Getting a grip on bullying


Schools that acknowledge bullying are normally those which are most effective in tackling it, says Hilary Emery at the end of another successful Anti-Bullying Week.

Last week was Anti-Bullying Week and as the dust settles on another year’s campaign, I’m delighted to hear from colleagues at the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) that it was hugely successful in reiterating why bullying is something we must not tolerate if we want all children to succeed.

Bullying is not a pleasant subject and we all wish it didn’t happen, but it is those schools which acknowledge the problem that are driving forward best practice and making a real difference to the lives of children.

Crucially, the schools that establish a whole-school approach to tackling bullying – that regularly raise awareness of bullying and discuss the issue with their students, have clear reporting and recording systems, and regularly update their policies so everyone knows that bullying will not be tolerated – are the ones that see the biggest difference in pupil behaviour.

Vic Goddard, headteacher of Passmores Academy, which featured in Channel 4’s Educating Essex, recently wrote that the backbone to his school’s approach to bullying is a yearly survey of pupils. He asserts that it is only by talking to pupils that the school can establish an accurate picture of where they are winning the ongoing battle against bullying and where more work needs to be done.

There are a number of tried and tested resources available for doing just this – not least the student questionnaires from the ABA website. The website also has a school assessment tool to help you assess your strengths and target areas for improvement.

There is no shame in acknowledging that bullying happens – the real test of a school is whether your students agree that you take appropriate and expedient action when it’s reported.

Of course maintaining a whole-school approach to tackling bullying and regularly reviewing practice takes time and hard work, and we must remind ourselves why this extra effort is justified.

Research conducted for Anti-Bullying Week showed how bullying is acting as a barrier to achievement in schools. Schools already know that bullying can lead to children dropping out of school, in turn, limiting their life choices and affecting many aspects of their lives and wellbeing. We already know that certain children are more vulnerable to bullying – including those with SEN and disabilities or those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual. What was shocking to find out though from our latest survey was the extent to which being good at something can also set young people apart as targets of bullying behaviour.

The ABA conducted a poll into the effects of bullying on 11 to 16-year-olds and found that more than 90 per cent have been bullied, or seen someone be bullied, for being too intelligent or talented. Worryingly, this means our young people are shying away from academic achievement or taking part in sport or other extra-curricular activities, for fear of victimisation (see the report on Anti-Bullying Week for more on this survey).

This research provides much food for thought. It indicates how bullying can alter the mindset of children from “I want to do the best I can” to “I don’t want to stand out – even if that means playing down my talent or ability”. This makes the work that schools do to tackle bullying more important than ever.

If we want all of our children to achieve to their full potential we have to address bullying. We must work together to create safe, nurturing environments where all children are free to learn and develop – and to make the most of their unique skills and talents without fear of bullying.

  • Dr Hilary Emery is chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. Visit

Further information
For more on the ABA or to join its School and College Network, visit


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