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2.8 Bullying

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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’. A child who bullies is defined as 'a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable' (The Diana Award).

Bullying is not when two people have a disagreement or fall out; it is ‘the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power.’ (Anti-Bullying Alliance) This imbalance of power between the victim and the perpetrator can give the perpetrator control over the relationship and make it difficult for the victim to defend themselves. Repeated bullying usually has a significant emotional component, where the anticipation and fear of being bullied seriously affects the behaviour of the target.

While bullying often involves children as both target and perpetrator, it can occur at any age. Professionals should be just as alert to cases of bullying which might involve an adult perpetrator bullying a child, or a child perpetrator bullying an adult.

Bullying often starts with apparently trivial events such as teasing and name calling which nevertheless rely on an abuse of power. Such abuses of power, if left unchallenged, can lead to more serious forms of abuse, such as domestic violence and abuse, racial attacks, sexual offences and self-harm or suicide.

The three main types of bullying are:

  • Physical – for example, hitting, kicking, shoving, theft.
  • Verbal – for example, threats, name calling, racist or homophobic remarks.
  • Emotional – for example, isolating an individual from activities/games and the social acceptance of their peer group.

However, bullying can take many other forms, including:

  • Non-verbal abuse – for example, hand signs or text messages or other social media misuse.
  • Undermining – for example, constant criticism or spreading rumours
  • Controlling or manipulating someone
  • Making silent, hoax or abusive calls.
  • Exclusion – ignoring or isolating someone
  • Also see cyber bullying.

Prejudice based bullying

Bullying can also be fuelled by prejudice based on any of the following:

  • Race and ethnicity (racist bullying)
  • Religion or belief
  • Culture or class
  • Gender (sexist bullying)
  • Sexual orientation (homophobic or biphobic bullying)
  • Gender identity (transphobic bullying)
  • Age
  • Special educational needs or disability (SEND)
  • Appearance or health conditions
  • Related to another vulnerable group of people for example children who have carer responsibilities, are looked after or adopted

Prejudice-related incidents can take many forms, including prejudicial language, ridicule, and jokes, verbal abuse, and graffiti. Not all incidents of bullying will be prejudice-related incidents and not all prejudice-related incidents will involve bullying.

Prejudicial-related incidents do not just impact on the individual involved, but are an attack on someone who is a representative of a community or group, which means the impact is felt more widely. This has the potential to spread fear and/or create a hostile environment.

There is no statutory duty to report such incidents to the Local Authority however schools must keep their own internal records of discriminatory incidents as Ofsted could ask for any such records when inspecting a school.

Hate Crime

A hate crime is a crime committed against someone because of their disability, gender-identity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation. A hate crime must involve a criminal offence, such as threatening behaviour, assault, robbery, damage to property, inciting others to commit hate crime and harassment.

Professionals should be aware that there may be a crossover between bullying and hate crime in cases where bullying behaviour relates to disability, gender-identity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation and a criminal offence has taken place.

Because a criminal offence is involved, all incidents of hate crime should be reported to the police.

Cyber Bullying

Cyber-bullying is defined as ‘the use of Information Communications Technology (ICT), particularly mobile phones, the use of social media and the internet, deliberately to upset someone else’. It is another form of bullying which can happen at all times of the day, with a potentially bigger audience that could spread very quickly to become ‘viral’.

Cyberbullying can include:

  • Sending threatening or abusive text messages
  • Creating and sharing embarrassing images or videos
  • Trolling – the sending of menacing or upsetting messages on social networks, chat rooms or online games
  • Excluding children from online games, activities, or friendship groups
  • Shaming someone online
  • Setting up hate sites or groups about a particular child
  • Encouraging young people to self-harm
  • Voting for or against someone in an abusive poll
  • Creating fake accounts, hijacking, or stealing online identities to embarrass a young person or cause trouble using their name
  • Sending explicit messages, also known as sexting
  • Pressuring children into sending sexual images or engaging in sexual conversations.

Sexualised Bullying and Harassment

Sexualised bullying broadly includes 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, behind their back or using technology.

Sexual bullying might include:

  • Sexual comments, taunts, and threats
  • Inappropriate physical contact that makes the recipient feel uncomfortable or scared (this can include hugging and kissing)
  • Distributing sexual material (including pornography), sending photos or videos of a sexual nature
  • Making phone calls and sending texts or messages of a sexual nature
  • ‘Games’ with a sexual element that may make a child or young person feel uncomfortable or scared.
  • Pressure to spend time alone or apart from others with another person, or people, that makes the person feel uncomfortable or scared
  • Pressure to be in a relationship with another person, or to engage in a sexual act with another person, both inside and outside of school
  • Sexism in all its forms; pressure to conform to particular gender ‘norms’

It is important to recognise that in some instances bullying will raise safeguarding concerns and/or involve a criminal offence. Bullying behaviour may result in a criminal investigation where there is physical assault, damage, threats, or harassment.

Schools have a duty of care to protect all its members and provide a safe learning environment. This is a legal requirement under:

The Education and Inspection Act 2006

Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 provides that maintained schools must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils.

Children’s Act 1989

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’. Under Section 47, where there is this ‘reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering’ the local authority ‘shall make, or cause to be made, such enquiries as they consider necessary to enable them to decide whether they should take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.’

Some acts of bullying may be a criminal offence, such as a hate crime, assault, theft or repeated harassment or intimidation. Consideration should be given as to whether there should be a referral to the Police.

Equality Act 2010

Bullying may relate to characteristics that are protected under the Equality Act (2010) including disability, race, religion or belief, gender, and sexual orientation.

Harassment and Victimisation on the basis of protected characteristics are prohibited under Sections 26 and 27 of the Act.

The Target

Using the phrase ‘target’ of bullying rather than ‘victim’ shows that a child is not helpless or powerless to change their situation. Any child may be a target of bullying, but it often occurs if a child has been identified in some way as vulnerable or different. Children living away from home are particularly vulnerable to bullying and abuse by their peers.

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 or, at the extreme, causes depression and self-harm. In severe cases it may be appropriate to consider the behaviour as child abuse by a young person (peer abuse) rather than as bullying.

Children are often held back from telling anyone about their experience for a number of reasons, including:

  • They have been threatened
  • They don’t think anything can be done to change the situation
  • They don’t think they will be believed.
  • They are afraid their device will be taken away
  • They think they should be able to deal with it by themselves
  • They might wrongly feel they are partly to blame for the situation

Parents, carers, and agencies need to be aware of the possible signs of bullying and any changes in behaviour such as:

  • Refusing to attend school or a particular place or activity
  • Becoming anxious in public places and crowds
  • Becoming withdrawn and isolated. 
  • Change in behaviour relating to internet use
  • Damage to property or belongings going missing
  • Increased complaints of physical illness

Bullying should be taken seriously, and a child offered support and reassurance that it is not their fault.

The Perpetrator             

It is unhelpful to label a child as a bully; the focus needs to be on supporting a change in their behaviour and identifying any wider support needs that the child may have.

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 and is often motivated by prejudice, difference, or vulnerability, whether actual or perceived. While these reasons do not justify the bullying behaviour, work with children who bully should be considered in the context of assessment of their environmental factors and recognise that they are likely to have significant needs themselves.

Practitioners may often be in the position of having to deal with the perpetrators as well as the targets of bullying. Bullying behaviour may be indicative of previous abuse or exposure to violence.

Where bullying exists in the context of gang behaviour, there should be an institutional, as well as an individual, response to this.

Both targets and perpetrators of bullying can benefit from assertiveness training where this is available.

Consideration should always be given to the underlying reason for the bullying so that prejudices and assumptions can be challenged and addressed appropriately.

Bullying often starts with small events such as teasing or name calling, which if left unchallenged can lead to more serious bulling and abuse.

The Context

If incidents of bullying aren’t identified and addressed by responsible adults, then the normalisation of bullying and violence in specific contexts can occur over time. This can lead to much more complex issues where children may be vulnerable to bullying, abuse or exploitation.

These extra-familial threats might arise at school and other educational establishments, from within peer groups, or more widely from within the wider community and/or online.

These threats can take a variety of different forms and children can be vulnerable to multiple threats, including: exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups such as county lines; trafficking; online abuse; teenage relationship abuse; sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation.

Assessments and Interventions should focus on and addressing these wider environmental factors, which are likely to be a threat to the safety and welfare of a number of different children who may or may not be known to professionals. (Working Together) More information can be found at the Contextual Safeguarding Network.

Any change in behaviour which indicates fear or anxiety is 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.

Any of the following behaviours should be taken seriously and discussed between parents/carers and schools, although it is important to recognise that bullying will not always be the reason why a child is displaying these behaviours:

  • Being frightened of walking to and from school or changing their usual route.
  • Being frightened of social media activities.
  • Feeling ill in the mornings or before activities
  • Beginning truanting and not wanting to take part in activities they usually enjoy.
  • Beginning to perform poorly in their schoolwork.
  • Coming home regularly with clothes or possessions damaged or destroyed.
  • Becoming withdrawn, starting to stammer, lacking confidence, being distressed and anxious and stopping eating.
  • Attempting or threatening suicide.
  • Unable to sleep, 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.
  • Unwillingness to share information about online accounts & activity.
  • Having unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches.
  • Beginning to bully other children/siblings.
  • Becoming aggressive and unreasonable.

All settings in which children are provided with services or are living away from home should have in place anti-bullying strategies and procedures on how to refer to children’s social care if safeguarding children concerns are identified. See Referrals procedure and Assessment procedure. This includes statutory, voluntary, community and faith groups, for example, sports clubs and youth centres 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. Bullying is not:

  • Only a bit of harmless fun.
  • All part of growing up.
  • Something children just must put up with it.
  • Something adults’ involvement makes worse.

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. 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 disability, race, faith and belief, 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. It is important for professionals to consider whether to apply safeguarding procedures to the young people being bullied, the perpetrators and possibly the context too.

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.

Bullying may become a safeguarding issue and, particularly in cases of sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying, schools, and other settings must consider whether safeguarding processes need to be followed. This is because of the potential for this form of bullying to be characterised by inappropriate sexual behaviour and the risk of serious violence (including sexual violence).

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.

Whatever plan of action is implemented, it must be reviewed with regular intervals to ascertain whether actions have been successful by consideration of 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.

Ofsted expects schools and other educational settings to record incidents of bullying and show how they have responded to these. Ofsted gathers views from parents and children and young people as part of their inspections and if weaknesses are identified these will be flagged up in the Ofsted report.

Since 1999, schools have been under a legal duty to put measures in place to promote good behaviour, respect for others and to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. In practice, schools need to draw up an anti-bullying policy linked to the behaviour policy.

All schools and settings providing services for children should have an anti-bullying policy which explains their position around bullying and the proactive and reactive strategies that are in place.

An anti-bullying policy must be a living document. Bullying cultures can spring up, and conflict can come and go depending on relationships and influences. There should be a commitment to reviewing your anti-bullying policy with pupils, staff, and parents on a regular basis.

Key points to include in an anti-bullying policy are:

  • A position statement
  • Lead staff members
  • A definition of bullying
  • The different types & forms of bullying
  • The role of bystanders
  • Reporting and recording procedures
  • How incidents will be responded to, monitored, and reviewed
  • Communication with parents/carers
  • Proactive strategies (what is done to prevent bullying occurring).

Whatever plan of action is implemented after issues have been identified, the plan must be reviewed with regular intervals and amended, if necessary, to ensure that the bullying has ceased.

Behaviour and Discipline in Schools 2016

The Department for Education has produced guidance for schools on preventing and responding to bullying (2017). Materials include advice on supporting children and young people who are bullied, and advice for both teachers and parents on cyber-bullying.

Guidance for schools on preventing and tackling sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges was published in 2018.

Specialist organisations:

  • The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA): Founded in 2002 by the NSPCC and the National Children’s Bureau, the 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.
  • Department for Education: Approaches to preventing and tackling bullying (June 2018).
  • True Vision: A national scheme supported by all police forces in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland providing information to the public about what hate crime is and the ways you can report it.

Cyber bullying:         


  • EACH: A training agency for employers and organisations seeking to tackle discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation.
  • Schools Out: Offers practical advice, resources (including lesson plans) and training to schools on LGBT equality in education.
  • Stonewall: An LGB equality organisation with considerable expertise in LGB bullying in schools, a dedicated youth site, resources for schools, and specialist training for teachers.


  • 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.
  • Online bullying and SEN / Disability: Advice provided by the Anti-Bullying Alliance on developing effective anti-bullying practice.


  • 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 school’s 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.

This page is correct as printed on Friday 21st of June 2024 08:20:18 PM please refer back to this website ( for updates.