5.6 Bullying


Abuse by Children and Young People who Display Sexually Harmful Behaviour Procedure


Norfolk Safeguarding Children Partnership supports the Norfolk County Council Anti-Bullying Strategy. This strategy states believes that all forms of bullying are unacceptable and should not be tolerated. We want children and young people to be and feel safe from bullying and discrimination. We also want everyone who works with children and young people to take bullying seriously and know how to resolve it positively. We seek to empower them to challenge, remedy and prevent bullying, creating a culture where every child and young person is treated with dignity and respect and takes seriously their responsibility to treat others in the same way.

See the Safe from Bullying suite of guidance, which can be found on the Department for Education website.

Please also see Preventing and tackling bullying – Advice for headteachers, staff and governing bodies.


This chapter was updated in September 2014 as a revised version of Preventing and tackling bullying – Advice for headteachers, staff and governing bodies was issued in March 2014.


1. Definition

The Anti-Bullying Alliance 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.’

Face to face bullying has three key characteristics:

  1. It is described has deliberately hurtful;
  2. It is repeated i.e. it happens on more than one occasion;
  3. There is always a power imbalance (i.e. the victim or target of bullying finds it difficult to defend themselves against it).

DfE (2013) definition taken from ‘Preventing and tackling bullying – Advice for headteachers, staff and governing bodies’ (Revised 2013). This definition emphasises that bullying is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups, for example on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or because a child is adopted or has caring responsibilities. It might be motivated by actual differences between children or perceived differences.

There are four main types:

  • Physical: hitting, kicking, punching, removing possessions;
  • Verbal: name-calling (largest type of bullying), sarcasm, criticism;
  • Indirect / Psychological: or ‘behind your back’ bullying such as gossiping, excluding, spreading rumours. The ‘look’;
  • Cyber: bullying related to Information Technology such as texting, emails, chat rooms, social networking etc.

Bullying isn’t when children and young people of a similar age and size find themselves in conflict, without an imbalance of power or use of intimidation.

In addition there are recognised forms of identity or prejudice related bullying where someone is bullied purely because of their identity e.g. race, disability, SEN, sexuality etc.

2. Why does Bullying happen?

Bullying happens when there is an intention to cause physical or emotional harm to a person or group of people. Bullying is often the result of prejudice and can target someone’s gender, culture, religion, perceived or actual sexuality, disability, appearance, interests, illness or household income. Reasons for why children bully are complex and varied and individual circumstances need to be examined. ChildLine noted that some aspects of bullying related to jealousy of the target.

3. Where does Bullying happen?

Children and young people are bullied for a variety of reasons and no reason – basically being bullied for ‘being me’ or perceived by others to be different in some way. Anyone can be bullied and it is not a sign of weakness. Important to recognise that reaction plays a key part in being bullied and those who react whether through being upset or aggressive are more likely to be targeted than those who respond assertively or ignore. Certain characteristics can increase a child’s risk of being bullied, e.g. bullying relating to disability, learning difficulties and sexual orientation appear to be particularly prevalent within UK schools. Other specific types include bullying related to:

Specific types include bullying related to:

  • Race, religion or culture;
  • Appearance or health conditions;
  • Being a young carer or looked after child or otherwise home circumstances;
  • Sexist or sexual bullying.

Research shows that minority groups can experience a disproportionately higher level of bullying than other children. See recent research cited below:

In terms of characteristics of targets, there is some research evidence which suggests they can be children who have difficulties forming friendships and some research which mentions over protective families as a common characteristic.

Bullying can happen in many different ways and can occur in different parts of life, affecting people of all ages, It can happen in places such as the home, at school, in the workplace, in communities, in sport or in prisons. Bullying might also happen through technology i.e. the internet or mobile phones. This is known as Cyberbullying.

4. How do I know if a Child or Young Person is being Bullied?

As everyone is different, there is no definite way to know there may be a problem unless they confide in you. However, it is likely that you will notice a change in the child’s behaviour. They may be moody or withdrawn, and may try to avoid the place where the bullying is happening. For example, a child may make excuses or feign illness to try and miss school. Bullying may result in a child or young person engaging in more risky behaviours such as substance misuse, self-harm or criminal behaviours.

The most important thing is to trust your intuition, and never ignore a situation in the hope it will just go away. If you think a young person is struggling, then begin by making them aware that you are available to support them as much as you can.

Who Bullies?

Bullies come from any class or social background. The research is still unclear about the exact characteristics of bullies. Some argue they do it because ‘It’s simple and it works’. Other research by Sutton (2001) suggests that they are often the social manipulators in classes and are popular with both pupils and teachers. Olweus (1999) argues that they do not suffer from self-esteem problems but O’Malley (2000) says they do. There is some research which suggests they have a predisposition to aggression (Olweus,1999).

5. How Should I Intervene?

Bullying can happen anywhere where people interact, and it is therefore important that children and young people feel able to report bullying to someone they trust. Almost a fifth of children surveyed in the Tellus4 report 2010, said they would not talk to their parents if they were bullied.

Bullying can be a very difficult subject for young people to talk about because of fear, embarrassment or just not having the words to describe it. Young people who are bullied often feel that they must have done something to cause it or that they should be able to handle the problem themselves, (this is especially true with older children). As a result, children and young people often find it impossible to talk to anyone when bullying occurs.

If you are worried that a child is being bullied it is important to approach the conversation with care and sensitivity. They may be afraid to talk about what is happening due to fears of what might happen next. Talking about bullying and trying to tackle the situation will always be better than ignoring it, even if it is a difficult subject to address.

It can be helpful for the young person to keep a diary of when, where and how the bullying takes place. This can help you to work with them to respond in the most appropriate and effective way, helping the child to feel safe.

Bullying can be reported to the Police if it involves a crime (such as assault or harassment).

6. What Key Bits of Legislation Relate to Bullying?

The DfE guidance Preventing and tackling bullying (2012) details all the relevant legislation as follows:

The Education and Inspections Act 2006

There are a number of statutory obligations on schools with regard to behaviour which establish clear responsibilities to respond to bullying. In particular section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006:

  • Provides that 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;
  • Gives head teachers the ability to discipline pupils for poor behaviour that occurs even when the pupil is not on school premises or under the lawful control of school staff. More detailed advice on teachers’ powers to discipline, including their power to punish pupils for misbehaviour that occurs outside school, is included in “Behaviour and discipline in schools – advice for head teachers and school staff” – see further sources of information below.

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 replaces previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act. A key provision is a new public sector Equality Duty, which came into force on 5 April 2011. It replaces the three previous public sector equality duties for race, disability and gender, and covers age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. The Duty has three aims. It requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to:

  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Act;
  • Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it; and
  • Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.

Schools are required to comply with the new Equality Duty. See the Department for Education website for details.

Safeguarding Children and Young People

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’. Where this is the case, the school staff should report their concerns to their local authority children’s social care. Even where safeguarding is not considered to be an issue, schools may need to draw on a range of external services to support the pupil who is experiencing bullying, or to tackle any underlying issue which has contributed to a child engaging in bullying.

Criminal Law

Although bullying in itself is not a specific criminal offence in the UK, it is important to bear in mind that some types of harassing or threatening behaviour – or communications – could be a criminal offence, for example under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Malicious Communications Act 1988, the Communications Act 2003, and the Public Order Act 1986.

7. Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying has the same effect as bullying but takes place via the internet or phone. The research undertaken by McAfee and the Anti Bullying Alliance for Anti Bullying Week 2013 suggests that children need to help to better understand what constitutes appropriate online behaviour, as many are unaware what constitutes cyberbullying. The report showed that only 11% of parents feel their children are safe online, and almost half reported significant concerns about cyberbullying. 38% of parents think their child has been a victim of cyberbullying and a third believe their child may be bullying others online.

Education about cyberbullying was a key finding in the report, for parents as well as children. A third felt that improving their knowledge of the internet and social networking would help to keep their child safe on line, whilst almost a fifth of parents felt their child’s knowledge of the internet was better than their own.

With the use of technology developing all the time, it is crucial that we ensure that we support adults with their understanding of the internet to keep children safe from cyberbullying. Efforts should be made to educate children and young people about appropriate behaviour online so that they understand what constitutes cyberbullying.

Ditch the Label conducted a large survey about cyberbullying in 2013. 10,008 students were surveyed. They were aged between 13 and 22 and 67% of respondents were the UK.

  • 7 in 10 young people are victims of cyberbullying (although other surveys put the figure at between 19% and 22%);
  • 37% of young people experience cyberbullying on a highly regular basis;
  • 20% of young people experience extreme cyberbullying on a daily basis;
  • Males and females are equally vulnerable to cyberbullying;
  • Young people were found to be twice as likely to be bullied on Facebook than any other social networking site;
  • 54% of young people using Facebook reported that they had experienced cyberbullying.

8. Bullying in Education

The Tellus4 National Report in 2010 stated that 46% of children and young people say they have been bullied at school at some point in their lives.

A survey of pupils in England estimates that 16,493 young people aged 11-15 (4.4%) are frequently absent from state school or home educated because of bullying (Red Balloon (2011) Estimating the prevalence of young people absent from school due to bullying (PDF). London: Red Balloon).

Under the Department of Education and Ofsted guidelines every school should have an effective anti-bullying policy. This policy can be stand alone or incorporated into a wider behaviour policy. It is imperative that this policy is communicated to, and understood by, all staff, governors, parents, and students alike. It should be clearly displayed, and ideally students should be actively involved in writing it.

Research shows that minority groups can experience a disproportionately higher level of bullying in school than other children:

  • 56% of children with a learning disability said they cried because of bullying, and 33% hid away in their bedroom. Nearly half of children with a learning disability had been bullied for over a year, and many were bullied for even longer (MENCAP (2007) Bullying wrecks lives: the experiences of children and young people with a learning disability. London: Mencap. 15pp);
  • Over 90 per cent of parents of children with Asperger Syndrome reported that their child had been bullied in the previous 12 months (L. Little, ‘Middle-Class Mothers’ Perceptions of Peer and Sibling Victimisation among Children with Asperger’s Syndrome and Non-Verbal Learning Disorders’ (2002) 25(1) Issues in Comprehensive Paediatric Nursing pp. 43 – 57);
  • In a survey carried out by the DCSF of 34,428 pupils across four different age groups, virtually every single pupil of minority ethnic heritage had been verbally abused on the ground of their ethnicity (DCSF, Bullying around Racism, Religion and Culture (2006));
  • Homophobic bullying continues to be widespread in Britain’s schools. In a survey of 16000 secondary school pupils, more than half (55 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying. The use of homophobic language is endemic. Almost all(99 per cent) gay young people hear the phrases ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’ in school (The Experiences of Young Gay People in Britain’s Schools (2012));
  • Our most recent Norfolk Anti-Bullying survey in March 2013 suggested 34.8% of 3545 pupils said they had been bullied but of these only 6.2% were ‘bullied a lot’ i.e. more than once a week. Results for this and previous surveys are available on the Bullying section of the Norfolk Schools website;
  • Appearance and interests were found to be the most common reasons for playground taunts (see Ditch the Label’s 2016 survey results).

8.1 Bullying Outside School Premises

Head teachers have a specific statutory power to discipline pupils for poor behaviour outside of the school premises. Section 89(5) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 gives head teachers the power to regulate pupils’ conduct when they are not on school premises and are not under the lawful control or charge of a member of school staff (this legislation does not apply to independent schools). This can relate to any bullying incidents occurring anywhere off the school premises, such as on school or public transport, outside the local shops, or in a town or village centre.

Where bullying outside school is reported to school staff, it should be investigated and acted on. The head teacher should also consider whether it is appropriate to notify the police or anti-social behaviour coordinator in their local authority of the action taken against a pupil. If the misbehaviour could be criminal or poses a serious threat to a member of the public, the police should always be informed.

8.2 Safe from Bullying – Guidance

Children, young people and their parents say that bullying is one of their top concerns. We know that bullying can happen anywhere – not just in schools. This is why the Department for Children, Schools and Families launched Safe from Bullying in April 2009, a suite of guidance setting out how different local services can work together to prevent and respond to bullying.

Safe from Bullying includes guidance for local authorities and other strategic leaders as well as specific documents for practitioners working in Further Education (FE) colleges, Play and Leisure provision, Youth Activities, Children’s Homes, Extended Services in and around schools, and on Journeys around the community. The guidance documents are supported by a set of Training Resources.

Please note that these guidances do not reflect current Government policy.

For more information:

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have produced a report on the Prevention and Response to identity-based bullying in local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales.

8.3 What do Ofsted Inspectors look for when they are Inspecting Schools?

See The Ofsted Framework for school inspection.

Bullying is noted under the Behaviour and safety section. This judgement takes account of a range of evidence about behaviour and safety over an extended period. This evidence may contribute to inspectors’ evaluation of how well the school promotes pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Specific reference to bullying is as follows:

  • Pupils’ behaviour towards, and respect for, other young people and adults, and their freedom from bullying, harassment, and discrimination (this may include cyber-bullying and prejudice-based bullying and language related to special educational needs, sexual orientation, sex, race, religion and belief, gender reassignment or disability as defined in the Equality Act 2010).

In the School Inspectors Handbook they suggest Inspectors will be looking at:

  • Types, rates and patterns of bullying and the effectiveness of the school’s actions to prevent and tackle all forms of bullying and harassment – this includes cyber-bullying and prejudice-based bullying related to special educational need, sexual orientation, sex, race, religion and belief, gender reassignment or disability;
  • The effectiveness of the school’s actions to prevent and tackle discriminatory and derogatory language – this includes homophobic and racist language, and language that is derogatory about disabled people;
  • The views expressed by pupils, and different groups of pupils, of their experiences of others’ behaviour and attitudes towards them.

8.4 What can Schools do?

1. Follow the advice as laid out in DfE advice Preventing and tackling bullying (revised 2012) as this outlines the legal duties for schools and colleges and is essential reading. This advice focuses:

  1. Prevention;
  2. Intervention;
  3. Involving parents;
  4. Involving pupils;
  5. Regularly evaluate;
  6. Implement disciplinary sanctions;
  7. Openly discuss differences between people that motivate bullying;
  8. Use specific organisations or resources to help with particular problems;
  9. Provide effective staff training.

Dealing with Bullying

Successful schools have policies in place to deal with bullying and poor behaviour which are clear to parents, pupils and staff so that, when incidents do occur, they are dealt with quickly. However a school chooses to define bullying for the purposes of its own behaviour policy, it should be clearly communicated and understood by pupils, parents, and staff. Successful schools create an environment that prevents bullying from being a serious problem in the first place. School staff, head teachers and governors are best placed to decide how best to respond to the particular issues that affect their pupils. There is no single solution to bullying which will suit all schools.


A school’s response to bullying should not start at the point at which a child has been bullied. The best schools develop a more sophisticated approach in which school staff proactively gather intelligence about issues between pupils which might provoke conflict and develop strategies to prevent bullying occurring in the first place. This might involve talking to pupils about issues of difference, perhaps in lessons, through dedicated events or projects, or through assemblies. Staff themselves will be able to determine what will work best for their pupils, depending on the particular issues they need to address.

Schools which excel at tackling bullying have created an ethos of good behaviour where pupils treat one another and the school staff with respect because they know that this is the right way to behave. Values of respect for staff and other pupils, an understanding of the value of education, and a clear understanding of how our actions affect others permeate the whole school environment and are reinforced by staff and older pupils who set a good example to the rest.


Schools should apply disciplinary measures to pupils who bully in order to show clearly that their behaviour is wrong. Disciplinary measures must be applied fairly, consistently, and reasonably taking account of any special educational needs or disabilities that the pupils may have and taking into account the needs of vulnerable pupils. It is also important to consider the motivations behind bullying behaviour and whether it reveals any concerns for the safety of the perpetrator. Where this is the case the child engaging in bullying may need support themselves.

The organisations listed in the ‘further resources’ section provide a range of practical resources for schools to help staff develop their own approaches to different issues which might motivate bullying and conflict.

Successful schools also:

  • Involve parents to ensure that they are clear that the school does not tolerate bullying and are aware of the procedures to follow if they believe that their child is being bullied. Parents feel confident that the school will take any complaint about bullying seriously and resolve the issue in a way that protects the child, and they reinforce the value of good behaviour at home;
  • Involve pupils. All pupils understand the school’s approach and are clear about the part they can play to prevent bullying, including when they find themselves as bystanders;
  • Regularly evaluate and update their approach to take account of developments in technology, for instance updating ‘acceptable use’ policies for computers;
  • Implement disciplinary sanctions. The consequences of bullying reflect the seriousness of the incident so that others see that bullying is unacceptable;
  • Openly discuss differences between people that could motivate bullying, such as religion, ethnicity, disability, gender or sexuality. Also children with different family situations, such as looked after children or those with caring responsibilities. Schools can also teach children that using any prejudice based language is unacceptable;
  • Use specific organisations or resources for help with particular problems. Schools can draw on the experience and expertise of anti-bullying organisations with a proven track record and / or specialised expertise in dealing with certain forms of bullying;
  • Provide effective staff training. Anti-bullying policies are most effective when all school staff understand the principles and purpose of the school’s policy, its legal responsibilities regarding bullying, how to resolve problems, and where to seek support. Schools can invest in specialised skills to help their staff understand the needs of their pupils, including those with Special Educational Needs and/or disability (SEND) and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGB&T) pupils;
  • Work with the wider community such as the police and children’s services where bullying is particularly serious or persistent and where a criminal offence may have been committed. Successful schools also work with other agencies and the wider community to tackle bullying that is happening outside school;
  • Make it easy for pupils to report bullying so that they are assured that they will be listened to and incidents acted on. Pupils should feel that they can report bullying which may have occurred outside school including cyber-bullying;
  • Create an inclusive environment. Schools should create a safe environment where pupils can openly discuss the cause of their bullying, without fear of further bullying or discrimination; and
  • Celebrate success. Celebrating success is an important way of creating a positive school ethos around the issue.
2. The latest report on bullying from Ofsted entitled ‘No place for bullying – How schools create a positive culture and prevent and tackle bullying (Ofsted, 2012)’ provides some useful research and recommendations to all schools. See Ofsted No place for bullying which as well as the full report, has a useful summary document.

The aim of this survey was to evaluate the effectiveness of the actions that schools take to create a positive school culture and to prevent and tackle bullying. A large part of the survey focused on pupils’ own experiences and understanding of bullying and its effects. In the best schools, the culture and ethos in the school were very positive. The schools’ expectations and rules clearly spelled out how pupils should interact with each other. Respect for individual differences had a high profile. In these schools pupils developed empathy, understood the effect that bullying could have on people, and took responsibility for trying to prevent bullying. The way in which these schools planned and delivered the curriculum helped a great deal to bring about these positive attitudes because it gave pupils a wide range of opportunities to develop their knowledge and understanding of diversity and an assortment of strategies to protect themselves from bullying. These schools recorded bullying incidents carefully and analysed them to look for trends and patterns. They then used this information to plan the next steps. The action they took was firm and often imaginative. If pupils had been bullied then they felt very confident that action was taken and it stopped promptly. Governors were well informed and questioning about bullying.


  • School leaders should ensure that their policies and practice consistently contribute to a culture of mutual respect in which unacceptable behaviours, including bullying, are minimised, by ensuring that:
    • The school has a set of clear, inclusive values that are understood and lived by all members of the school community;
    • The behaviour policy is explicit about the way in which pupils should treat each other and the messages are consistently reiterated and reinforced;
    • Staff consistently model positive behaviour in their interactions with each other, with parents and carers, and with pupils;
    • Pupils and staff understand the importance of using inclusive and non-derogatory language;
    • Pupils are helped to understand the difference between banter and interactions that can threaten or hurt;
    • All staff receive appropriate and regularly updated training to give them the knowledge, skills and confidence to teach pupils about diversity and the effects of bullying;
    • Staff consistently and firmly challenge inappropriate interactions, including prejudice-based and aggressive language.
  • Schools should ensure that their curriculum, including their personal, social and health education (PSHE) and citizenship curriculum:
    • Systematically teaches pupils about all aspects of individual difference and diversity, including those related to appearance, religion, race, gender, sexuality, disability and ability;
    • Includes a clear progression that takes account of the age and maturity of pupils;
    • Is tailored to the particular needs of the current and anticipated intake of the school;
    • Is adapted as necessary to address particular issues related to diversity or to bullying in the school and the wider community.
  • Schools should:
    • Ensure that they are able to evaluate, at an appropriate time after any bullying event, how effective their action has been;
    • Analyse their information about bullying to assess whether there are any patterns, trends or issues emerging;
    • Use this analysis to plan future actions.
  • Governing bodies should:
    • Develop systems to independently seek the views of pupils, parents and carers and staff on a regular basis to evaluate the effectiveness of the leadership’s actions to create a positive school culture for all learners;
    • Require the school’s analysis of bullying and the actions taken to be included in the headteacher’s reports to governors, and challenge and support the school accordingly.
  • Providers of initial teacher education should ensure that trainees learn about bullying, including prejudice-based bullying and language, as part of their training on behaviour.

Have a clear Anti-Bullying Policy

As a minimum need: vision statement, aims, an agreed definition, how to raise awareness, preventative measures, responses to and monitoring and evaluation (i.e. how you will know that you have made a difference).

See Norfolk’s Anti-Bullying Policy Checklist for Schools as well as the ABA School’s checklist.

9. Helpful Resources for Children and Young People, Parents and Carers, and Professionals

10. Authorship

This guidance has been has been written largely by Rita Adair, Senior Lead Educational Psychologist, Norfolk Children’s Services.

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