For many 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 right through to their adult life and should be taken as seriously as other allegations of abuse or neglect.

A 2017 survey into bullying of 10,020 young people aged 12-20 by Ditch the Label suggests that 54% have been bullied at some point, with 40% of them having been bullied in the last year. The results suggest that in an average class of 30 children, 3 children have been bullied in the last week.

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 are challenging “normal” stereotypes.  For approaches to bullying to be effective they must involve the whole school, including pupils, 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

“…the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. It can happen face-to face or through cyberspace, and comes in many different forms.”

Kidscape, 2017

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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?

The 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 in school
  • household income was too high
  • family issues being made public.

Of the nine 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.

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, it is suggested that 54% of pupils have been bullied at some point. 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 school does not only affect an individual during childhood but can have a lasting effect on their lives well into adulthood. Bullying also effects perpetrators and bystanders.

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  • More than 16,000 young people are absent from school due to bullying
  • There were over 24,000 Childline counselling sessions with children about bullying in 2016/17
  • 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 racist 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, or excluding the victim online.
  • Alienation: encouragement of peers to alienate the victim, treating the victim like an outcast, the victim will have difficulty forming relationships and may be prone to isolation later in life. This so-called “pack mentality’ is most frequently seen in senior schools but can be evident at any age.
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Know what to do

Spot the signs:

  • bruises;
  • broken or missing possessions or uniform;
  • changes in habits or behaviour;
  • complaining of headaches or stomach aches;
  • absence from school;
  • 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 pupils; not only their words but their non-verbal communication and presentation
  • tackle any witnessed bullying swiftly
  • record your concerns
  • follow anti-bullying protocol and policy
  • any likelihood of ‘significant harm’ must be addressed through safeguarding procedures and keep taking action until you know they’re safe.

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 children and young people 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 schools may wish to look at more values, such as democracy, equality, respect, resilience, tolerance and understanding.
  • Strong and present policies around anti-bullying and behaviour with a clear definition that separates bullying from unkind behaviour or falling out, with a system of sanctions
  • All staff trained in the school’s approach from support staff to senior leaders 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 school 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 not engage in bullying behaviour because it is not the right thing to do, rather than just because they are told not to.


Promote diversity and look for ways to help children and young people measure the difference they are making to inequality in the school. Help young people develop goals for the school, such as reducing the measures of isolation in the student survey, and individual goals such as making a difference for someone every day. Ensure there is celebration of difference and look for links to cultures, schools and other regions or cultures 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 and transphobic, racist and other discriminatory language which in some settings is routine (such as “That’s gay”) among children or young people. Work to help young people understand why these kind of comments, while in wide use, is so 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 see their role in reducing bullying in the school and be encouraged to think how an effective anti-bullying system might be put in place, developed and monitored. Many schools 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 schools 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@yourschool.ac.uk or perhaps an icon on school computers and website)
  • anonymous questionnaires
  • peer support
  • key staff champions
  • parent communication options

Your school policy should set out how you respond, including perhaps restorative practices to use bullying incidents as an opportunity to develop and learn where appropriate. This should also ensure prompt resort to safeguarding procedures and police involvement in the most serious situations.

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). If you’ve a useful way you’ve found to work work well, why not add it to the forum below?


  • 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.

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Join safeguarding network for more information on how to identify bullying and intervene in schools.

  • 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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