims. Children need to be taught safe ways to use the internet and encouraged to consider their own online behaviour.
Whilst most incidents of Cyberbullying/online bullying occur outside school offer support and guidance to parents and their children who experience online bullying and will treat Cyberbullying/online bullying the same way as any other forms of bullying.
Bullying can take place between:
- Young people;
- Young people and staff;
- Between staff;
- Individuals or groups.
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. See Preventing Bullying Guidance (GOV.UK).
Upskirting, which involves taking a picture under a person's clothing without them knowing, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks to obtain sexual gratification, or cause the victim humiliation, distress or alarm; is a specific example of abusive behaviour which has been linked to online bullying and grooming. Upskirting is a criminal offence and should be reported to the Police.
The Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted) also recognised a wide variety of behaviours that children and young people told (them) happened online including:
- Receiving unsolicited explicit photographs or videos, for example 'dick pics';
- Sending, or being pressured to send, nude and semi-nude photographs or videos ('nudes');
- Being sent or shown solicited or unsolicited online explicit material, such as pornographic videos.
Sexting is a term which many young people do not recognise or use, therefore it is important that when discussing the risks of this type of behaviour with children and young people the behaviour is accurately explained.
Sexting (some children and young people consider this to mean ‘writing and sharing explicit messages with people they know’ rather than sharing youth-produced sexual images) or sharing nudes and semi-nudes are terms used when a person under the age of 18 shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others or sends sexually explicit messages.
Any change in behaviour which indicates fear or anxiety may be a potential indicator of bullying. Children may also choose to avoid locations and events which they had previously enjoyed - changes in attitude towards schools or organised activities are particularly significant.
Behaviour such as:
- Being frightened of walking to and from school and changing their usual route;
- Feeling ill in the mornings;
- Beginning truanting;
- Beginning to perform poorly in their school work;
- Coming home regularly with clothes or books destroyed;
- Becoming withdrawn, starting to stammer, lacking confidence, being distressed and anxious and stopping eating;
- Attempting or threatening suicide;
- Crying themselves to sleep, having nightmares;
- Having their possessions go missing;
- Asking for money or starting to steal (to pay the bully) or continually 'losing' their pocket money;
- Refusing to talk about what's wrong;
- Having unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches;
- Beginning to bully other children/siblings;
- Becoming aggressive and unreasonable.
should be taken seriously and the behaviour discussed between parents/carers and schools.
The Child Bully
Children sometimes bully others because:
- It feels like fun;
- They dislike or are jealous of someone;
- They feel powerful and respected;
- It gets them what they want;
- They are bullied or have been bullied themselves and are taking it out on someone else;
- They have problems in their life that are making them feel bad.
Work with children who bully should recognise that they are likely to have significant needs themselves.
The bystander has an important and significant role in bullying. People who bully others are often trying to impress their peers, either by looking tough or funny. Without bystanders to watch the reaction of the victim, the bully will not gain their gratification.
Research has identified the following reasons why students did not intervene:
- It might be me next;
- It's only a bit of fun;
- Ignore it and it will go away;
- They deserve it.
How bystanders can help
Encourage your children not to be bystanders by telling them to:
- See it, get help, stop it;
- Tell them that by not doing anything they are encouraging the bully;
- Support them if they decide to tell the bully to stop but only if they feel safe to do so;
- Discuss with them ways in which they might help the victim such as forming a friendship group for the person being bullied to make sure they are not isolated;
- Listen and support them if they tell you about bullying;
- Tell them not to forward unkind messages via email or texting.
All settings in which children are provided with services or are living away from home should have in place anti-bullying strategies. This includes youth clubs and all other children's organisations as well as all schools.
- Support should be offered to children for whom English is not their first language to communicate needs and concerns;
- Children should be able to approach any member of staff within the organisation with personal concerns.
In order to maintain an effective strategy for dealing with bullying, the traditional ideas about bullying should be challenged, e.g.
- It's only a bit of harmless fun;
- It's all part of growing up;
- Children just have to put up with it;
- Adults getting involved make it worse.
Dismissing bullying as just being ‘banter’ should be cautioned against. The Anti Bullying Alliance provides further useful reflection on drawing the line between acceptable language and unacceptable language.
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.
Clear messages must be given that bullying is not acceptable and children must be reassured that significant adults involved in their lives are dealing with bullying seriously.
Keeping Children Safe in Education notes that with regard to sexual harassment, all staff working with children are advised to maintain an attitude of 'it could happen here' and must respond to all reports and concerns about sexual violence and/or sexual harassment, including online behaviour and incidents that have happened outside of the school/college.
Some acts of bullying could be a criminal offence.
A climate of openness should be established in which children are not afraid to address issues and incidents of bullying.
Consideration should always be given to the existence of any underlying issues in relation to race, gender and sexual orientation. This should be addressed and challenged accordingly.
Where a child is thought to be exposed to bullying, action should be taken to assess the child's needs and provide support services.
If the bullying involves a physical assault, as well as seeking medical attention where necessary, consideration should be given to whether there are any child protection issues to consider and whether there should be a referral to the Police where a criminal offence may have been committed.
Where appropriate, parents should be informed and updated on a regular basis. They should also, when applicable, be involved in supporting programmes devised to challenge bullying behaviour.
Creating an anti-bullying climate that is conducive to equality of opportunity, co-operation and mutual respect for differences can be achieved for example by:
- Low Tolerance of Minor Bullying – dealing with incidents at the earliest sign;
- Never ignoring victims of bullying, always showing an interest/concern;
- Publicly acknowledging the bullied child's distress;
- Organising quality groups/circles, which allow children to work together to identify their own problems, causes and solutions with sensitive facilitators.
Practitioners may often be in the position of having to deal with the perpetrators as well as the victims of bullying. It should be borne in mind that bullying behaviour may in itself be indicative of previous abuse or exposure to violence.
It is important when addressing bullying behaviour by another child to avoid accusations, threats or any responses that will only lead to the child being uncooperative, and silent.
The focus should be on the bullying behaviour rather than the child and where possible the reasons for the behaviour should be explored and dealt with. A clear explanation of the extent of the upset the bullying has caused should be given and encouragement to see the bullied child's points of view.
A restorative approach and the use of restorative enquiry and subsequent mediation between those involved can provide an opportunity to meet the needs of all concerned. The child who has been bullied has the chance to say how he or she has been affected. The opportunity is provided for the child doing the bullying to understand the impact of his or her actions and to make amends.
Both the child engaged in bullying behaviour and those who are the target of bullying should then be closely monitored. The times, places and circumstances in which the risk of bullying is greatest should be ascertained and action taken to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Whatever plan of action is implemented, it must be reviewed with regular intervals to ascertain whether actions have been successful by consideration whether the target of bullying now feels safe and whether the bullying behaviour has now ceased. Consideration should also be given to lessons learned in order to constantly review and improve practice. Where bullying exists in the context of gang behaviour, there should be an institutional, as well as an individual, response to this.
Both victims and perpetrators of bullying can benefit from assertiveness training where this is available.
- 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 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;
- Think U Know: Resources provided by NCA-CEOP for children and young people, parents, carers and teachers on how to stay safe on a computer, tablet or phone;
- Digizen: Provide online safety information for educators, parents, carers and young people;
- Advice on Child Internet Safety: The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) has produced universal guidelines for providers on keeping children safe online;
- Sexting: How to Respond to an Incident: The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) an overview for staff on how to respond to incidents involving sexting;
- Sharing nudes and semi-nudes: advice for education settings working with children and young people.
- 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.
Please note that internal servers may block access to some of these sites. Schools wishing to access these materials may need to adjust their settings.
See also: Local contact in Nottinghamshire.