Every child should be able to learn in a safe and calm school environment free from bullying of any kind and in which they feel supported. The Department of Education clearly states that no form of bullying should be tolerated. In fact, any sort of bullying stop members of the setting from being able to achieve their full potential and prevents equality of opportunity. For this reason, every school must have in place certain measures set by law in order to prevent all forms of bullying. Successful schools have policies in place to deal with bullying and poor behaviour which are clear to parents, pupils and staff so that, when incidents occur, they are dealt with quickly. However, schools choose to define bullying for the purposes of their own behaviour policy. In any case, schools should create an environment that prevents bullying from being a serious problem in the first place. School staff, headteachers and governors should decide how best to respond to the particular issues that affect their pupils. In fact, a school’s response to bullying should not start at the point at which a child has been bullied. Effective anti-bullying work is not simply about resolving incidents when they occur but requires a school strategy and the engagement of the entire school community. Schools must take steps to ensure a consistent approach to all forms of bullying and discriminatory behaviour within a context which promotes positive behaviour through a taught programme of anti-bullying skills. All policies and procedures against bullying should be designed to prevent bullying and discrimination and to promote equality. Teaching and non-teaching staff can prevent bullying by displaying material around the school (posters, website, etc.), providing information on policy and practice to parents/carers, staff and visitors, teaching pupils how to raise their concerns and how to help each other respond assertively to bullying, using curriculum opportunities to address the issues, making sure be trained to model appropriate behaviour and challenge bullying according to the school’s guidance. Anti-bullying policies are most effective when all school staff understand the principles and purpose of the school’s policy, its legal responsibilities regarding bullying, how to resolve problems, and where to seek support. Schools can invest in specialised skills to help their staff understand the needs of their pupils, including those with special educational needs or disability (SEND), and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGB;T) pupils.
In recent years there has been substantial legislation, policy and guidance issued by national government in relation to bullying. Below is a summary of the main recent laws and legal requirements against bullying.
The Education and Inspections Act, 2006
Section 89 provides that maintained schools must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils. These measures should be part of the school’s behaviour policy which must be communicated to all pupils, school staff and parents.
Ofsted Guidance to School Inspectors (2009)
Ofsted hold schools to account for how well they deal with behaviour and bullying. The Ofsted Inspections Framework includes 5 criteria for inspections, one of which is ‘personal development, behaviour and welfare’, which covers bullying. Schools need to be able to demonstrate the impact of their anti-bullying policies.
The Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations, 2014
This Act provides that the proprietor of an Academy or other independent school must ensure that bullying is prevented by the drawing up and implementation of an effective anti-bullying strategy.
The Equality Act, 2010
A key provision in The Equality Act (2010) is the Public-Sector Equality Duty (2011), which covers age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. The Duty requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to:
• eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Act;
• advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it;
• foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.
Even though bullying itself is not a specific criminal offence in the UK, it is important to bear in mind that some types of harassing or threatening behaviour, could be a criminal offence, under the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), the Malicious Communications Act (1988), the Communications Act (2003), and the Public Order Act (1986).
The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) Safe to Learn (2007) guidance gives recommendations for writing an effective anti-bullying policy. These recommendations include:
– Giving specific responsibility for anti-bullying work to a member of staff within the school’s leadership structure;
– Developing anti-bullying policies as part of the behaviour policy: schools should involve pupils, parents and carers in regular reviews and updates. Teaching and non-teaching staff should explain the importance of being respectful in teams, giving an understanding of the value of education, and how our actions affect others and permeate the whole school environment;
– Anti-bullying policy should cover all forms of bullying, making specific reference to bullying related to ethnicity, gender, religion and culture, homophobic bullying, bullying related to special educational needs, and cyber bullying;
– Schools should review their arrangements for sharing information in order to guarantee multi-agency intervention with partner organisations, including the local authority services. Successful schools work with other agencies and the wider community to tackle bullying that is happening also outside school.
The main sections in a good and effective school’s anti-bullying policy should be:
1. Anti-bullying vision and approach, school context, reference to legal background and links to other policies (e.g. good/positive behaviour);
2. Roles and responsibilities across the school;
3. Preventing and responding to bullying;
4. Recording and reporting bullying;
5. Stakeholder feedback;
6. Impact assessment.
School staff members have the power to discipline pupils for misbehaving inside and outside the school premises. This may include bullying incidents occurring anywhere off the school premises, such as on school or public transport, outside the local shops, or during a school trip. The headteacher should also consider whether it is appropriate to notify the police or anti-social behaviour coordinator in their local authority of the action taken against a pupil. If the misbehaviour could be criminal or poses a serious threat to a member of the public, the police should always be informed.
Above all, pupils should be encouraged to become actively and increasingly involved in the antibullying work of their school. Schools that train pupils to be part of age-appropriate peer support systems, such as “buddying” (support between older and younger peers), peer mediation or peer mentoring, enable them to become active in the anti-bullying ethos of the school and facilitate their development of higher level skills.
In all cases schools have the responsibility to support children who are bullied and make appropriate provision for their needs. The nature and level of support should depend on the individual circumstances and the level of need. In resolving bullying incidents and evaluating the effectiveness of policy and practice, schools should take action to deliver positive outcomes for the individuals directly involved and others indirectly involved (witnesses or peer supporters). All reports of bullying should be taken seriously and investigated. It is essential that pupils who have experienced bullying, and their parents/carers, are made aware that incidents have been addressed according to school guidance and procedures. Each child must be given an opportunity to talk and the discussion should remain focussed on finding a solution to the problem and stopping the bullying from recurring. The incident should be immediately investigated by the appropriate member of staff, who undertakes to establish the nature, roles and seriousness of the incidents and those involved.
Pupils who have been bullied should be immediately supported by offering the opportunity to discuss the experience with a tutor, class teacher, teaching assistant or a member of staff with whom they feel comfortable. Bullied children should be reassured that they have done the right thing by making a report and that the school will be responding and offering continuous support, ensuring safety and working to restore their self-esteem and confidence. Also pupils who have bullied should be heard and helped by discussing what happened, discovering why they became involved, exploring different perspectives, establishing all hurtful behaviour and the need to change, and informing parents or guardians to support a change in the pupil. Parents and carers should be invited in to discuss what has happened and what will happen next.
All identified incidents should be formally recorded and reported to the line manager. Keeping records of all hurtful incidents will help schools to manage individual cases effectively and monitor their resolution, demonstrating a defensible decision making in the event of bullying incidents.