Children who bully can come from any social class or cultural background. For some there may be poor discipline at home, and/or excessive physical punishment or abuse by a parent/carer or older sibling. There may be very little warmth in family relationships. Understanding the difficulties of bullies does not mean that their behaviour can be condoned. Other children who bully may take part because their friends do so.

Bullying behaviour usually includes:

  • deliberately hurtful behaviour towards the victim
  • a victim who is weaker and less powerful than the bully
  • an outcome which is always painful and distressing for the victim

Bullying can take many forms and can be:

  • physical - hitting, kicking, pushing, taking belongings
  • verbal - name calling (including homophobic abuse), threats, insulting, racist remarks
  • indirect - spreading nasty stories about someone, excluding someone from social groups, unwanted communication through texting, internet chat rooms and email

Where bullying takes place

Bullying usually takes place in school. In primary schools, much of it takes place in the playground. In secondary schools, it is more likely outside but it also happens in the classroom, the corridors  and the toilets.

Who the victims are

Any child can be bullied but the main risk factors include:

  • lacking close friends
  • being shy
  • coming from an over-protective family environment
  • being from a different racial or ethnic group to the majority
  • being different in some obvious respect from the majority
  • having special educational needs
  • a child who behaves inappropriately with others e.g. barging in on games or being a nuisance

None of these characteristics can excuse allowing the child to be bullied.

Why schools should be concerned about bullying

Head Teachers have a legal duty to ensure that there are acceptable standards or discipline and behaviour in their school and for regulating the conduct of their pupils. Schools are expected to uphold certain values which include those that reject bullying and cruelty.

Some of the important reasons for challenging bullying behaviour in schools

  • the safety and happiness of the children
  • the lives of victims are made miserable; they may:
    • suffer injury
    • not want to attend school
    • lose self-confidence and self-esteem
    • blame themselves for inviting the bullying behaviour
  • the unhappiness of bullied children may affect their concentration and learning; some will avoid being bullied by not going to school
  • getting a reputation as an effective, caring school; every school has some degree of bullying; parents will be impressed and reassured by a school that demonstrates effective responses to bullying through policy and action

There is some evidence of long-term effects of unchecked bullying that suggests that persistently bullied children are more likely to be depressed young adults.

How bullying can be combated

Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 requires schools to determine measures to prevent all forms of bullying. This means that all schools should have in place, and annually review the effectiveness of  their anti-bullying policy. Schools should act promptly and firmly to combat bullying.

Pupils should be aware of how they can draw their concerns about bullying to the attention of staff in confidence that these will be carefully investigated and, if substantiated taken seriously and acted upon.

Establishing a whole school policy against bullying involves development (setting up the policy which should involve children, parents, school staff  and governors), implementation (ensuring it is used) and evaluation (reviewing its effectiveness).

Opportunities exist within the curriculum to address bullying and it can be used to:

  • raise awareness about bullying behaviour and about the school's anti-bullying policy
  • challenge attitudes about bullying behaviour, increase understanding for bullied pupils and help build an anti-bullying ethos in the school

Schools can work with children in bullying situations in a variety of ways and can receive help and support services.

School complaints procedure

All schools are required to have a complaint procedure. Your child's school will be glad to give you a copy if you ask for one.

You may also wish to look at the leaflet responding to your concerns in relation to schools, which can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.

ACE (Advisory Centre for Education)

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Anti-bullying campaign

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Learning Access - (Education welfare service)


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