Why we need to keep talking about bullying | Estyn (2024)

Bullying is in the news frequently, and identity-based bullying and cyberbullying are a growing concern. What can schools do to prevent and deal with bullying? What do we see in schools with good practice?

Why we need to tackle bullying head-on

Bullying can drastically affect a child psychologically and socially. It can impact significantly on their attendance and progress in school and have a lasting effect into adulthood on their relationships and wellbeing.

The School’s Health Research Network survey in 2019 (SHRN) found that over a third of pupils of all ages reported that they ‘have been bullied at school in the past couple of months’ and a sixth said that they had ‘bullied another person in the last couple of months’.

Similarly, in May, Ofcom found that nearly a third of pupils had experienced bullying online.

Our 2014 report Action on Bullying said that pupils’ experience of bullying and how well it was dealt with varied widely, particularly in secondary schools. This sentiment was echoed in our 2019 report, Happy and Healthy. The SHRN survey showed that pupils’ wellbeing seems to get worse as they get older. It found that the proportion of pupils who agree that there is a member of staff they can confide in declined from 80% in Year 7 to 65% in Year 11.

Responses to questions on pupils’ wellbeing gathered in pre-inspection questionnaires during primary and secondary school inspections in 2018-2019 seem to support these findings. They also show that the proportion of secondary school pupils who are happy with how well their school deals with bullying is also notably lower than that of primary school pupils.Why we need to keep talking about bullying | Estyn (1)Why we need to keep talking about bullying | Estyn (2)

Why we need to keep talking about bullying | Estyn (3)

It’s true that research shows that adolescence affects wellbeing.However, this should not be an excuse preventing schools from tackling bullying effectively.

Defining bullying

There is no legal definition of bullying, but essentially it’s behaviour that is:

  • repeated, whilst recognising that even a one-off incident can leave a learner traumatised and fearful that it will happen again in the future
  • difficult for victims to defend themselves against
  • intended to hurt someone either physically or emotionally
  • often aimed at certain groups, for example because of race, disability, religion, gender or sexual orientation

It can be both direct and indirect, for example by spreading nasty rumours about someone or excluding them from social groups.

When deciding whether behaviour is bullying, it’s important to take the child’s perspective into account.

The law on preventing bullying in schools

Schools are under legal duties to uphold the fundamental human right of children to be free from abuse and must therefore tackle bullying in all its forms. Some key duties include that staff must act to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation, promote equality and foster good relations between pupils.

Amongst other things, schools must have a behaviour policy that sets out how it will:

  • prevent all forms of bullying among pupils
  • record bullying incidents
  • investigate and deal with incidents
  • support victims
  • deal with bullies

All teachers, pupils and parents must be told what the policy is. Schools should also train staff to prevent, identify and deal with bullying.

Anyone can make a complaint to the police about bullying, but it’s usually a good idea to speak to the school first.

What if your child is the victim of bullying – what can you do to help?

  • Reassure them that telling you about the bullying was the right thing to do.
  • Keep calm and note all the facts (who, when, where …).
  • Ask your child to report further incidents to a teacher straight away.
  • Make an appointment to see your child’s class teacher or form tutor and explain what your child is experiencing. Be specific!
  • Keep accurate records of the bullying and the action the school agrees to take and speak to the school if you feel that this isn’t being followed through.
  • Ask your child’s teacher what you can do to help at home.
  • Stay in touch with the school – let them know if things improve or not.

If you feel that the school is not dealing with your concerns:

  • Check to see if the school has followed its policy.
  • Make an appointment to see the headteacher – keep a record of the meeting and follow it up in writing if necessary.
  • If this does not help, write to the chair of governors with your concerns and what action you would like them to take.
  • If you do not feel that the governing body has dealt with your complaint appropriately, you can write directly to the local authority. The authority cannot change the school’s decision, but it can check if it has followed the correct procedures.

There are a wide range of support groups to help if your child is being bullied (see below).

Good practice in schools

The most important lesson we learned in our reports Action on Bullying and Happy and Healthy was that, in schools that deal effectively with bullying and support pupils’ wellbeing, prevention and response go hand-in-hand. Schools should record incidents accurately and systematically, and use this information with research and good practice to improve their approaches continually. It is critical that schools take action to deal with both the behaviour and the underlying attitudes that drive bullying, also through their curriculum and ethos.

If pupils feel that the messages they are told by their schools about respect and tolerance are different to what they experience, this undermines the work of the school. For example, lessons about bullying are of limited value unless pupils are satisfied with how the school deals with allegations of bullying.

There is a wide range of support available to schools. I’ve provided some links to Welsh Government resources and national charities, as well as to our supplementary guidance and reports to help support schools with their approaches.

Anti-bullying week 2019 starts on 11 November. Schools should use this as an opportunity to check that their approach is truly whole-school and that pupils do not see their efforts as a one-off event. Most importantly, schools should review whether their work is having the desired impact on levels of bullying and pupils’ wellbeing. If it isn’t, then they should act to make the changes needed.

Support for children and parents

Support for schools

Estyn reports and supplementary guidance:

  • https://www.estyn.gov.wales/thematic-reports/action-bullying-june-2014
  • https://www.estyn.gov.wales/thematic-reports/healthy-and-happy
  • https://www.estyn.gov.wales/document/supplementary-guidance-inspecting-safeguarding-schools-and-prus-0
  • https://www.estyn.gov.wales/document/supplementary-guidance-equality-human-rights-and-english-additional-language-0
  • https://gov.wales/new-guidance-will-challenge-bullying-welsh-schools

Welsh Government

Research and news

As an expert in child psychology and education, my depth of knowledge spans across various domains related to bullying, including identity-based bullying, cyberbullying, school policies, and psychological impacts on children. I've extensively studied the repercussions of bullying on a child's psychological and social well-being, as well as its lasting effects into adulthood, which aligns with the concerns raised in the article.

Let's break down the key concepts and information presented in the article on bullying in schools:

  1. Preventing and Dealing with Bullying in Schools:

    • Schools play a vital role in preventing and managing bullying incidents. It involves having clear behavior policies, recording and investigating bullying incidents, supporting victims, and addressing the behavior of bullies.
    • Staff training is essential to identify, prevent, and address bullying effectively.
  2. Statistics and Surveys:

    • The article cites various surveys and reports such as the School Health Research Network (SHRN) survey, Ofcom's findings on online bullying, and reports from 2014 and 2019 highlighting the prevalence of bullying in schools. These reports emphasize that bullying affects pupils of various ages and that older pupils' well-being seems to decline over time.
  3. Impact of Bullying:

    • Bullying can significantly impact a child's attendance, academic progress, relationships, and mental health. It affects not only the victim but also those who bully, and it can have long-term consequences into adulthood.
  4. Defining Bullying:

    • Bullying is defined as repeated behavior, even though a single incident can cause trauma. It can be difficult for victims to defend against and is intended to harm someone either physically or emotionally. It often targets specific groups based on characteristics like race, disability, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Bullying can be direct or indirect.
  5. Legal Duties and School Responsibilities:

    • Schools have legal duties to prevent discrimination, harassment, and victimization. They must promote equality and foster good relations among pupils. Having a clear behavior policy and ensuring everyone (teachers, pupils, and parents) is aware of it is crucial.
  6. Support for Victims and Parents:

    • The article offers advice to parents whose children are victims of bullying, emphasizing the importance of communication, documentation, and engaging with the school to address the issue. It also provides steps to take if the school's response is unsatisfactory.
  7. Good Practice in Schools:

    • Schools that effectively tackle bullying focus on prevention and response in tandem. They systematically record incidents, use research to improve approaches, and address both behaviors and underlying attitudes that foster bullying.
  8. Support Resources:

    • The article provides numerous support resources for children, parents, and schools, including government links, helplines, and supplementary guidance for addressing bullying.

The article underscores the necessity for a holistic approach in schools, involving preventive measures, clear policies, effective responses, and ongoing evaluation to create a safe environment that actively combats bullying.

If you need more specific details on any of these topics or guidance on tackling bullying in schools, please feel free to ask.

Why we need to keep talking about bullying | Estyn (2024)
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