3.1.1 Bullying


This chapter was updated in March 2022 to add/update links in Section 7, Further Information and to include information on sexual harassment and violence following the Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted) and Keeping Children Safe in Education. The definition of sexting was expanded to include taking and distributing nude or semi-nude images.

1. Introduction

All children living, working, being educated or socialising in Sheffield have the right to go about their lives without the fear of being threatened, assaulted or harassed. Sheffield Children Safeguarding Partnership works with partner agencies to ensure the provision of safe environments for children, and to address bullying behaviour effectively so that the incidence of all forms of bullying is minimised.

No one should underestimate the impact that bullying has on a child's life. It can cause high levels of distress, affecting their wellbeing, behaviour and social development through into adulthood. Bullying is always an issue of concern and prompt and effective action must be taken.

Bullying can take place anywhere. Addressing bullying is an issue for parents, carers, organisations working with children and young people, and the wider community.

2. Definition

Bullying is defined by the Department for Education as 'behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, which intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally' (see Preventing and Tackling Bullying: Advice for Headteachers, staff and governing bodies (October 2014)). Repeated bullying has a significant emotional component, where the anticipation and fear of being bullied seriously affects the behaviour of the victim.

Bullying can be inflicted on a child by another child, or by an adult. Bullying can take many forms (including cyberbullying ), and is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups, for example on grounds of race, religion, gender / gender identity, sexual orientation, special educational need or disability or because a child is adopted or has caring responsibilities. It might be motivated by actual differences between children, or perceived differences.

Bullying can be:

  • Repetitive and persistent - Bullying is usually experienced as part of a continuous pattern and it can be extremely threatening and intimidating even when very subtle;
  • A single incident where it has the same intent and impact as persistent behaviour over time;
  • Intentionally harmful - The act of bullying intends harm to others, although occasionally the distress it causes is not consciously intended by all those who are present;
  • An imbalance of power - Bullying leaves someone feeling helpless to prevent it or put a stop to it. In some cases an imbalance of power may mean that bullying crosses the threshold into abuse. This would require a referral to Children's Social Care. See Making a Referral following the Identification of Child Safety and Welfare Concerns Procedure.

An Ofsted thematic review (Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted, June 2021) identified substantial levels of sexual harassment for both girls (90%) and boys (nearly 50%) – usually in unsupervised settings. Sexual harassment and sexual violence exist on a continuum and may overlap. Where the latter occurs, there could be a criminal offence committed. Good anti-bullying policies and training for all staff will detail the different forms of bullying that children may experience.

Bullying can take various forms and includes the following types of behaviour:

Physical bullying:
  • Pushing, kicking, hitting, pinching, spitting, hair pulling or any use of physical violence;
  • Sexual harassment or assault;
  • Making people do things they do not want to do;
  • Stopping people from doing things they want to do;
  • Damaging someone's belongings; and/or
  • Taking someone else's belongings e.g. mobile phone or money.
Verbal bullying:
  • Name-calling and other unpleasant language, usually focusing on someone's appearance, personal hygiene, family or ability;
  • Sarcasm, teasing, mocking;
  • Spreading rumours;
  • Saying or writing nasty things;
  • Blackmail or threats;
  • Making offensive remarks; and / or
  • Unwelcome sexual comments, sexualised name calling, spreading rumours concerning someone's sexual behaviour, inappropriate touching, inappropriate sexual jokes, upsetting people by showing them pornography.
Indirect bullying:
  • Being unfriendly, not talking to someone;
  • Exclusion from social groups and activities;
  • Tormenting, making someone feel uncomfortable or scared; and /or
  • Using threatening gestures, looks, signs/symbols.
Online bullying:
  • Using technology to torment, threaten, harass, humiliate, embarrass or otherwise target another person by using the internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.

Online bullying is a form of bullying which can happen at all times of the day, with a potentially bigger audience. This form of bullying tends to involve a number of online bystanders and can quickly spiral out of control. The effects of online bullying can be devastating for the young person involved. Children and young people who bully others online do not need to be physically stronger and their methods can often be hidden and subtle. There are ways to help prevent a child from being bullied online and to help them cope and stop the bullying if it does happen.

The Department for Education have issued guidance for school staff and parents and carers on how to recognise signs of cyberbullying and support children who are being bullied in this way. See Preventing bullying.

See also: Advice for Parents and Carers on Cyberbullying (Department for Education, 2014).

The Ofsted Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges also recognised a wide variety of behaviours that children and young people told (them) happened online including:

  • Receiving unsolicited explicit photographs or videos, for example 'dick pics';
  • Sending, or being pressured to send, nude and semi-nude photographs or videos ('nudes');
  • Being sent or shown solicited or unsolicited online explicit material, such as pornographic videos.

Sexting is a term which many young people do not recognise or use, therefore it is important that when discussing the risks of this type of behaviour with children and young people the behaviour is accurately explained.

Sexting (some children and young people consider this to mean 'writing and sharing explicit messages with people they know' rather than sharing youth-produced sexual images) or sharing nudes and semi-nudes are terms used when a person under the age of 18 shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others or sends sexually explicit messages.


Upskirting, which involves taking a picture under a person’s clothing without them knowing, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks to obtain sexual gratification, or cause the victim humiliation, distress or alarm, is a specific example of abusive behaviour which has been linked to online bullying and grooming. Upskirting is a criminal offence and should be reported to the Police.

The Child Victim

The damage inflicted by bullying can often be underestimated. It can cause considerable distress to children, to the extent that it affects their health and development or, at the extreme, causes depression and self-harm.

Children may be prevented from telling anyone about their experience by threats, feeling that nothing can change their situation, that they may be partly to blame or that they should be able to deal with it themselves.

Young people must be provided with information as to what they can do if they or someone they know is bullied, where to get advice and support including staying safe online. This information must be proactively shared and widely available and not just targeted at those who are known to experience bullying.

Parents, carers and agencies need to be alert to any changes in behaviour such as refusing to attend school or a particular place or activity, becoming anxious in public places and crowds and becoming withdrawn and isolated.

Parents should be provided with information as what they should do if they are worried that their child is being bullied - i.e. where they can obtain advice and support including keeping safe on the internet.

Any child may be bullied, but bullying often occurs if a child has been identified in some ways as vulnerable, different or inclined to spend more time on their own. Bullying may be fuelled by prejudice (racial, religious and homophobic) and against children with special educational needs or disabilities or those who are perceived as different in some way. In cases of sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying, schools must always consider whether safeguarding processes need to be followed. This is because of the potential for violence (including sexual violence) that can characterise these forms of bullying.

Children living away from home are particularly vulnerable to bullying and abuse by their peers.

The Child Engaging in Bullying Behaviour

Children, who bully, have often been bullied themselves and suffered considerable disruption in their own lives and are likely to have significant needs. The bullying behaviour may occur because:

  • It feels like fun;
  • They dislike or are jealous of someone;
  • They feel powerful and respected; and / or
  • It gets them what they want.


The bystander is an important element in bullying.

People who bully others are often trying to impress their peers, either by looking tough or funny. Without bystanders to watch the reaction of the victim, the bully will not gain their gratification.

Children must be enabled to recognise that being a 'bystander' is not acceptable, and understand how their silence supports bullying and makes them in part responsible for what happens to the victim.

3. Indicators

Any change in behaviour which indicates fear or anxiety may be a potential indicator of bullying. Children may also choose to avoid locations and events which they had previously enjoyed - changes in attitude towards organised activities are particularly significant.

The following behaviours should be seen as a matter of concern and discussed with the child and parents / carers as appropriate:

  • Being frightened of walking to and from school and / or changing their usual route;
  • Feeling ill in the mornings;
  • Truanting;
  • A decline in the quality of their school work;
  • Coming home regularly with possessions destroyed or missing;
  • Becoming withdrawn;
  • Starting to stammer;
  • Lacking confidence;
  • Being distressed;
  • Being anxious;
  • Changing eating habits;
  • Expressing suicidal thoughts;
  • Crying themselves to sleep;
  • Having nightmares;
  • Asking for money or stealing (to pay the bully) or continually 'losing' their pocket money;
  • Refusing to talk about what's wrong;
  • Unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches;
  • Bullying other siblings / other children;
  • Aggressive and unreasonable;
  • Starting to withdraw from previously involved activities;
  • Running away;
  • Becoming bullies themselves.

4. Agency Responsibilities

Agencies should put in place the following:

  • An anti-bullying policy which is regularly reviewed and actively promoted;
  • A named senior lead within the agency for anti-bullying;
  • Means to measure the extent and nature of bullying, and take all possible steps to reduce it;
  • Information for staff explaining that bullying can include emotional and / or physical harm to such a degree that it constitutes Significant Harm and how to recognise it and respond appropriately;
  • Where the bullying may involve an allegation of crime (assault, theft, harassment) make a report to the Police at the earliest opportunity, having taken into account the views and wishes of the victim and their parents / carers;
  • Ensure professionals are aware of their responsibilities in relation to anti-bullying, are competent to support and manage both the victim and the abuser and make available anti-bullying awareness training to all staff in line with their roles and responsibilities;
  • Put in place processes for effective recording, monitoring and reporting for all bullying incidents involving children;
  • Give information to children and their parents / carers about the organisation's approach to anti-bullying, what to do, who to go to, if they have concerns;
  • Encourage parents / carers to be involved in supporting programmes devised to challenge bullying behaviour;
  • Help to develop social and emotional skills in all children including empathy, co-operation and positive conflict resolution and these skills are modelled by adults;
  • The offer of support to children for whom English is not their first language to communicate needs and concerns;
  • Promote the inclusion of all children within the setting to counter isolation of individuals by others, nurture friendships between children and, where it is a residential setting, support them to adapt to their living arrangements.

Schools are the agency most likely to become aware of bullying and schools have statutory obligations to respond. Every school must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils. These measures should be part of the school’s behaviour policy which must be communicated to all pupils, school staff and parents

Headteachers also have the ability to discipline pupils for poor behaviour even when the pupil is not on school premises or under the lawful control of school staff.

5. Prevention

It would be virtually impossible to eradicate bullying in communities. However, by taking a comprehensive and all rounded approach it is possible to drastically reduce the number of incidents and improve the wellbeing of children in the community.

All settings in which children are provided with services including where they are living away from home, should have in place anti-bullying strategies and procedures on how to refer to Children's Social Care if safeguarding children concerns are identified. This includes youth clubs and all other children's organisations as well as all schools where anti-bullying strategies should be rigorously enforced.

In order to maintain an effective strategy for dealing with bullying, the traditional ideas about bullying should be challenged, e.g.

  • It's only a bit of harmless fun;
  • It's all part of growing up;
  • Children just have to put up with it;
  • Adults getting involved make it worse.

Clear messages must be given that bullying is not acceptable and children must be reassured that significant adults involved in their lives are dealing with bullying seriously. Some acts of bullying could be a criminal offence.

A climate of openness should be established in which children are not afraid to address issues and incidents of bullying.

Creating an anti-bullying climate that is conducive to equality of opportunity, co-operation and mutual respect for differences can be achieved for example by:

  • Low Tolerance of Minor Bullying – dealing with incidents at the earliest sign;
  • Never ignoring victims of bullying, always showing an interest/concern;
  • Acknowledging the bullied child's distress;
  • Organising quality groups/circles, which allow children to work together to identify their own problems, causes and solutions with sensitive facilitators.

Practitioners may often be in the position of having to deal with the perpetrators as well as the victims of bullying. It should be borne in mind that bullying behaviour may in itself be indicative of previous abuse or exposure to violence.

It is important when addressing bullying behaviour by another child to avoid accusations, threats or any responses that will only lead to the child being uncooperative, and silent.

The focus should be on the bullying behaviour rather than the child and where possible the reasons for the behaviour should be explored and dealt with. A clear explanation of the extent of the upset the bullying has caused should be given and encouragement to see the bullied child's points of view.

A restorative approach and the use of restorative enquiry and subsequent mediation between those involved can often provide an effective and purposeful opportunity to meet the needs of all concerned. The child who has been bullied has the chance to say how they have been affected. The opportunity is provided for the child doing the bullying to understand the impact of their actions and to make amends.

Both the child engaged in bullying behaviour and those who are the target of bullying should then be closely monitored. The times, places and circumstances in which the risk of bullying is greatest should be ascertained and action taken to reduce the risk of recurrence.

Whatever plan of action is implemented, it must be reviewed at regular intervals to ascertain whether actions have been successful. This review should look at whether the target of bullying now feels safe and whether the bullying behaviour has now ceased. Consideration should also be given to lessons learned in order to constantly review and improve practice.

Consideration should always be given to the existence of any underlying issues in relation to race, gender and sexual orientation. This should be addressed and challenged accordingly.

Keeping Children Safe in Education notes that with regard to sexual harassment, all staff working with children are advised to maintain an attitude of 'it could happen here' and must respond to all reports and concerns about sexual violence and/or sexual harassment, including online behaviour and incidents that have happened outside of the school/college.

6. Responding to an Incident of Bullying

Where a child is thought to be exposed to bullying, action should be taken to assess the child's needs, provide support, and consider any action required in line with the agency anti bullying policy.

7. Further Information

Preventing and Tackling Bullying - Advice for Headteachers, Staff and Governing Bodies (DfE, 2017)

Cyberbullying: Advice for Headteachers and School Staff (DfE, 2015)

Advice for parents and carers on cyberbullying (DfE, 2015)

Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted, June 2021)

Specialist Organisations:

  • Bullying UK;
  • The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA): Founded in 2002 by NSPCC and National Children's Bureau, the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) brings together over 100 organisations into one network to develop and share good practice across the whole range of bullying issues;
  • Kidscape: Charity established to prevent bullying and promote child protection providing advice for young people, professionals and parents about different types of bullying and how to tackle it. They also offer specialist training and support for school staff, and assertiveness training for young people;
  • The BIG Award: The Bullying Intervention Group (BIG) offer a national scheme and award for schools to tackle bullying effectively.

Online Bullying:

  • ChildNet International: Specialist resources for young people to raise awareness of online safety and how to protect themselves;
  • Bullying UK;
  • Think U Know: Resources provided by NCA-CEOP for children and young people, parents, carers and teachers on how to stay safe on a computer, tablet or phone;
  • Digizen: Provide online safety information for educators, parents, carers and young people;
  • Advice on Child Internet Safety: The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) has produced universal guidelines for providers on keeping children safe online;
  • Sexting: How to Respond to an Incident: The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) an overview for staff on how to respond to incidents involving sexting;
  • Sharing nudes and semi-nudes: advice for education settings working with children and young people;
  • NSPCC Report Remove Tool: The tool enables young people under the age of 18 to report a nude image or video of themselves which has appeared online. The Internet Watch Foundation will review these reports and work to remove any content which breaks the law;
  • UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS) Digital Passport – a communication tool to support children and young people with care experience to talk with their carers about their online lives.

Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT):

  • Schools Out: Offers practical advice, resources (including lesson plans) and training to schools on LGBT equality in education;
  • Stonewall: Resources to help schools, colleges and other settings ensure they are LGBT inclusive;
  • Cornerhouse - a local voluntary sector agency dealing with all aspects of sexual health, including supporting young people and providing training for staff on LGBT issues.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities:

  • Mencap: Represents people with learning disabilities, with specific advice and information for people who work with children and young people;
  • Changing Faces: Provide online resources and training to schools on bullying because of physical difference;
  • Cyberbullying and SEN/disability: Advice provided by the Anti-Bullying Alliance on developing effective anti-bullying practice.


  • Racist and Faith Targeted Bullying: information on racist and faith targeted bullying including top tips for schools, advice countering intolerance and prejudice, promoting shared values and what the law says;
  • Show Racism the Red Card: Provide resources and workshops for schools to educate young people, often using the high profile of football, about racism;
  • Kick it Out: Uses the appeal of football to educate young people about racism and provide education packs for schools;
  • Anne Frank Trust: Runs a schools project to teach young people about Anne Frank and the Holocaust, the consequences of unchecked prejudice and discrimination, and cultural diversity.

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