Virtually all children have arguments at some time; these may be verbal or result in 'fisticuffs' - this is usually just part of normal childhood behaviour. It does not mean they are bullies, being bullied or will become bullies.
Fall-outs often reflect frustrations or misunderstandings and often children quickly make up and become friends again, but what happens when the spats turn to bullying?
Bullying takes many forms including:
- Being left out
- Name calling
- Being sneered at or spoken to sarcastically eg 'Nice shoes'
- Physical attacks
- Cyber bullying
- Spreading rumours or lies.
It can be soul-destroying to find, or suspect, that your child is being bullied.
Young children may find it difficult to articulate their feelings, older children may feel embarrassed, scared, worried about the consequences of 'telling'.
It is important for both your child and the perpetrator(s) that you listen to your child and try to ascertain what has been happening and the gravity of it. Your child may be very nervous about what might happen if you tell the school – children rightly fear retaliation.
We are very grateful to Big - Bullying Intervention Group for their sage advice to parents on how to deal with bullying.
Five steps that will help your child
- Gather evidence - For most instances of bullying your first step is to stay calm, collect the evidence and note down what has been happening and when.
- Problem solve. After discussing next steps with your child and reassuring her/him that nobody deserves to be bullied, you can decide what to do. It is helpful for children and young people if the adults around them do not seem helpless or too emotionally upset. Instead pour your energies into problem solving.
- Follow procedures. Notify your child’s school using their system – they may want parents to tell class teachers in the first instance or contact the head of year. Ask the office or check the website if you are not sure. This information may be in your child’s homework book. Schools must have an internal complaints procedure. If you are not satisfied you might make an appointment to see a deputy head or the headteacher. If this does not solve matters consider approaching the governors.
- Keep records – Retain copies of any letters or emails you send, and encourage your child to keep a diary of events if the bullying is continuing. Note down any meetings you have with staff and write to confirm what was agreed.
- Get support. It is perfectly valid for you to take someone along with you to any meeting: this can help remind you of what was said and agreed if you feel too upset to concentrate well.
What do schools have to do?
Schools in England have a legal duty to ensure the safety of all children and young people and to prevent all forms of bullying.
Involve your child
At all times. your child's safety comes first. If they are still experiencing the bullying, take all reasonable action to keep them safe such as changing their route to school or travel method. If you have serious concerns for their safety, or you think a crime has been committed against them, contact the police or the local authority children's services team. In some cases the local community safety team is a valuable help as they know the local neighbourhood well.
Don't march in to school all-guns blazing: this seldom helps anyone. Try to stay calm and to support your child.
Worries about inciting further attacks and making matters worse are among the most common reason cited for not taking matters further. It is valid for you to ask the school how they will protect your child from such retaliation if it becomes known that he or she has reported what is happening.
Try to involve your child in decision making and make efforts to encourage them to feel they are tackling the problem.
If one thing does not work, try something else, a Plan B.
What if it bullying takes place off site or in cyberspace?
Head teachers have powers to respond to bullying outside of school premises, and to search for and confiscate items that may have been used to bully or intimidate (The Education and Inspections Act 2006: The Education Act 2011). For more information on the law and government policy relating to bullying, visit the policy and guidance section of the Anti-Bullying Alliance
If the bullying is online or on a mobile, save the evidence and block the sender. Without the evidence it is difficult to prove what has been happening. Take a screengrab using the PrtScn key on your keyboard (Command+Shift and F3 on a Mac/ipad) or copy and paste the page or take a picture with your phone.
When things get sticky and action is not taken
If you have followed the complaints procedure and the situation has still not been resolved then you can take the following steps...
Children in local authority maintained state schools
- Contact the local authority. Some local authorities retain an anti-bullying co-ordinator. Or other staff who address safety for children and young people. If you have serious concerns for your child's safety then the local authority has a legal duty to protect your child. Ring the council and ask about ways to report a concern about a child. You could also call the NSPCC.
- Contact the Secretary of State for Education. As a last resort, if your child is in a maintained school you can contact the Secretary of State for Education. Write a letter setting out the actions you have already taken. to resolve the complaint. Write to The Secretary of State, Department for Education, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, London, SW1P 3BT. Visit www.dfe.gov.uk for further details.
- Contact Ofsted. Ofsted has created ParentView which allow parents to give their views on their child’s school. You will find this on the home page of the Ofsted website. If sufficient numbers of parents complain about behaviour at the school, Ofsted may be prompted to make an unplanned inspection. As well as inspecting how schools perform, under Section 11 of the Education Act 2005, Ofsted can consider certain complaints about schools (these are called 'qualifying complaints'). Qualifying complaints must meet a set of criteria and must raise an issue that affects the school as a whole rather than an individual. You must also have followed the school complaints process before making a complaint to Ofsted. Ofsted carefully considers all complaints received and takes action when it is in its power to do so.
- Contact your local MP. Your local MP is there to represent you. They can listen to your concerns about bullying or dangerous behaviour - whether in school or the wider community. They may be able to raise concerns on your behalf with the local authority or the Department for Education. MPs hold local surgeries or can be reached online.
What if my child is in an academy?
If your child is in an academy, after following the internal complaints procedure you can contact the Educational Funding Agency (EFA). The EFA can investigate whether the Academy has considered the complaint appropriately. If it finds that they did not consider the complaint appropriately they can request the academy to re-consider the complaint. Complaints can be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to Academies Central Unit (Academy Complaints), Education Funding Agency, Earlsdon Park, 53-55 Butts Road, Coventry, CV1 3BH. For more details on the Academy complaints process.
What if my child is in an independent or boarding school?
If your complaint is about an independent or boarding school you should follow its complaints procedure through the governing body. If you are still dissatisfied after this, you can pursue matters relating to your contract with the school through the courts. If your complaint is that the school is not complying with legal regulations governing independent schools, you can contact Department for Education public enquiries on 0370 000 2288, or at email@example.com. The Department will not investigate individual complaints, but can look at regulatory issues. Remember that if your child is at risk of harm or you think a crime has been committed you can always contact the police or the local authority children's services team.
(BIG - Bullying Intervention Group is indebted to the Anti-Bullying Alliance for additional information.)
My school is really good at dealing with bullying
Then please tell The Good Schools Guide. Leave a comment on individual school pages (and do feel free to tell us what else you like about the school plus things they could do better or facilities on your wish list) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Bullying can be a big concern for parents when their child starts school and throughout school life. There is now a national award that schools can achieve which shows they are an ‘anti-bullying school’. Parents can look out for this award as a mark of reassurance that a school is working hard on their anti-bullying practice. See BIG Award information below.
The BIG Award
The BIG Award is a national award (not for profit) that schools and other settings may achieve by demonstrating excellent anti-bullying practice. We work closely with Show Racism the Red Card, ChildLine/NSPCC, Mencap, ABA and Mumsnet.
Parents may be reassured to know that a school bearing this logo in their reception or on school letters is doing much to prevent bullying as well as having a wealth of support in place should it occur.
Schools can become members of our organisation and access the latest information from the D of E and Ofsted, ensuring high standards in their anti-bullying work.
Schools must fulfil a set of criteria to achieve the award:
- A bullying intervention focus group
- A robust anti-bullying policy
- Regular staff training
- Involve parents and carers
- Pupils' peer support or mentoring system
- Regular awareness raising activities
- Testimonial from a young person
- Recording and monitoring of bullying incidents.
At BIG we believe that everybody in the school community needs to work together so that children and young people can feel safe and achieve their full potential.
Sources of help, advice and support
Before making a complaint we would suggest that you seek further advice and support. The following organisations can offer help:
- BIG Award has help pages for young people, parents and professionals
- Coram Children's Legal Centre - They say 'CCLC provides free legal information, advice and representation to children, young people, their families, carers and professionals, as well as international consultancy on child law and children’s rights'.
- Family Lives - They say, 'Family Lives is here for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week through our free helpline. You can call us about any family issue, big or small.'
- ChildLine - They aim their content at children and young people and have pages dedicated to bullying plus a helpline for advice and support.
The Good Schools Guide Educational Consultants is a consultancy service experienced in helping parents find schools for their children, including those who have been bullied and want a fresh start elsewhere or who need support in tackling the school on issues such as bullying.
The Good Schools Guide can help by providing parents with the information they need to choose the right school for their particular child. We publish in depth, honest reviews of over 1200 UK state and independent schools based on personal visits and interviews with parents, children, staff and head teachers (reviews are available in the printed guide and to subscribers of The Good Schools Guide online). Schools are assessed on everything from academic performance to extracurricular activities and university destinations. Pastoral care and anti-bullying policies (and practice) are carefully scrutinised and frankly described:
'Pupils care for each other with uncommon empathy in this ‘community of individuals’...Strong sense of fairness and honouring individual differences.'
'Doubts remain over the handling of difficult or sensitive cases.'
'It’s an un-cliquey place – impossible, you would have thought, in a girls’ school.'
'Recent exclusions for cyber bullying, discussed openly and frankly in assemblies and pastoral time.'
'The obvious discrepancies between the houses can spill over into status issues for some girls.'