Take action to prevent bullying

Bullying is a significant public health problem with over half of young people in the UK report being bullied every year[i]. Bullying can have a long-term impact with enduring effects persisting into adulthood[ii]. Here we focus on bullying in education settings, though workplace and online bullying are also important problems. The most reported effects of bullying are mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal behaviour[iii].  

All education providers are required by law to have a behaviour policy with measures to tackle bullying among students[iv]. The government does not set out an approach to bullying that schools and colleges should follow. The underlying principle is that education providers are best placed to drive their own improvements and they are held to account for their effectiveness through Ofsted. Ofsted’s 2012 report ‘No place for bullying’ lays out its view on good practice.

 A recent independent review of behaviour in schools, found that good behaviour policy often involved a combination of strict rules combined with strong pastoral support and activities.[v]

Whilst conversion from local authority linked schools to independent academies and the introduction of free schools has weakened the powers of councils over schools most local authorities retain influence over the ‘family of schools’ in their area. Councils and schools of all tenures are encouraged to take anti-bullying measures extremely seriously and adopt best practice in eradicating it.

School-based interventions that incorporate a whole-school approach appear to be the most effective in significantly reducing bullying[vi].

A recent meta-analysis[vii] found that school-based anti-bullying programmes significantly reduce bullying. Results suggest that anti- school-bullying victimisation by approximately 15–16%.

For Further Education and Higher Education institutions there are other examples of good practice with regard to wider health and wellbeing of students.  We are working with the Association of Colleges to further explore opportunities to share good practice in this area. 

Action for Education providersmortarboard

1. Focus on preventative practices

Preventative practices have been shown to reduce the number of bullying incidents that occur by tackling prejudice and increasing empathy and understanding for others through awareness and education.

Preventative strategies also aimed to teach students to self-regulate their behaviour. Students should be supported to develop an understanding that they should not engage in bullying behaviour because it is not the right thing to do, rather than just because they are told not to.

A focus on positive behaviours and attitudes was also common, with rewards and recognition systems for behaviour as well as achievement. Preventative approaches focus on restorative practice and what used to be referred to as ‘no blame’ practices which seek to enlist the ‘bully’ in supporting better outcomes for their victim by understanding the harm they are causing and encouraging them to change or face sanctions.

Woodside is secondary school in Tottenham; very multicultural and diverse, with over fifty languages spoken by pupils in the school and 85-90% of pupils having English as an Additional Language. The school has a large proportion of Turkish/Kurdish and Black Caribbean/African pupils.


With a diverse pupil cohort, the school stated that they were very aware there was potential of bullying stemming from pupils’ different cultural backgrounds, including experiences, views and words they may use.

To prevent bullying, the school has:

  • Developed a set of shared values agreed by pupils, staff and families
  • Focused on challenging discrimination and prejudice stemming from the diversity of cultural backgrounds
  • Developed a home-school agreement which pupils and parents sign-up to on admission to the school
  • Strong focus on raising awareness of different cultures and backgrounds
  • Looking at the impact of racism throughout history and current events
  • International evenings allowing pupils and families to celebrate different cultures and dress and celebrate their identity.
  • Facilitation of equality and diversity training sessions led entirely by pupils and attended by all school staff. Pupils spoke about incidents of racism they had experienced, with the aim of generating discussion and ideas for how such incidents could be managed by the school.
  • A strong peer mentor programme where year 10 pupils are allocated pupils in younger year groups to mentor. A key focus of the training given to mentors is on bullying and how it can be tackled.
  • A clear hierarchy of sanctions set out to all pupils and informed by the year 11 behaviour pupil panel.
  • Provision of appropriate support and intervention for perpetrators and victims such as counselling, or involvement with the school’s therapeutic behaviour unit providing education alongside sanctions.
  • Using a restorative approach by giving the victim of the bullying the opportunity to explain the impact of the incident on them and giving the perpetrator the opportunity to explain the impact of the incident on them and providing them with the opportunity to apologise.

  1. Involve the whole school community in writing and regularly refreshing the policy.
  2. Make sure you are explicit about your school approach to cyberbullying – whether inside or outside of school
  3. Talk about how bullying can be fuelled by prejudice and how discrimination will not be accepted.
  4. Set clear boundaries and make sure these are understood by all pupils.
  5. Agree routes for reporting bullying. Designate members of staff to manage bullying complaints and be clear on timescales.
  6. Agree as a school community on ways you can all be involved in challenging bullying behaviour.
  7. Change the physical environment to design out bullying hotspots.
  8. Ensure pupils have a safe place at lunch and break times. Free play is not for everyone so consider alternatives. 
  9. Include your response to bullying on the way to and from school including partnership work with transport and high streets
  10. Support pupils with managing relationship conflict. Promote assertive behaviour strategies.
  11. Consider how you can celebrate diversity in a meaningful way.

Warden Park Primary school [ix]  has a diverse intake with a higher than national average proportion of pupils with disability and special educational needs; from a minority ethnic background; who have English as an additional language and who receive Pupil Premium.

A whole school review of behaviour and anti-bullying practices identified a need for further improvements.

This improvement effort began by analysing the school’s physical organisation to establish where issues are most likely to occur and putting structures in place to minimise the opportunities. Investment was made in a pastoral support unit and the school also developed a clear ethos and a proactive behaviour policy, which includes all aspects of behaviour and addresses bullying. An ethos of kindness which is constantly referred to and modelled by all adults underpinning interactions across the school. The school has systems for detailed logging of problematic behavioural incidents and monitors pupil and parent experiences and attitudes via surveys. The school has seen a vast reduction in incidents of poor behaviour since implementing the new policy and surveys show that the wellbeing of pupils is very good.


Action for Central Governmentcapitol building

1. Embed anti-bullying practices into all education settings

Ensure Ofsted and the Department for Education check that schools, colleges and universities have rigorous anti-bullying preventative practices and that all report incidences of bullying.


2. Reduce child poverty

Restore the statutory duty for Government and local authorities in the Child Poverty Act (2010) to record and have a strategy to reduce child and young person poverty which was repealed by the Welfare Reform and Work Act (2016)

Research[viii] by the National Children’s Bureau and the Centre for Longitudinal Studies for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that children and young people who had experienced poverty were more likely to have problems with relationships, including an increased likelihood of being bullied and fighting with their friends,

The research established that young people living in poverty are four times more likely to fight with or bully others (16% of those in persistent poverty, compared to 4% of those who had never been poor). They are also more than twice as likely to report being bullied frequently themselves (12% compared to 5% of the never poor).

Action for Local Authoritiesgovernment building

1. Take action to introduce a Whole School Anti-Bullying Approach in every school, and similar approaches in FE colleges they oversee.

The Anti-Bullying Alliance recommends a ‘whole school approach’ to writing or refreshing school anti-bullying policy which various studies[ix] have shown reduce bullying.

It is recommended that this is a stand-alone anti-bullying policy that education providers publish on their website and regularly promote to students, staff and other members of the community.