For many children and young people, the issue of bullying is seen as something that they have to deal with themselves. They feel adults are not going to take them seriously and will most likely make things worse. However, we know that bullying has enduring impact on children and young people right through to their adult life and should be taken as seriously as other allegations of abuse or neglect.

A 2020 survey into bullying of 13,387 young people aged 12-18 by Ditch the Label found that, within the previous 12 months, 26% had witnessed bullying, 25% had been bullied, and 3% had bullied.

Particular groupings of children and young people can be at greater risk of being bullied.  Examples include young carers, children with additional needs and children who lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or trans. For approaches to bullying to be effective they must involve the whole setting, including pupils/students, teachers, parents and the governing body.

Bullying can cover a wide range of issues, and as identified on the government’s website, some forms are illegal (e.g. violence or assault, theft, repeated harassment, hate crimes) and should be reported to the Police.

Definition of bullying

“Bullying is behaviour by an individual or group, repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally. Bullying can take many forms (for instance, cyber-bullying via text messages, social media or gaming, which can include the use of images and video) and is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups, for example on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, special educational needs or disabilities, or because a child is adopted, in care or has caring responsibilities. It might be motivated by actual differences between children, or perceived differences.”

Preventing and tackling bullying, DfE

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“I knew they wouldn’t do nowt because this other lass, she were like me and she was getting picked on and she told the teachers and they didn’t do nowt.”

Why are children bullied?

A Ditch the Label report identifies that the main reasons children and young people believe that they were bullied was because of their:

  • appearance
  • interests / hobbies
  • doing well / not doing well in school
  • mannerisms
  • household income was too high
  • family issues being made public
  • sexuality.

Of the eleven areas that the report highlights as being the impact of bullying the four that scored the highest all related to the mental health and self-esteem of the victims. One third of the victims had had suicidal thoughts, and over a quarter had self-harmed.

Body Shaming

Research by the YMCA identifies that how they look is a significant issue for the vast majority of young people. This is primarily driven by magazines and celebrities, but the issues were found to be reinforced by their peer group. As with bullying in general, the impact on young people is in relation to their mental health and feelings or self-worth. The research found that where there were problems, young people would often withdraw and isolate themselves from others.


Online bullying has particular features that can make it as significant, or more significant, than traditional bullying and should be seen as ‘two sides of the same coin’. Find out more on our cyberbullying page.


Bullying is prevalent across schools and colleges. Bullying can have a devastating effect on individuals; It is often a barrier to their learning and may have serious consequences for their mental health. Bullying which takes place at an education setting does not only affect an individual during childhood but can have a lasting effect on their lives well into adulthood. Bullying also affects perpetrators and bystanders.

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  • More than 16,000 young people are absent from school due to bullying
  • 38% of children aged 10 to 15 years in England and Wales reported that they had experienced a bullying behaviour in person in the year ending March 2020. Around one in five (19%) experienced at least one type of online bullying behaviour, equivalent to 764,000 children. More than half (52%) of these said they would not describe these behaviours as bullying, and one in four (26%) did not report their experiences to anyone. Being called names, sworn at or insulted and having nasty messages about them sent to them were the two most common online bullying behaviour types, experienced by 10% of all children aged 10 to 15 years. Nearly three out of four children (72%) who had experienced an online bullying behaviour experienced at least some of it at school or during school time.
  • Nearly half of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans young people have been bullied for being LGBT at school
  • Body shaming is a significant issue that is primarily driven by media representations of an ideal aesthetic.

By effectively preventing and tackling bullying, schools can help to create safe, disciplined environments where pupils are able to learn and fulfil their potential.

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Types of bullying

  • Physical bullying: hitting, kicking, tripping or the destruction of a person’s property. Physical bullying not only affects the bully and the victim, but also may have an impact on innocent bystanders.
  • Verbal bullying: insults, teasing, name calling, sexual harassment or prejudice based/discriminatory language, including threats.
  • Covert bullying: attempted behind the victim’s back, often to damage the victim’s reputation and can include creating rumours, mimicking, humiliation. This is the most frequently used form of bullying.
  • Cyberbullying: can happen anywhere and at any time, it can occur through text messages or over the internet, making it difficult to control. This may include impersonating a victim, spreading gossip, sharing photos without consent, trolling, excluding the victim online and/or continually targeting someone in an online game.
  • Alienation: encouragement of peers to alienate the victim, treating the victim like an outcast. This so-called “pack mentality’ is most frequently seen in secondary settings but can be evident at any age.
  • Prejudice based/discriminatory bullying: any of the above types of bullying that is motivated by hostility to certain individuals or groups due to their disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or other perceived difference.
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Know what to do

Spot the signs:

  • unexplained injuries;
  • distress/anxiety
  • broken or missing possessions or damaged uniform/clothing;
  • changes in appearance, habits and/or behaviour;
  • complaining of headaches and/or stomach aches, problems with eating;
  • lateness/poor attendance;
  • sudden change in attainment or engagement in lessons.

Reinforce that bullying is not acceptable through:

  • observation;
  • open and challenging discussions with your class;
  • encouraging reporting.
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Take action

  • listen to and observe pupils; not only their words/symbols but their behaviour and presentation too;
  • tackle any witnessed bullying swiftly;
  • record your concerns;
  • follow anti-bullying protocol and policy;
  • any likelihood of ‘significant harm’ or an offence being committed must be addressed through safeguarding procedures and keep taking action until you know they are safe;
  • never ignore bullying.

A whole school approach


It’s often talked about, but what does it mean?  In this section we will explore this along with areas such as prevention, inclusion and empowerment, along with how to develop an anti-bullying environment.  Click the expand button to see more.

A whole school approach

  • Make sure your values are front and centre, that all staff, children and young people, and their families know them and apply them. For example, in one primary school the values of “Look after yourself, look after each other and the place you’re in” featured in many discussions and was used in reflective work, by children with one another and by teachers and parents in deciding how the school was run. Secondary settings may wish to expand and add to these values, and discuss democracy, equality, respect, resilience, tolerance and understanding.
  • Ensure you have strong and up to date, understandable policies around anti-bullying and behaviour with a clear definition that separates bullying from unkind behaviour or falling out, with a system of sanctions, as well as assessment of needs and appropriate support for both victims and perpetrators.
  • All staff should be trained in the setting’s approach (from support staff to senior leaders) in order to model behaviour, identify concerns and take action. We can arrange bullying training with actors that really brings the training to life and keeps values to the fore. Click here to get in touch.


Address prejudice and improve empathy and understanding through awareness raising activities and education. What work does your setting do around resilience, problem solving, attachment approaches and emotional regulation? How is positive behaviour or attitude recognised and rewarded, again linking to the staff knowledge and action? Pupils should choose not to engage in bullying behaviour because they understand that is not the right thing to do, rather than just because they are told not to. Where are the places in and around your setting that bullying happens? What is being done to make these areas safer?


Promote diversity and look for ways to help children and young people measure the difference they are making to inequality in the setting. Help young people develop goals for the setting, such as reducing measures of exclusion identified in student surveys, and individual goals such as making a difference for someone every day. Ensure there is celebration of difference and look for links to other cultures, settings and regions to ensure children and young people have the opportunity to experience the benefits of diversity.

Consider the power of words and ensure there is challenge of ‘banter’, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, biphobic, racist, and other discriminatory language (e.g. about disability) which in some settings is routine (such as saying “That’s gay” to indicate that something is negative) among children or young people. Work to help young people (and possibly some staff) understand why these kinds of comments, even though they are in wide use, are still unacceptable and damaging.

Anti-bullying environment

Raise the profile throughout the year, not just in anti-bullying week. Posters, pupil-friendly policies in every room, champions and mascots have all been used to good effect. Assemblies should cover anti-bullying themes regularly, and link to events through the year such as Pride and Black History month. The curriculum should engage with the topic of bullying, particularly in PSHE or ‘themed drop-down days’.

We have a team that delivers a strong anti-bullying message aligned to your school and approaches and uses actors with young people and staff groups over different sessions to dynamically explore the issues and develop a school action plan. Get in touch for more details.


All children should be able to see their role in reducing bullying in the setting and be encouraged to think how an effective anti-bullying system might be put in place, developed and monitored. Many settings have ambassadors, champions, prefects, monitors and other roles where young people have had some training, are visible to other children, provide peer to peer support and a link to staff. Some settings have developed a more focused buddying system to provide direct peer to peer support.

Rapid response

An immediate reaction reduces the chances of escalation and parental involvement at a very early stage gives children and young people confidence that bullying will be addressed and not tolerated.

Consider the range of ways in which children can raise worries including

  • bully boxes
  • an online reporting system (bullying@yoursetting.ac.uk or perhaps an icon on your settings computers and website)
  • anonymous questionnaires
  • peer support
  • key staff champions
  • parent communication options

Remember to make sure that, whatever system you use, it is accessible to all your pupils/students, regardless of, for example, whether or not they are fluent in English, can read or write well, use non-verbal communication etc.

Your setting’s policy should set out how you respond to situations (including when to follow safeguarding procedures and/or involve the police), and how you will learn from them. Some settings use restorative practices as an opportunity to develop and learn where appropriate.

Find out more…

There’s more on the challenges to developing effective anti-bullying practice and in depth case examples in Approaches to preventing and tackling bullying (Dept for Education, 2018).


  • Coronation Street – Bethany Is Bullied At School

    Link to video clip on You Tube from Coronation Street where Bethany is bullied in school – can be used as a clip to generate discussion about what is happening along with associated thoughts and feelings (note: this is an external link and may contain adverts over which Safeguarding Network have no control).

  • Draw My Life: Mo’s bullying story

    You Tube video aimed at younger children where bullying is discussed – can be used as a clip to generate discussion about what is happening along with associated thoughts and feelings (note: this is an external link and may contain adverts over which Safeguarding Network have no control).

  • Cyberbullying

    The impact of cyberbullying is the same as any other form of bullying, affecting self-esteem and self-confidence and in severe cases leading to mental health issues with potential consequences of self harm and suicide.

  • Approaches to preventing and tackling bullying: Case studies

    All schools are required by law to have a behaviour policy with measures to tackle bullying among pupils. The government does not set out a particular approach to bullying that schools should follow. The underlying principle is that schools are best placed to drive their own improvements and they are held to account for their effectiveness through Ofsted. Ofsted’s 2012 report ‘No place for bullying’ lays out its view on good practice.

  • Anti-bullying strategies for schools

    The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published advice and guidance for schools and education authorities on how to address bullying in schools with a focus on using data to improve anti-bullying strategies. The guide covers: creating an anti-bullying culture in schools; finding ways for students and staff to report bullying incidents; finding ways to record and review the data on bullying; and communicating the anti-bullying messages.

  • Jake’s story: Being Bullied. BBC Teach

    Jake’s intimate description of how it felt to be bullied – the sense of isolation and fear that he went through – will help students to empathise with his story. He describes how being bullied pervaded every aspect of his life, making him afraid even when he was at home, and also how being in a new environment and making new friends through the army cadets helped to develop his sense of self-confidence. This film will be particularly useful for teachers in opening up discussion around bullying, self-confidence and the effects of an individual’s actions on others.

  • Preventing and tackling bullying, DfE

    By effectively preventing and tackling bullying, schools can help to create safe, disciplined environments where pupils are able to learn and fulfil their potential. This document outlines, in one place, the Government’s approach to bullying, legal obligations and the powers schools have to tackle bullying, and the principles which underpin the most effective anti-bullying strategies in schools. It also lists further resources through which school staff can access specialist information on the specific issues that they face.

  • Ofsted Education Inspection Framework

    Preventing and responding appropriately to bullying is a key component of school inspections.

    The Education Inspection Framework sets out how Ofsted inspects state schools, further education and skills providers, non-association independent schools and registered early years settings in England. The inspection criteria on bullying have been updated in response to suggestions made by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, facilitated by the National Children’s Bureau, and place the emphasis on whether or not providers tolerate bullying, harassment, violence, derogatory language and discriminatory behaviour and, crucially, how swiftly and effectively they take action if these issues occur.

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  • Training resources for DSLs to use in team meetings;
  • Reference documents for additional information;
  • Handout for school staff summarising bullying;
  • Quiz to test staff knowledge.
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