Talking to schools about bullying
Schools have a legal duty to prevent bullying and keep children safe. The way in which you approach the school about a bullying situation can make a big difference. Stay calm and remember the goal is for the bullying behaviour to stop.
Understand the school policies
Read up on the school’s complaints procedure, and behaviour and anti-bullying policies. Schools are legally required to let parents see these policies. If they are not on the school website, ask the school office for copies. This will help you understand the school policy on bullying and what you should do next.
Be clear on your child’s rights
England and Wales
Bullying is a form of peer-on-peer abuse and all schools have a legal duty to keep your child safe from harm. This includes all types of bullying: physical, verbal, social, emotional and online.
Wales - school duties are outlined in Rights, respect, equality: Statutory guidance for governing bodies of maintained schools.
There are also additional protections under the Equality Act for any kind of bullying or harassment related to race, faith, gender, sexuality, age and disability.
There is not a law against bullying as such, but when there is 'reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm', a bullying incident should be addressed as a child protection concern under the Children Act 1989. Some types of bullying behaviour may also constitute a crime - such as physical and sexual harm, threats of harm and malicious communications. Remember that you do not have to wait for the school to act - if your child/ a child in your care has suffered significant harm or is at risk of significant harm, you can go straight to your local children's services team and/ or the police.
Meeting with the school
Preparing for the meeting
Make sure you are able to explain what has happened and the impact it has had on your child. Use the Kidscape log and school contact record to keep records of what’s happened. Our Facts about bullying guide will help you explain what is happening to the school.
Ask the school who will be attending the meeting. Let them know who you are bringing with you, and whether you have any support needs to help you fully participate in the meeting. Ask the school if notes and action points can be recorded and shared after the meeting.
Take with you:
- a copy of the school anti-bullying policy and any other relevant policies or procedures. Highlight the main points beforehand.
- a record of incidents, including the impact on your child (see above)
- any previous correspondence or evidence that is relevant.
- A list of questions you want answered, or main points you wish to make
- Any comments from your child about the situation, ideally in their own words
Be calm and assertive
Start the meeting by being clear that you want to work together to stop the bullying situation and that your goal is for your child to feel safe and happy in school. You could read out a written statement that you have prepared in advance, if that makes it easier. It’s okay to be sad, but try not to raise your voice or get angry.
Set your expectations
Explain to the school what you need from them is support for the bullying to stop, and for your child to get the help they need.
Agree an action plan
The school may not agree that what has occurred is a bullying situation. If this is the case, bring them back to the definition of bullying in their anti-bullying policy and reaffirm the impact the situation is having on your child. Even if you can't agree on what has occurred, you are here because your child needs their help. Work together on an action plan considering who can take responsibility for each area. Agree a day and time to feedback.
Some suggestions that you could make to the school to support your child:
- Having a designated ‘safe’ person. This should be someone the child chooses, likes and trusts. For example, it may be a teacher or it may be a Teaching Assistant or someone from the Pastoral Team.
- Having a ‘safe place’. This can be the office of someone they trust, a library, a quiet room, etc.
- Give your child a special card/signal (eg. a certain book that could be handed to the teacher) that that allows them to leave a classroom unquestioned (in the relevant circumstances). There should be a plan in place for where they go when they need to use it, but this also means that they don’t feel trapped in a class for an hour.
- Ask the school if there is an older pupil who could act as a peer mentor to your child.
- Are there any small group activities at break and lunchtimes that your child could take part in which could provide some distance from the bullying situation and help to build new relationships.
- Whether your child can start/finish school or particular activities earlier/ later.
- Whether your child can have access to support from the school pastoral/ counselling service.
Be clear on what’s been discussed
The Kidscape log and school contact record includes how to document your interactions with the school. Fill it out together at your meeting.
Keep your child informed
If your child is not in the meeting, make sure you share their views and hopes and tell your child about agreed next steps. This will reassure them, and it is vital that they tell you whether the actions are making a difference.
What if the school doesn’t seem to be taking action?
This is frustrating, but there are further steps you can take.
Keep communication with the school open
Be clear that you need to work together until the bullying situation stops.
Escalate your complaint
Know who to speak to next. Schools have a hierarchy of people you can contact, so if a meeting with your child’s tutor or head of year wasn’t helpful, speak to their headteacher next, and so on. Our school reporting structure guide gives you information about this chain.
When to contact the police
Some forms of bullying behaviour may be criminal and can be reported to the police. This includes physical or sexual assault; threats of harm or inciting others to self harm; theft or intentional property damage; harassment or threats online; and hate crimes targeting ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or special educational needs and disabilities. Home - Victim Support may be able to offer support regardless of whether the incident has been reported to the police. If the incidents are occurring within the community you could contact local youth organisations or anti-social behaviour teams within the Local Authority who could monitor the situation and work with the young people involved.
Keeping Children Safe in Education is clear that bullying is a form of peer-on-peer abuse and a safeguarding issue. You are within your rights to contact your local children’s services team (social services) if you do not believe your child is safe in the school or the community. Children’s safeguarding teams should be aware of contextual safeguarding - an approach to understanding, and responding to, young people’s experiences of significant harm beyond their families. We believe the most effective responses come when the family, school, Police and children’s safeguarding team can work in partnership to implement a safety/support plan for your child.
Parent Advice Line
Guidance and support for parents and carers
Kidscape log and school contact record
The Kidscape log and school contact record is a simple way to promote open communication with the school and ensure that each bullying incident is recorded.