Many children say they are bullied at school. Bullying can be very distressing to children and worrying for parents. It can impact on children’s learning at school and the worst cases may lead to truancy, school refusal or mental health problems.
What is bullying?
Bullying can take a number of different forms. Government Guidance defines bullying as:
'behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally
In simple terms:
- It is meant to be hurtful
- It keeps happening
- It can hurt a child physically: hitting, kicking pinching
- It can hurt a child emotionally: by calling names, teasing, leaving them out
Bullying can take place for various reasons such as disability, race, religion or culture, sexual orientation, gender or health conditions.
What schools must do
Schools have a duty to promote good behaviour and to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. The head must publish the behaviour policy and bring in to the attention of parents. The anti-bullying policy may be part of the general policy or a stand-alone document.
The school also has a general duty of care towards pupils to ensure that they are safe.
The government has issued several guidance documents for schools on bullying under the general title of ‘Safe to Learn’. Links to these can be found under Government Guidance below.
What parents can do
If your child is being bullied at school this is likely to be upsetting for you as a parent as well. Although there will probably not be any instant answers, there are some steps that you can take.
Get copies of the school’s policies
The ones you will need will be the behaviour policy, the anti-bullying policy and the school’s complaints procedure. Depending on your child’s situation you may also want the disability equality policy and the race equality policy.
Talk to your child
Your child will need a lot of encouragement. They may be reluctant to tell you about the bullying. You can help by listening and reassuring them that it is not their fault. Try to build up their general confidence and give strategies they can use for helping themselves. Some of the websites in the useful links section have tips for children and young people on dealing with bullies.
Keep a record
When you are taking the matter up with the school it’s a good idea to be sure of your facts. Keep a record of any bullying incidents with as much detail as you can. If your child has been physically injured you may want to take photos of the injuries. Include in your report any medical evidence.
Write down the impact that the bullying has had on your child. Has their behaviour changed, are they reluctant to go to school, are they anxious, withdrawn or not sleeping?
Ask for a meeting
Initially you may want to raise your concerns informally with your child’s class teacher or form tutor. If you feel the bullying is not being dealt with, then ask for a meeting with a more senior teacher. This might be your child’s head of year, the senior teacher in charge of anti-bullying work or the headteacher. It can be helpful to take another person along to support you at the meeting.
Take along any written evidence about the bullying. It will also help to have some suggestions about what the school might do. These might be:
- sanctions for the bullies in line with the behaviour policy,
- pastoral support for your child
- safe area where your child can go
- move of class for your child or the bully
- better supervision in the playground
- whole school projects or assemblies on bullying
If the bullying continues you can make a formal complaint in line with the school’s complaints procedure. This will generally be first to the headteacher and then to the governors of the school.