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3.2 Bullying


School support for children and young people who are bullied

Preventing and Tackling Bullying

Cyberbullying: Advice for headteachers and school staff

Advice for parents and carers on cyberbullying


See also the guidance chapter on Child Abuse and Information Communication Technology


This chapter was amended in July 2015 when a new paragraph relating to ‘sexting’ was added to Section 5, Cyber Bullying. ‘Sexting’ is the taking and sending of sexualised images of themselves sent by someone, possibly a young person, via mobile phone or other device. It is illegal; although prosecution is extremely rare. It can have significant psychological consequences and should always be viewed as a serious matter requiring a sympathetic yet robust adult response. Links to a series of documents setting out government advice have also been added.


  1. Definition
  2. The Child
  3. Action and Prevention
  4. Dealing with Incidents of Bullying by Children
  5. Cyberbullying
  6. Anti-Bullying Resource List

1. Definition

The DCFS defines bullying as "behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally".

Bullying involve an abuse of power and is often repeated over a period of time, where it is difficult for those bullied to defend themselves.

It can be inflicted on a child by another child or an adult. 

It can take many forms, but the three main types 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;
  • Cyberbullying - the misuse of new technology to bully others - this has recently become increasingly prevalent, providing new and particularly intrusive forms of bullying.

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 and sexual offences.

It is important not to label children. The terms victim and bully can imply a permanence and resistance to change. Any child can become a target in certain contexts and children use bullying behaviours for a variety of reasons.

2. The Child

2.1 The Child Victim

Any child may be bullied, but bullying often occurs if a child has been identified in some ways as vulnerable, different or inclined to spend more time on his or her own. Bullying may be fuelled by prejudice - racial, religious, homophobic and against children with special education needs or disabilities or who are perceived as different in some way.

Children living away from home are particularly vulnerable to bullying and abuse by their peers – see also Children Living Away From Home (Including Foster Care and Private Fostering) Procedure.

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 them Significant Harm including self-harm and even suicide.

Children are often held back from telling anyone about their experience either by threats or a feeling that nothing can change their situation.

Parents, carers and agencies need to be alert to any changes in behaviour such as refusing to attend school or a particular place or activity, or becoming withdrawn and isolated. Parents should be provided with information as what they should do if they are worried that their child is being bullied - i.e. where they can obtain advice and support including keeping safe on the internet (see Section 6, Anti-Bullying Resource List).

2.2 The Child Exhibiting Bullying Behaviour

Children who bully have often been bullied themselves and/or suffered considerable disruption in their own lives, but bullying may occur because the child is unhappy, jealous or lacking in confidence. 

Work with children who bully, including those who sexually offend, should recognise that they are likely to have significant needs themselves and may be suffering Significant Harm as well as posing a risk of Significant Harm to other children. If so, the Children who Exhibit Harmful Behaviour (Including Sexual, Physical and Emotional) Procedure should be followed.

3. Action and Prevention

All settings in which children are provided with services or are living away from home should have a policy in place to address bullying. Young People should be involved in developing this if it is to be effective.

This includes schools as well as all youth clubs and all other children’s organisations where the anti bullying strategies should be rigorously enforced.

  • A sense of community will be achieved only if organisations take seriously behaviour which upsets children;
  • Promotion of all children within the setting counters isolation of individuals by others, nurtures friendships between children and, where it is a residential setting, supports them to adapt to their living arrangements;
  • Support should be offered to children for whom English is not their first language to communicate needs and concerns. Those with special educational needs or disabilities may need extra support to understand what is happening to them and to communicate their needs and concerns;
  • Children should be able to approach any member of staff within the organisation with personal concerns.

The Government Guidance documents "Safe from Bullying" 2009 which are available on the Every Child Matters website (see Section 6, Anti-Bullying Resource List) provide detailed information for staff in all settings to help ensure effective tackling of bullying. The following areas are covered in the suite:

  • Information for local authority leads;
  • Children's homes;
  • Youth activities, play and leisure;
  • Extended services;
  • Journeys; and
  • Training resources.

This suite on bullying in the community is in addition to the "Safe to Learn" suite which contains detailed information on tackling different forms of bullying and will be useful to adults in all settings. The areas covered are: general overarching guidance; cyber-bullying; bullying relating to race, religion and culture; bullying relating to special educational needs and disabilities and homophobic bullying.

Challenging traditional ideas about bullying will most effectively be done by providing training for adults who Work with Children. The "Safe from Bullying" training resources and SEAL "Say no to Bullying" staff room activities are useful sources - see Section 6, Anti-Bullying Resource List.

In order to maintain an effective strategy for dealing with bullying, the traditional ideas about bullying should be challenged, e.g.

  • It’s only a bit of harmless fun;
  • It’s all part of growing up;
  • Children just have to put up with it;
  • Adults getting involved make it 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.

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 race, gender and sexuality. This should be addressed and challenged accordingly. 

A framework for organisations to respond to and prevent bullying are outlined in the government guidance documents 'Safe from Bullying' already mentioned. The Anti-Bullying Charter for Action for schools provides a useful framework for both schools and other settings to self-evaluate whether they are dealing with bullying effectively.

Where a child is thought to be exposed to bullying, action should be taken to assess the child’s needs and provide support services.

A range of active listening techniques which provide a more helpful response include:


Listening patiently with full attention, encouraging, clarifying, restating, reflecting, validating, summarising.


Investigating the situation sensitively and patiently.


Seeing their side, acknowledging and allowing expression of their feelings.


Checking out what help is being asked for and offering practical, realistic help.

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. It may also constitute a criminal offence which should be reported to the police.

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.

4. Dealing with Incidents of Bullying by Children

Creating an anti-bullying climate that is conducive to equality of opportunity, co-operation and mutual respect for differences can be achieved by, for example by:

  • Low Tolerance of Minor Bullying - “Nipping in the bud” the incidents at the earliest sign;
  • Never ignoring victims of bullying, always showing an interest/concern;
  • Publicly acknowledging the bullied child’s distress;
  • Organising quality groups/circles, which allow children to work together to identify their own problems, causes and solutions with sensitive facilitators.

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 bully 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 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.

5. Cyberbullying

"Cyberbullying is the use of Information Communications Technology (ICT), particularly mobile phones and the internet, deliberately to upset someone else" (Department of Children Schools and Families (DCSF) definition)

The development of technology has been experienced by many young people as a positive, productive and creative opportunity that supports socialising and learning. Unfortunately, as mobile phone and internet use has become more common, so has the misuse of this technology to bully.

Recent surveys have reported the incidents of cyberbullying of children to have increased between 11 and 34%. Although figures vary, the research indicates that cyberbullying is a feature of many children's lives. It is clear from discussion with children and young people in Oxfordshire that cyberbullying is an area of growing concern both among primary and secondary pupils. Raising awareness and tackling bullying must therefore be a priority on the agenda for safeguarding children.

Cyberbullying is a form of bullying but some features are different from other forms of bullying.

  • Cyberbullying can happen at any time invading young people's privacy 24/7;
  • The audience for bullying can be large and the spread of information is hard to control;
  • People who cyberbully may try to remain anonymous which increases the distress level for the target. This anonymity also makes it easier for bystanders to join in without there necessarily being an understanding of how their behaviour is affecting the target;
  • Cyberbullying because of its nature can act as evidence.

The Law

Education Law makes it clear that bullying is unacceptable and that it is the duty of the school community to protect its members. The Education and Inspection Act 2006 gives Head Teachers the power 'to such an extent as is reasonable' to regulate the behaviour of pupils when they are off site which can allow incidents of cyberbullying to be dealt with by the school.

Bullying is not a specific criminal offence but laws of harassment and threatening behaviour may apply. The Malicious Communication Acts may also apply. Police should be contacted for further advice in this area.

Tackling Cyberbullying

The best approach is prevention, which relies initially on identifying someone to coordinate a response. Areas which need to be covered include raising awareness; updating policies and practice; making reporting cyberbullying easier; promoting the positive use of technology and regularly reviewing the impact of these preventative activities.

Responding to incidents when they occur involves supporting the person being bullied, investigating the incident, working with the person doing the bullying and imposing sanctions. It is also important to consider when there is a child protection issue and when the police should be involved.

Service providers can be contacted. Mobile phone companies have nuisance call centres and procedures to deal with such instances. Calls can also be barred or numbers changed. Social networking sites and chat rooms also have procedures in place.

Education of children and young people and their parent/carers on key safety advice is crucial. There are a variety of good resources that can help. The DCSF guidance is comprehensive and can be used by schools and can be adapted by other settings.


With increasing use of online media and technology (such as mobile phones, games consoles, social networking sites, instant messaging and webcams) children and adults need to be aware that  it is a crime to take, make, permit to take, distribute, show,  possess, possess with intent to distribute, or to advertise indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of any person below the age of 18 as per section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978, as amended by section 45 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to extend the definition of children from under 16s to under 18s.

There are a number of definitions of “sexting” but it can typically be defined as a child or young person (under the age of 18) taking an indecent image of themselves, and sending it via a mobile phone or some other form of technology. Children and young people need to be aware that they may be breaking the law when taking and distributing “sexts” but prosecution will usually only take place when it is considered to be in the public’s best interest. The NPCC (formerly the Association of Chief Police Officers, ACPO) does not support the prosecution or criminalisation of children for taking indecent images of themselves and sharing them. Being prosecuted through the criminal justice system is likely to be upsetting and distressing for children especially if they are convicted and punished. The label of sex offender that would be applied to a child or young person convicted of such offences is regrettable, unjust and clearly detrimental to their future health and wellbeing.

The consequences of sexting can also have long term and devastating effects for children and young people. It can lead to isolation, depression, self-harming, suicide, self-esteem issues and can also leave children vulnerable to exploitation by their peers or by offenders.

Resource List for Cyberbullying and E-safety

See also the following range of publications, resources and support for various audiences dealing with aspects of e-safety:

Childnet International is an international, non-profit making organisation working to "help make the Internet a great and safe place for children" Child net provide advice both for parents/carers and children and young people and runs a number of different projects on staying safe on the internet and cyberbullying which can be accessed via the website. 

Links to digizen - Teacher's resources + film 'Let's Fight it Together' which is also available free from the DCSF publications line REF:00239-2008PCK-EN.

Know IT ALL for Primary Schools DVD and CDROM free to maintained schools in the UK. REF: 00321-2009CDO-EN

Know IT ALL for Teachers (secondary) Including DVD for use with students, discussion questions, REF: P-CNET-1192-2007.

Know It All For Parents is an Award-winning CDROM produced by Parents for the DCSF (now the Department for Education) and BECTA aimed at parents and carers to help them understand the internet and help keep their children safer online.Rref: 00308-2007CD0-EN. All the content is free to view at Childnet International. Jenny's Story. A DVD for secondary school pupils that outlines one real experience of the consequences of chatting online. £20.70 (Includes p&p). Available from Childnet International.

Securus is a Company supplying software to protect pupils from cyberbullying in schools

Parentline Plus is a national parenting organisation supported by the DCSF. Tel: 0808 800 2222 for free, confidential, 24 hour help line on any matter relating to parenting including bullying. Parentline Plus will also provide a free copy of - Bullying via Internet and Mobile Phone, What to do if your child is being bullied - Bullying, Prejudice and Difference

6. Anti-Bullying Resource List



THINK U KNOW is an online resource promoting safe use of the internet. It provides help and advice to parents, resources to use with young people and information and training for teachers and other adults working with young people. This site links to The Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre.

Childnet International is an international, non-profit making organisation working to "help make the Internet a great and safe place for children" Child net provide advice both for parents/carers and children and young people and runs a number of different projects on staying safe on the internet and cyberbullying which can be accessed via the website. Links to digizen - Teacher's resources + film 'Let's Fight it Together' which is also available free from the DCSF publications line.

Securus a Company supplying software to protect pupils from cyberbullying in schools.


Transforming Conflict

'Just Schools' A Whole School Approach to Restorative Justice' & 'Peer Mediation & Mentoring Trainers Manual' Belinda Hopkins available from Incentive Plus

Aik Saath peer mediation & conflict resolution project


Childline Helpline: 0800 1111 24 hours, free, confidential advice on what to do if you have been bullied.

Parentline Plus is a national parenting organisation supported by the DCSF. Tel: 0808 800 2222 for free, confidential, 24 hour help line on any matter relating to parenting including bullying Parentline Plus will also provide a free copy of - What to do if your child is being bullied - Bullying, Prejudice and Difference - Bullying via Internet and Mobile Phone

Contact a family is a national organisation for the families of disabled children. Tel: 0808 808 3555 for free, confidential helpline for parents and families including advice on bullying. They also provide a free copy of A guide to dealing with bullying: for parents of disabled children

Advisory Centre for Education provides advice for parents and children on all school matters: Tel: 0808 800 5793. They can also provide a free leaflet for parents Tackling Bullying.

Children's Legal Centre provides free legal advice on all aspects of the law affecting children and young people including bullying: Tel: 01206 873820.

Young Minds - National charity promoting mental health of children and young people includes advice and information on bullying


Oxfordshire's Family Information Service - provides a broad range of information to help parents and carers support their children (0-20) including information on locally available parenting support. 08452 262636.

Parent Partnership Oxfordshire provides free and impartial information, support and advice to parents of children with Special Education Needs/Disabilities (0-19) around their children's education including bullying. 01865 810516

Big Voice - Oxfordshire Children's Rights and Participation website including advice and information for children and young people on bullying

Jo Brown, Anti-Bullying Co-ordinator, 01865 815639