Anti-bullying work: Effective policy and practice

Written by: Peter Wanless | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

To mark Anti-Bullying Week, we asked NSPCC chief Peter Wanless to advise schools on what an effective anti-bullying policy and approach should look like

This week marks Anti-Bullying Week, giving us the vital opportunity to raise awareness of what has been and continues to be a serious problem among children and young people, and to highlight ways of preventing and responding to it.

It saddens me to report that bullying remains one of the most common reasons why children and young people contact our free and confidential service, Childline, with our counsellors delivering 25,740 counselling sessions about the issue last year (2015/16) alone.

And these are just the ones who reached out to us. Despite efforts from schools and organisations to respond and reduce bullying, some children are still contacting us because they are too afraid to speak out because they think it will make the problem even worse.

Children need to be confident that if they speak out they will receive a supportive and understanding response, and action will be taken to stop the bullying.

The top bullying concerns for 12 to 18-year-olds are peer pressure and online bullying. But bullying, regardless of whether it occurs online or in person can have a devastating impact on the victim, affecting their self-worth, leave them feeling isolated and potentially becoming a trigger for depression.

In the worst case scenarios, bullying has driven children and young people to self-harm and even suicide. Children and young people who are bullied also have fewer friendships, have problems adjusting to school, and don’t do as well, which in turn affects their ability to fulfil their potential.

In a quarter of counselling sessions about bullying children and young people were also counselled for a mental health and wellbeing issue, including low self-esteem, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and depression.

The fact that so many children are still contacting Childline every year indicates the need for us all to be constantly vigilant and responsive to the risks of bullying. We need to raise awareness of bullying with each new cohort of children and ensure that both young people and adults know what to do.

A whole-school response

As teachers are often the first adults that victims of bullying reach out to, schools in particular need to have effective policies that are actively implemented. There are strategies that schools can use to tackle bullying and ensure pupils have confidence that bullying will be responded to appropriately:

Regularly updated policies

Have an anti-bullying policy in place that is regularly updated, widely available and promoted to the whole school community, children and parents. This should make it clear what action the school will take in the case of a bullying incident and what it regularly does to prevent bullying.

Easy reporting

Ensure students know how to report bullying behaviour and that support is well publicised to pupils. Children should be encouraged to get involved in publicising anti-bullying messages around the school with posters, assemblies and role-plays. PSHE lessons can be used to explore the subject of bullying in all its forms and to discuss ways of preventing and dealing with it as a group. One example of a child-friendly anti-bullying message that many schools have now adopted is STOP – Several Times On Purpose/Start Telling Other People. It is easy to remember, a good reminder of what bullying is and what to do if it happens to you.

Take reports seriously

Ensure children have confidence that schools will take reports of bullying seriously and will take action to tackle problems. If they do not have confidence that this will happen, they will be less likely to report it.

Comprehensive records

Keep comprehensive records of any bullying incidents in school, including what has taken place and any action taken by the school. These are useful to refer back to at a later date if further incidents take place.

Clear procedures for staff

Have clear anti-bullying procedures that both teachers and pupils know and understand. Keep communicating with teachers and pupils, checking in on whether the bullying is continuing or whether it has been resolved.

Prioritise student voice

Include the children experiencing bullying in decisions on any action taken so they are not surprised by any action you take. Many children are reluctant to speak up as they fear the situation will get worse for them. It will help if they are prepared in advance for what action is taking place.

Hot spot areas

Identify hot spot areas in school where bullying is known to happen and introduce ways of patrolling or monitoring these areas.

Social networks

Understand how to report offensive or inappropriate online content to the relevant social network and request how to remove it.

Online safety

It is also important for schools to be aware that increasingly bullying doesn’t just take place in school, the park or playground but also when children go online.

This week, we published figures showing that the number of children and young people tormented at the hands of online trolls has increased by 88 per cent in five years. In 2015/16, Childline counselled 4,541 children about cyber-bullying compared to 2,410 in 2011/12.

Children as young as seven told Childline counsellors how they were being abused and humiliated by malicious and hurtful messages from which they felt there was no escape. The comments posted on their social media profiles, blogs and online pictures ranged from bullying and abusive words about how a young person looked to death threats and in the most extreme cases directly telling them to go and kill themselves.

Keeping children safe online, including from the threat of cyber-bullying is one of the biggest child protection challenges of this generation.

Tackling cyber-bullying can be particularly difficult with the younger generation constantly being offered new ways to communicate with each other.

However, schools can do their bit by having ICT acceptable use policies to promote appropriate online behaviour to children and adults. And teachers should try to keep a close eye on their students to see if they are exhibiting any of the psychological symptoms of bullying which could be a result of the child or young person being targeted and tormented online. Once identified, a case of cyber-bullying should be treated largely the same way as the more “traditional” types of bullying.

Finally, it can be embarrassing and scary for a young person to confide in an adult when they are being bullied, so it is so important that we support children to talk about issues and look out for signs that they are not able to cope.

A kind word, a listening ear, and swift action can help stop bullying in its tracks, make them feel safe and rebuild their confidence. If they are concealing unhappiness, encourage them to open up and if they can’t talk to you, they can talk to Childline.

  • Peter Wanless is the CEO of the NSPCC.


Children and young people can always contact our free, confidential helpline Childline, whenever they need us. They can call us on 0800 1111, or email or live chat with us on If you are an adult worried about a child, contact 0808 800 5000.

Anti-Bullying Week

For more information about Anti-Bullying Week, visit or @ABAonline


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