3.3 Bullying: Guidance
- Bullying and Prejudice-Related Incidents
- Bullying and Hate Crime
- Damaged caused by bullying
- Motivations for Bullying
- Actions to Safeguard Children from Bullying
- Further Advice
- Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance
Bullying may be defined as behaviour by an individual or a group, repeated over time, which intentionally hurts another individual or group, either physically or emotionally. It can take many forms, including:
Bullying can happen face to face or virtually, for example online via social networking sites, online forums or gaming or via mobile phones. The use of information communications technology (ICT) to bully impacts on the way bulling takes place – it can happen at any time of day and can be much more subtle or hidden, including taking place when a child is alone in their room. It also potentially involves a much larger audience, including a large number of bystanders and spread very quickly to become ‘viral’.
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.
Bullying often involves an imbalance of power between the victim and the perpetrator which gives the perpetrator control over the relationship and makes it difficult for the victim to defend themselves. This imbalance can take a number of forms. For example, it may be physical, psychological, intellectual, derive from having the support of a group or the capacity to socially isolate.
While bullying often involves children as both victim 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 should be defined by the impact on the victim rather than the intention of the perpetrator.
Bullying and Prejudice-Related Incidents
Prejudice-related incidents involve the nine protected characteristics as set out in the Equality Act 2010:
Prejudice-related incidents can take many forms, including prejudicial language, ridicule and jokes, verbal abuse and graffiti. There is a crossover between prejudice-related incidents and bullying. However, they are also distinct; not all incidents of bullying will be prejudice-related incidents and not all prejudice-related incidents will involve bullying.
When dealing with prejudice-related incidents, professionals should be particularly aware that they 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.
Buckinghamshire County Council has supported the development of guidance for schools around prejudice-related incidents. This includes further exploration of the similarities and differences between prejudice-related incidents and bullying. This document also provides guidance on how schools should respond to and record prejudice-related incidents.
There is no statutory duty to report such incidents to the Local Authority and as a result of low reporting by schools since 2010 Buckinghamshire County Council no longer has a reporting system for schools to access. However schools must keep their own internal records of discriminatory incidents as Ofsted could ask for any such records when inspecting a school.
Bullying and 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.
Hate crimes can include 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.
Damaged caused by bullying
The damage inflicted on children by bullying can frequently be underestimated. It can cause considerable distress to children, to the extent that it affects their health and development or, in extreme cases, causes them significant harm (including self-harm).
Children are often held back from telling anyone about their experience for a number of reasons, including:
Motivations for Bullying
Bullying is often motivated by prejudice, difference or vulnerability, whether actual or perceived. For example, a perpetrator may pick on someone because they are adopted, have caring responsibilities or because of the way they look. Children Living Away from home are particularly vulnerable to bullying and abuse by their peers (see BSCB guidance on Children Living Away from home). Bullying may relate to characteristics that are protected under the Equality Act (2010) including disability, race, religion or belief, gender and sexual orientation.
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.
Children who bully have often been bullied themselves. There may also be underlying circumstances which are contributing to the bullying behaviour, such as a disrupted home life, exposure to violence or a lack of self-confidence. While these reasons do not justify the bullying behaviour, professionals should recognise that in some cases the perpetrator may need support to deal with the underlying circumstances that are leading to their behaviour.
Changes in behaviour which indicate fear or anxiety may be a potential indicator of bullying. The behaviours listed below are ones which can be associated with bullying, although it is important to recognise that bullying will not always be the reason why a child is displaying these behaviours.
Actions to Safeguard Children from Bullying
All settings in which children are provided with services, or are living away from home should have rigorously enforced anti-bullying strategies in place and clear procedures on how to refer to Children’s Social Care if safeguarding concerns are identified (see BSCB How to report a concern).
Clear messages must be given that bullying is not acceptable and children must be reassured that the adults they are in contact with will take bullying seriously.
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.
Bullying may become a safeguarding issue and, particularly in cases of sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying, schools 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).
It is important for professionals to consider whether to apply safeguarding procedures both to the young people being bullied, and to the perpetrators. Victims of bullying may need to be protected from the child or young person engaging in bullying behaviour using safeguarding processes. Safeguarding processes may need to be applied to perpetrators in cases where their behaviour is an indication they are experiencing or impacted by abuse.
In all cases, where bullying is taking place, action should be taken to address the needs of the victims and the perpetrator and to provide appropriate support and services.
If the bullying involves physical assault, as well as seeking medical attention where necessary, consideration should be given as to whether there are any child protection issues and whether there should be a referral to the police if a criminal offence may have been committed.
Where appropriate, parents and carers of both victims and perpetrators should be kept informed and updated on a regular basis. Where possible they should also be involved in supporting the strategies that are being put in place to manage the bullying.
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 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.
Schools can contact Yvette Thomas, Head of Equalities at Buckinghamshire County Council, for further advice and support around bullying. The following Buckinghamshire County Council documents provide guidance for schools on dealing with prejudice-related incidents and disability bullying:
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 harrassment between children in schools and colleges was published in 2018.
Ofsted has a challenge role with schools in looking at how children and young people are being kept safe from bullying as part of their inspections, and gathers views from parents and children and young people as part of this process. If weaknesses are identified these will be flagged up in the Ofsted report.
Specialist bullying organisations:
The BSCB E-Safety Sub Group maintains a list of current resources relating to staying safe online.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+):
Special Educational Need and Disability (SEND):
Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance
- (Appendix 1) Dealing with Prejudice Related Incidents: Guidance for Schools
- (Appendix 2) All Inclusive: Tackling Disability-Related Bullying in Primary Schools