Last reviewed 15 November 2018

With Anti-Bullying Week taking place in mid-November each year, the theme for 2018 is Choose Respect. The aim is to support schools and other settings to help children and young people, together with everyone who works with them, to understand the definition of respect. Former Head, Michael Evans, considers the effects of bullying in schools.

The issue

Bullying never seems to be out of the news, particularly if the story concerns a multi-millionaire businessman harassing young female employees. What tends to draw less attention is the level of bullying in our schools.

By law, all state schools must have a behaviour policy that includes measures to prevent all forms of bullying. Although independent schools are not bound by this law, having an appropriate policy is a firm recommendation.

Schools are free to decide the nature of their behaviour policy and most will maintain that their rigid anti-bullying procedures will ensure that bullying simply does not happen on their patch. In spite of this confidence, one major charity estimates that around 1.5 million children are bullied in school every year and with that, nearly a quarter of those who have been bullied go on to bully other children.

What is bullying?

Bullying should always be taken seriously and where some forms of bullying are illegal, these should be reported to the police. These will include violence or assault, hate crimes, theft, repeated harassment or intimidation, such as name-calling, threats and abusive phone calls, emails or text messages.

There are three main types of bullying.

  1. Verbal bullying — teasing, name-calling and inappropriate sexual comments.

  2. Social bullying — excluding individuals, telling other children not to be friends with someone, spreading rumours and embarrassing someone in public.

  3. Physical bullying — hurting a person’s body or possessions.

Effects can be numerous — depression, anxiety, anger, stress and a feeling of helplessness are all common features. These can lead to skipping certain lessons, truancy or dropping out of school altogether. In extreme cases, victims can be driven to suicide.

What can be done?

Schools have a statutory duty to do everything in their power to prevent bullying with evidence suggesting that a “whole-school approach” is the best way to move this forward. This would involve pupils, teachers, school support staff, parents and governors. This strategic whole-school approach would make it possible to tackle bullying from many angles.

There are a number of anti-bullying charities and a number of these have collaborated to form the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA). This was established by the NSPCC and the National Children’s Bureau in 2002 and it has three main areas of work.

  1. Supporting learning and sharing best practice.

  2. Raising awareness through Anti-Bullying Week and through other co-ordinated campaigns.

  3. Delivering a programme of work at national and local level.

Anti-Bullying Week

Anti-Bullying Week takes place in mid-November each year, with the aim to support schools and other settings to help children and young people, together with everyone who works with them, to understand the definition of respect.

Young people need to know that while it is not necessary to be best friends with everyone and always agree with each other, the need to show mutual respect is essential. Importantly, this respect for each other will apply both face to face and online.

An ABA consultation indicated that a top priority showed that bullying was a behaviour choice and that children and young people can set a positive example by opting to respect each other at school, in their homes and communities and online.

To mark the beginning of the week, young people were encouraged to wear odd socks to school and on the Thursday, a day was set aside to highlight the issue of cyberbullying.

This had royal backing, with the launch of a campaign entitled Stop, Speak, Support by the Royal Foundation Taskforce on the Prevention of Cyberbullying, which was set up by the Duke of Cambridge.

Cyberbullying is one of the most difficult forms of bullying to detect and control, and estimates suggest that one in five teenagers has been a victim. Talking about the problem is a start and it is important for victims to realise that they are not simply telling tales. The ABA is working with young people to develop a whole range of tools and support material.

Bullying of staff

Another bullying issue in schools, and one that is very rarely talked about, is the bullying of staff. Teachers generally join the profession because they wish to contribute to the good of society. Many will start their careers with a starry-eyed expectation of what they hope to achieve.

Unfortunately, within a very short time many will be wondering whether they have chosen the right career for themselves. Rather than having opportunities to make use of their creative skills, they find themselves tied into a compliance culture where securing a good or outstanding Ofsted judgment appears to be the school’s one and only aim.

Our education system is currently one that is based on expectations, rules and procedures, with constant surveillance, target setting and box ticking. Add to this, the significant pressure from a Head who fears that their job is on the line if the school does not achieve a high score, it is easy to understand how staff can be demoralised and depressed. Of course, this should not happen because there should be systems and procedures in place that will support struggling teachers who are finding it difficult to cope.

The cost of training a teacher for an undergraduate primary degree is set at £38,000. According to The Guardian, almost a quarter of the teachers who have qualified since 2011 have already left the profession, which is a completely unacceptable drain. A significant number of those have left due to bullying by over-stressed Heads.

As with all kinds of bullying, bottling it up is not the answer. Research has shown that when it comes to the issue of staff bullying, support from others is vital for teachers who are victims. A very effective way is for bullied teachers to co-operate and take a joint complaint to their union. Unfortunately, many teachers fear that if they step out of line they will be next to be bullied.

Another kind of staff bullying, is where staff are bullied by pupils, both verbally and physically. Traditionally, these teachers have been looked down on as those who simply cannot control their classes, but in truth many of their problems could be solved if the schools provided a better level of support.

Violence against teachers is said to be on the increase. Schools are obliged to follow anti-discriminatory law that prevents discrimination, harassment and victimisation within a school which applies to all — staff as well as pupils.