What can I do if my student is being bullied?
If you think that one of your students is experiencing bullying behaviour or they have approached you to tell you this, as an educator, you will naturally want to do the best you can to support them. You will want to ensure that you work with them to address the bullying behaviour they are experiencing and ultimately prevent it from happening again. Your school’s Anti-Bullying policy should outline the steps you need to take.
The Diana Award defines bullying behaviour as
“repeated, negative behaviour that is intended to make others feel upset, uncomfortable or unsafe”.
Types of bullying behaviour_
the repeated, negative use of speech, sign language, or verbal gestures to intentionally hurt others e.g. using hurtful words, discriminatory or offensive language, swear words.
the repeated, negative use of actions, which are neither physical nor verbal, to intentionally hurt others e.g. spreading rumours, purposefully excluding another person, damaging or stealing someone’s property and cyberbullying.
the repeated, negative use of body-contact to intentionally hurt others e.g. kicking, punching, slapping, inappropriate touching, and spitting.
a type of indirect bullying, is the repeated, negative use of technology to intentionally hurt others, e.g. posting unwanted pictures or messages, accessing another person’s account without permission, creating fake accounts to impersonate or harass someone and sharing other people’s private information online.
Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 states that schools ‘must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils.’ Most schools choose to include these measures in a separate Anti-Bullying policy which outlines the definition of bullying behaviour, the different types, reporting procedures and what measures the school has in place to prevent and tackle bullying behaviour.
Signs to look out for_
These signs may indicate your student is experiencing bullying behaviour:
- Change in body language, mood, participation, overall behaviour(e.g. loud to quiet, quiet to loud)
- Change in peer group dynamics in the classroom
- A student who may seek more attention from staff
- A student who has started spending less time with other students
- Physical marks or damage to personal property including clothing
Whilst these signs are not exhaustive and don’t necessarily mean that your student is experiencing bullying behaviour, they are worrying nonetheless and would need to be followed up with the student in line with your school’s safeguarding procedure.
Banter vs. Bullying behaviour
Banter can form a part of healthy and fun friendships but sometimes it can be used to excuse bullying behaviour. Banter is when both parties are in on the joke. It should be light-hearted and equal in nature. It shouldn’t be hateful, offensive or target a protected characteristic (as listed in The Equality Act 2010).
Check out The Diana Award’s ‘Banter Vs Bullying Behaviour’ resource on our website for further tips on how to open discussions with groups of young people about this issue. We also recommend displaying posters around school which define and differentiate between banter and bullying behaviour.
Steps to take
Your school’s Anti-Bullying policy should outline what action staff members are expected to take. It is important to follow this guidance and consult your Safeguarding Lead if you need any support. If a student comes to you and explains that they are experiencing bullying behaviour, we advise the following:
Thank them_ Affirm them for coming to talk to you and being brave to speak out about the bullying behaviour they are experiencing. Reassure them that they have done the right thing by coming to speak with you and that you will help them.
Listen_ Ask them to explain what’s happened and ask if they know the time, date and location that the bullying incident took place and the identity of the person/people involved. You could download our diary and action plan template for your student to use (as well as their parent/carer) to note down when these incidences are taking place. If the bullying behaviour has taken place online, check out our cyberbullying resource here.
Consult them_Experiencing bullying behaviour can make young people feel ashamed and out of control. Ask your student what they want the next steps to be and how you can help. It is important that they have a say in this process, as they may not want you to talk straight away to the person displaying bullying behaviour.
Follow up_ Follow your school’s procedures as outlined in your school’s Anti-Bullying policy.
It may involve following up with the student(s) involved, hearing from all parties concerned and agreeing with everyone what the next steps will be and a date to check in. This may involve informing parents/carers about the situation and the actions taken to address it.
Record_Ensure that you record the incident and the action taken centrally and ensure that you follow your school’s reporting procedure.
Strengthen home to school links_To help build a strong support network around the student, let their parent/carer know what is happening so they can monitor the situation at home.
Remember that if a young person discloses to you that the bullying behaviour relates to their sexual orientation or gender identity, their parents/carers may not yet know about this and by telling them without the young person’s permission, you could be putting the young person at risk. Reassure them that the information is safe with you until they are ready to tell others. Feel free to ask them if they have told other people. It is also important to note that coming out is not a safeguarding matter.
Support_Perhaps you have a member of pastoral staff that could support the student if they need further support? If there are concerns for your student’s mental health, then follow up with appropriate services. Does the student or students that are displaying bullying behaviour need further support or intervention?
Learn_By keeping a clear record and analysing reports of bullying behaviour and incidents, your school can start to see if any patterns are emerging. Maybe incidences occur more regularly at breaktime, indicating that there may need to be increased levels of staffing during these times. Perhaps bullying behaviour is more commonly being targeted at certain students (such as students with special educational needs or those that don’t conform to gender norms). This might indicate that there is more work to be done around diversity, inclusion and awareness-raising in school.
Make sure that your school’s Anti-Bullying policy is relevant, clear and, most importantly, student-friendly. Consult your students regarding the policy and ask them to review it. You can find our anti-bullying policy guide here.
Does your school have Anti-Bullying Ambassadors trained by The Diana Award?
Anti-Bullying Ambassadors are young people who are trained to tackle the attitudes, behaviour and culture surrounding bullying behaviour through peer-led campaigns.