Skip to content
Company Logo


Scope of this chapter

This chapter takes account of the government guidance 'Safe from Bullying 2009'.

Related guidance

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".

An Ofsted thematic review (Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted)) identified substantial levels of sexual harassment for both girls (90%) and boys (nearly 50%) usually in unsupervised settings. Sexual harassment and sexual violence exist on a continuum and may overlap. Where the latter occurs, there could be a criminal offence committed.

Bullying involves 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, sexual or homophobic remarks;
  • Emotional - for example, isolating an individual from activities/games and the social acceptance of their peer group.

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using technology. Whether on social media sites, through a mobile phone, or gaming sites, the effects can be devastating for the young person involved. There are ways to help prevent a child from being cyberbullied and to help them cope and stop the bullying if it does happen. It is another form of bullying which can happen at all times of the day, with a potentially bigger audience. By its very nature, cyberbullying tends to involve a number of online bystanders and can quickly spiral out of control. Children and young people who bully others online do not need to be physically stronger and their methods can often be hidden and subtle. The Department for Education have issued guidance for school staff and parents and carers on how to recognise signs of cyberbullying and support children who are being bullied in this way (see Preventing Bullying Guidance (GOV.UK)).

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 abuse, racial attacks, sexual offences and self-harm or suicide.

Upskirting, which involves taking a picture under a person’s clothing without them knowing, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks to obtain sexual gratification, or cause the victim humiliation, distress or alarm; is a specific example of abusive behaviour which has been linked to online bullying and grooming. Upskirting is a criminal offence and should be reported to the Police.

The Ofsted Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges also recognised a wide variety of behaviours that children and young people told (them) happened online including:

  • Receiving unsolicited explicit photographs or videos, for example ‘dick pics’;
  • Sending, or being pressured to send, nude and semi-nude photographs or videos (‘nudes’);
  • Being sent or shown solicited or unsolicited online explicit material, such as pornographic videos.

Sexting is a term which many young people do not recognise or use, therefore it is important that when discussing the risks of this type of behaviour with children and young people the behaviour is accurately explained.

Sexting (some children and young people consider this to mean ‘writing and sharing explicit messages with people they know’ rather than sharing youth-produced sexual images) or sharing nudes and semi-nudes are terms used when a person under the age of 18 shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others or sends sexually explicit messages.

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.

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, and 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 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).

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, or likely to suffer, Significant Harm as well as posing a risk of Significant Harm to other children. If so, the Children who Abuse Others Procedure should be followed.

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 Department for Education 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 on the site:

  • 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; cyberbullying; 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, joking or banter;
  • 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:

Caption: active listening techniques


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.

Keeping Children Safe in Education notes that with regard to sexual harassment, all staff working with children are advised to maintain an attitude of ‘it could happen here’ and must respond to all reports and concerns about sexual violence and/or sexual harassment, including online behaviour and incidents that have happened outside of the school/college.

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.

Where bullying exists in the context of gang behaviour, or where it is of a sexual harassment/violence nature, there should be an institutional and multi-agency, as well as an individual, response to this.

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.

"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 (now the Department for Education) 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. 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 Department for Education guidance is comprehensive and can be used by schools and can be adapted by other settings.

Resource List for Cyberbullying and E-safety

Bullying uk

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.

Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) was established in 1996 by the UK internet industry to provide the UK internet 'Hotline' for the public and IT professionals to report potentially illegal online content within our remit and to be the 'notice and take-down' body for this content

Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) is made up of Police forces from around the world and offers advice, information and support to adults and children to protect themselves against abuse including information on how to report inappropriate or illegal activity with or towards a child online.

Becta provides a range of publications, resources and support for various audiences dealing with aspects of e-safety including:

Signposts to Safety: Teaching E-safety at Key stages 1 & 2

Signposts to Safety: Teaching E-Safety at Key stages 3 & 4

AUPs in context: Establishing safe and responsible online behaviours

Safeguard learners online: How are you safeguarding next generation learners?

Safeguarding children online - a guide for school leaders

Safeguarding children in a digital world

E-safety: Developing whole-school policies to support effective practice

Safer Children in a Digital World. The report of the Byron Review downloadable via BECTA

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 Department for Education 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 Department for Education. 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

Government Guidance on Bullying from the Department of Children Schools and Families (now the Department for Education).

Safe to Learn: Embedding anti-bullying work in schools - download via this link or free copy from DCSF (now the Department for Education) publications 0845 6022260 quote ref: 000656-2007DOM-EN

Homophobic Bullying - NHS Choices, Advice and Information

Cyberbullying - download via this link

Bullying around racism, religion and culture - download via this link

Anti-bullying Charter - download via this link

Bullying involving children with special educational needs and disabilities - download via this link

Cyberbullying: Supporting School Staff - PDF from Department for Education Publications as above ref: 00242-2009BKT-EN

Safe from Bullying: guidance for local authorities and other strategic leaders on reducing bullying in the community - download via this link

Safe from Bullying in extended services in and around schools ref: DCSF-00446-2009. download via this link

Safe from Bullying in youth activities ref: DCSF-00448-2009

Safe from Bullying in Children's Homes ref: DCSF-00447-2009

Safe from Bullying in play and leisure provision ref: DCSF-00450-2009

Safe from Bullying on journeys ref: DCSF-00444-2009

Safe from Bullying: Training Resources ref: DCSF-00449-2009

Safe from Bullying in further education colleges ref: DCSF-00445-2009

Other Organisations

"Gangs and Group offending for Schools" guidance from the teachernet. website search for "gangs"

Resources for SEAL

Anti-Bullying Alliance

11 Million (Office of Children's Commissioner) Tel: 0844 8009113

Kidscape Tel: 020 7730 3300. Training resources for teachers, helpline, leaflets and advice for all - links to other useful organisations

Bullying UK

Anti Bullying Network

School Councils UK follow link issues to bullying

Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted)

Cyberbulling and Keeping Safe on the Internet

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 Department for Education Publications line.

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

Sharing nudes and semi-nudes: advice for education settings working with children and young people

Restorative Approaches

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

For Young People and Parents

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 Department for Education. 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.

Don't Stick it - Mencap site on bullying for young people with learning difficulties and advice for parents

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

Last Updated: December 7, 2023