‘Ask if someone’s OK. Say you’re sorry. Just say hey.
In a world that can sometimes feel like it’s filled with negativity, one kind word can provide a moment of hope. It can be a turning point. It can change someone’s perspective. It can change their day. It can change the course of a conversation and break the cycle of bullying.
Best of all, one kind word leads to another. Kindness fuels kindness. So, from the playground to Parliament, and from our phones to our homes, together, our actions can fire a chain reaction that powers positivity.
It starts with one kind word. It starts today.’
Anti-Bullying Week is an annual event, coordinated In England and Wales by the Anti-Bullying Alliance. It’s recognised by thousands of schools and other settings. This year the theme was One Kind Word. To mark Anti-Bullying Week, the Department for Education has confirmed funding to support schools and colleges in championing tolerance and respect as part of their responsibility to tackle all forms of bullying. Bullying is a safeguarding concern that is always explored in my safeguarding awareness training for schools and other settings. I thought I would use this opportunity to share some of the questions that arise from the participants I work with.
- What is 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 be carried out in person or online (cyber bullying). Bullying involves an imbalance of power between the perpetrator and the victim which means it is difficult for victims to defend themselves. This imbalance of power can manifest itself in several ways, it may be physical, psychological (knowing what upsets someone), derive from an intellectual imbalance, or by having access to the support of a group, or the capacity to socially isolate. It can result in the intimidation of a person or persons through the threat of violence or by isolating them either physically or online.
- Is bullying abuse?
Bullying can reach statutory thresholds of significant harm, and so staff need to recognise when the behaviour becomes peer abuse and report to police or the local referral agency. The statutory definition of abuse recognises that children can be abused by other children. The definition of emotional abuse includes ‘serious bullying (including cyberbullying), causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger’ (Keeping Children Safe in Education 2021). But even low-level bullying can in itself have a significant impact on victims. If left unchallenged or dismissed as banter or horseplay it can also lead to reluctance to report and escalation. Early intervention by settings, and even involvement of external early help services, can help to set clear expectations of acceptable behaviour and help with peer dynamics. Since September 2014 a greater focus on how well school leaders tackle low-level disruption was included in Ofsted inspections.
- Should we prioritise tackling some types of bullying over others?
By law, every school must have measures in place to prevent all forms of bullying. The physical safety of victims should be the first priority, but all bullying, whatever the motivation or method, is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Emotional bullying can be more damaging than physical. Ultimately professionals have to make their own judgements about each specific case.
- Should I challenge children for bullying outside the setting?
Yes, always challenge bullying wherever it occurs. In fact, when it comes to cyber bullying, it is usually the case that incidents will occur after hours. If an incident of bullying outside your premises or sessions is reported, it is important that it is investigated, and appropriate action is taken. This will send a strong signal to children that bullying will not be tolerated and perpetrators will be held to account.
- How can we involve parents more in our anti-bullying work?
Be proactive about talking to parents and prospective parents about your anti-bullying work. Most parents are usually concerned about bullying and want to know what measures are being taken to prevent bullying, as well as how incidents are responded to. Make your policy and procedures available to them online and your commitment to tackling it visible throughout your premises and website. Parents can reinforce key messages about bullying at home.
- Should I record incidents of bullying?
Staff should develop a consistent approach to monitoring bullying incidents and then evaluate whether their approach is effective. I would recommend recording incidents so that you can monitor incident numbers and identify where bullying is recurring between the same children. Schools should be able to demonstrate the impact of their anti-bullying policies and should understand that Ofsted will not routinely mark a school down where it has recorded incidents of bullying. Other settings may not want to keep written records and statutory guidance allows them to exercise their own judgment as to what will work best for the children in their care.
- Should we have a separate antibullying policy?
Statutory guidance says that the child protection policy of registered setting ‘should include the different forms peer on peer abuse can take, such as: bullying (including cyberbullying, prejudice-based and discriminatory bullying…’ and that registered settings should have in place a ‘behaviour policy (which should include measures to prevent bullying, including cyberbullying, prejudice-based and discriminatory bullying)’ (Keeping children safe in education 2021 (publishing.service.gov.uk) While the guidance doesn’t stipulate that schools and other registered settings should have a separate or stand-alone policy on bullying, many do (cross referenced to the safeguarding and behaviour policies) because they feel it underlines the importance of the topic. Some have antibullying policies that are written by children as good practice. The NSPCC advises that every setting should have an antibullying statement as good practice: Example of an anti-bullying policy statement (nspcc.org.uk)
- Are some children more prone to being bullied?
Yes. Research indicate that bullying is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups, for example on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, special educational needs or disabilities (SEND, or because a child is adopted, in care or has caring responsibilities. Some of these children (children with SEND or those with English as a second language) can be not only disproportionally impacted by bullying, but experience communication barriers and difficulties in managing or reporting bullying. It’s important that all staff give particular regard to this when recognising bullying.
- Can you let me know some useful resources to help our setting manage bullying?
There is a lot of advice, practical support and information out there on bullying. Try not to get overwhelmed! Here are my top recommendations to learn more.
Preventing and Tackling Bullying, Mental Health and Behavior in Schools (2017) sets out how schools and colleges can help prevent mental health problems by promoting resilience as part of an integrated, whole school/college approach to social and emotional wellbeing, which is tailored to the needs of their pupils.
My favourite top resource for schools: 50 ideas for Anti-Bullying Week.pdf (anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk)
London Grid for Learning has created two new posters to help primary and secondary schools challenge peer-on-peer abuse, banter and bullying: https://safeblog.lgfl.net/2021/11/anti-bullying-week-2021-new-posters-to-help-challenge-peer-on-peer-abuse/
Support for children affected by bullying includes:
YoungMinds provides advice on how to tell someone what you are experiencing and get help.: Bullying | How To Deal With Bullying and Getting Help | YoungMinds
The Mix: offers support to anyone under 25 about anything that’s troubling them: The Mix – Essential support for under 25s
Childline: As always, excellent resources and help for children on anything that may concern them: Bullying and advice on coping and making it stop | Childline
The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) Founded in 2002 by NSPCC and National Children’s Bureau, the ABA brings together over 100 organisations into one network to develop and share good practice across the whole range of bullying issues: ABA & Our Work (anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk)
Childnet provide guidance for schools on cyberbullying: Cyberbullying guidance for schools – Childnet
Kidscape Charity established to prevent bullying and promote child protection providing advice for young people, professionals and parents about different types of bullying and how to tackle it. They also offer specialist training and support for school staff, and assertiveness training for young people: Help With Bullying (kidscape.org.uk)
Restorative Justice Council Includes best practice guidance for practitioners 2011: Restorative practice in schools | Restorative Justice Council
NSPCC website shares a lot of information for schools, and parents and carers to help them manage bullying including: