Stopping the bullies


What do the best schools do to tackle bullying behaviour? Dr Hilary Emery takes a look.

Earlier this month, Ofsted’s report, No Place For Bullying, analysed pupils’ experiences of bullying and the effectiveness of school practice to tackle bullying. While there has been much emphasis in the media around the high levels of bullying reported by pupils, what is less talked about is the clear evidence provided of what the “best schools” do to tackle this behaviour.

Over the last 10 years the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), part of the National Children’s Bureau, has worked tirelessly to raise the profile of bullying. This year it will celebrate the seventh national Anti-Bullying Week, taking place from November 19. The theme this year is bullying as a barrier to achievement with the slogan: “We’re better without bullying.”

It is possible to stop bullying in the schools and communities in which we live and work – the Ofsted report makes it clear what works. We need government to be clear that this is a priority for all schools, including leadership training and development for headteachers and governors to develop the ethos, values and expectations that foster an inclusive culture.

We need support and training for all school staff to implement behaviour policies consistently, modelling positive behaviour and being confident in their understanding of diversity and effects of bullying. We need a curriculum that values personal, social and health education and good citizenship. 

We need standardised recording systems that provide evidence of actions and outcomes and we need a structure that assists schools in working with the wider community in tackling prejudice and hate. 

Secondary schools and colleges need to more consistently carry on the good work of so many primary schools in creating warm, caring environments based on values of respect and kindness. 

We need all members of the school community to get involved in tackling bullying – from governors to support staff – with robust policies and high expectations of exemplary behaviour from both staff and pupils. Most importantly, we need to listen to young people – listen to how they interact with one another on a day-to-day basis. Listen to what they have to say about bullying.

Recent research by the ABA and the University of Cambridge looked at the experience of children with SEN and disabilities in relation to bullying in schools. As Ofsted highlights, they are particularly vulnerable to bullying in school – such as a reported repertoire of verbal abuse. 

Part of this research involved asking disabled young people, and those with SEN, what works in tackling bullying. They were clear that they wanted to be partners in change: “We would be the adults for the day, and tell the teachers what they should do better.” 

Their ideas for “doing better” mirror the findings of the Ofsted report. They include training staff in disability awareness, promoting positive images of disability around the school, and having a positive portrayal of disability throughout the curriculum. 

They also spoke passionately about the need for all young people to be aware of what bullying is, what they should do if they experience or witness bullying, and for schools to be clear that disabilist language is a form of bullying. They celebrated schools that had an open door policy, with supportive school staff that took time to listen. 

The ABA knows what works in tackling bullying, and is here to support schools and colleges in implementing effective practice. The ABA has created the School and College Network to directly support schools and colleges in becoming “the best”. It also urges schools to use Anti-Bullying Week this year as a vehicle for renewing their commitment to tackling all forms of bullying. The ABA provides free briefing papers on the week for teachers, governors and youth workers and a wealth of resources on all aspects of bullying.

  • Dr Hilary Emery is chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, which works in partnership with educational charities to improve the lives of children. Visit

Further information
To sign up to the ABA School and College Network or to follow the build up to Anti-Bullying Week, visit


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