Bullying can take place in any number of different settings. We have outlined some scenarios below and the steps you can take if bullying occurs.
BULLYING AT SCHOOLS - GUIDANCE FOR PARENTS/CARERS
We have outlined below some of the steps you should take to address the issue if bullying is happening at school if you are a parent.
Have you spoken to your child about what is going on?
YES - talk to them again and try to find out what they would like you to do. It is important that they feel involved in plans to resolve the bullying. If you haven't already done so then perhaps take notes about the incidents - names, dates, locations, text/email messages etc.
NO - sit down with them and try to establish what is actually going on. Is there bullying behaviour or have they just fallen out with friends and it has yet to be resolved? Remember that children/young people fall out all the time and this is a normal part of growing up. Just talking things through and coming up with a plan may be enough.
If you feel that bullying is taking place then ask them what they would like to happen next. Take notes of names, dates, incidents and copies of any worrying text messages or emails.
Have they told any adults at school that they are being bullied?
YES - when did they tell? Has anything happened since they told? The first action is to allow schools time to sort out bullying incidents. Sometimes this may take longer than you would like it to, so you are within your rights to call the school and ask them what they are doing. Remember that it is always better to work with the school in these instances, and ask them to keep you up to date with any progress.
NO - You need to ensure that the school is fully aware of all bullying-related incidents. Try to find out why your child hasn’t felt able to tell anyone and decide between you who should inform the school - you may decide to speak to the school on their behalf, go with them or encourage them to speak to someone themselves. Even if you speak for them, they will have to be prepared to speak to a teacher or worker themselves, so make sure they know this.
Does the school seem to be tackling the claim of bullying effectively?
YES - Keep in contact with the school. What strategies do they seem to be trying in order to bring a successful conclusion for everyone involved? Don't automatically expect them to exclude the person(s) involved, schools often employ a variety of methods to try to prevent and tackle bullying. Some of these strategies may have an immediate effect and some may take longer. Agree that you will both be watchful of your child for the next few weeks to ensure that you pick up on any changes in behaviour. Keep talking to them to find out how they are feeling and gauge whether or not they may need further support.
NO - Identify the most appropriate person in the school to talk to. This is likely to be a Head of House, Pupil/Pastoral Support Teacher or Head Teacher/Deputy Head Teacher. Ask for a meeting with them to discuss the allegations. Be prepared to be persistent and, where possible, demand a face to face meeting. It's a good idea to ask for a copy of the school’s anti-bullying policy before the meeting so you can familiarise yourself with it. It is recommended that all schools have an anti-bullying policy but they do not have a legal obligation to have one. Most schools will be happy to send you a copy of their policy if they have one, and they are obliged to give you a copy under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. If you are having difficulty accessing the policy, you can apply to receive a copy under this Act, you should apply in writing and they have to reply within 20 working days with the information you requested or a refusal with valid reasons.
When you meet with the school, ask them to commit to a strategy for dealing with the allegations. Although they can discuss these allegations quite openly, they can't talk in any detail about the person(s) carrying out the bullying behaviour as they have to respect their confidentiality as well as that of the child/young person being bullied. The school should not suggest that it is your child’s fault or that your child should change their behaviour. Neither should they suggest that the person who is being bullied should be the one to move class or even move to another school. In some cases it may be worth finding out more about coping strategies for the person being bullied.
Try to keep any relationship with the school on a positive basis - this will always be more beneficial to all parties in the long run.
The bullying has been going on for some time now and doesn't seem to end.
YES - Try to meet with the school again. It may be time to demand that action is taken. If you aren't making any progress with the school or if you don't feel the allegations are being taken seriously, it may be time to take further action.
Contact your Local Authority and ask to see their overall anti-bullying policy. The vast majority of authorities in Scotland have a policy. Read the policy and identify where the school has failed to respond to the guidelines. This can be helpful in moving the focus. Now you will be asking them to respond to what the Authority expects the school to do rather than just what you expect them to do.
If you are still not satisfied then contact someone at the Local Authority with your concerns. The title of the person you will need to speak will depend upon your Local Authority - the school will be able to give you this information or you can contact your Local Authority enquiry line. There should be a poster in the school reception detailing what to do if you have a complaint.
You are entitled to lodge a complaint about the school and their response to the bullying allegations if you are unhappy with their dealing of the situation. The Local Authority should be able to support you in the next steps with your complaint. If you are still not satisfied then contact the Scottish Child Law Centre for information on your legal rights.
NO - If you are satisfied that the bullying has stopped then keep a watchful eye your child to make sure that the situation does not arise again. Be careful to ensure that they feel empowered by the situation and isn't made to feel like a ‘victim'. It's also worth evaluating your experience and offering to contribute to the future review of the anti-bullying policies and practices in the school.
Is the child/young person continuing to attend school?
YES - While many young people find it difficult to attend school when they are being bullied the vast majority do continue to attend. There may be measures that the school can put in place to support them to continue to attend while the bullying is going on. These supports will depend on the school in question but may include strategies such as a temporary period of late starts until the situation is resolved, a buddying or mentoring system, supported after-school activities or lunch clubs. Encourage your child to attend these and access support. Any initiative which seems to exclude the person experiencing bullying should only be a temporary measure put in place when there is a safety issue. If you agree to these measures then it is important to get the school to agree that it is only for a fixed period of time and is not an alternative to the situation being completely resolved.
NO - If the child/young person is refusing to attend school or is truanting then you must make the school aware of the reasons why. Ask the school or Local Authority to arrange a visit from the Education Welfare Officer, Home Link Worker or whoever in the authority has the statutory duty to deal with non-attendance. As the parent/carer, if you are seen to be condoning the non-attendance you will be held responsible. A plan should be put in place for a supported return to school. If the non-attendance continues then the Local Authority may begin statutory proceedings to force attendance at school or look at alternative arrangements.
Is the bullying happening on the bus to/from school?
YES - Ask if the school has a direct agreement/contract with the bus company which details its proactive measures and responses to any bullying behaviour. Establish if there's any agreement about how the school and the bus company deal with disruption by pupils. It is likely that the school will put you in contact with the Education Department who award the contract to the bus company. The Local Authority is responsible, along with the bus company, for the safety of children and young people using the service.
NO - If the bullying is only happening inside the school grounds then follow the advice above. If the bullying is also happening in the community, on the way to or from school, then it's likely to be a personal safety issue. It is possible for schools to become involved in issues which happen outside of school but which impact upon the school day or an individual's education, but it can be difficult. Do not hesitate to involve or seek advice from the police if harassment or assaults are taking place in the community and keep the school informed of the situation.
BULLYING AT SCHOOL - GUIDANCE FOR STAFF
Has the child/young person told you they are being bullied?
YES - talk to them again and find out what they would like you to do. It's important that they feel involved in plans to resolve the bullying. If you haven't already done so then perhaps take notes about names, dates, incidents, text/email messages etc.
NO - If you have observed the bullying behaviour but no-one has reported it, you still have a responsibility to investigate and, in most cases, record the incident. If the incident is happening in your presence then you must intervene. Bullying behaviour must be dealt with in the way which you would deal with any challenging behaviour from a pupil. A calm and clear approach is required.
Have you listened to the child/young person being bullied?
YES - It is vital that you give them your full attention. If they have disclosed concerns about bullying then you must be respectful and appreciative of the fact that they have chosen you as the person they are comfortable talking to. The most important thing to do is to LISTEN and listen well. Try to talk with them in a quiet place, as free as possible from interruption. Let them tell you their concerns at their own pace. Once they have told their story you might want to get them to go through some important details again and take notes. Explain that this is just so that you have the facts down on paper and tell them what you will do with the notes.
Remember, the details that you consider to be important might not be what the child/young person considers to be important. Don't put too much pressure on them to provide you with dates, times etc. at this point. Finding out how the bullying has made them feel and the impact it’s having is as important as finding out whether or not the latest incident happened on Tuesday or Wednesday.
NO - You must take the time to sit down and speak to them at length. This conversation should take place in private and when enough time can be devoted to allowing them to talk through their concerns at their own pace. If you have to get them out of class to speak to them, be aware that they are likely to be highly sensitive and this must be done very discreetly - it's possible that others in the class may guess why you want to speak with them. When you speak with them use the advice above.
Are you convinced that the child/young person is being subjected to bullying behaviour?
YES - Let them know that you believe them and that it sounds like they are right to be concerned. Find out what they would like you to do. It's important that they feel involved in what will happen next. They may say that they don't want you to do anything. Your decision on this may depend on your own concerns for their safety. If you are concerned that the bullying is or may become violent then you are obliged to act in a way which will keep that young person safe.
If you feel that there is no immediate danger to their personal safety then take into account their concerns about you ‘not doing anything'. Reassure them that you can be discreet and that you will make the other staff in the school aware of the issues. Try to arrange extra monitoring so that any bullying behaviour will be noted by staff and dealt with in the most appropriate way, without them seeming to have ‘told on' the person(s) involved with the bullying behaviour.
Depending on the recording and monitoring systems in school you may have to record that they have shared their concerns with you. If this is the case then tell them you're doing this. Even when you agree ‘not to do anything' you must view the situation/class/individuals involved with fresh eyes and a new perspective. Are there any changes that you can make to your supervision, your environment or your practice that will provide less opportunity for bullying behaviour to flourish?
NO - Inform them that you are pleased that they felt they could talk to you and that they did the right thing. You might think they are experiencing relationship difficulties rather than bullying behaviour. If this is the case then it's important that you convey this to them. It's important that children and young people can appropriately define bullying behaviour as well as adults.
Does immediate action need to be taken?
YES - If you believe that the child/young person's safety is at risk then you must take immediate action and inform them of this. Use your professional judgement to ascertain what that immediate action should be. Taking any extraordinary measure would mean that their parents/guardians should be informed. If there is a concern that an incident may/will take place on the way home from school the school must still act to safeguard them. In this case schools are often tempted to arrange for the child/young person at risk to leave school early or stay back late. This may be unavoidable in the very short term but it is not best practice to request that the individual at risk of bullying changes their behaviour. Any change to timetable, starting or leaving time etc, should only ever be a temporary measure.
In cases where a risk to safety is identified, those who might pose the risk must be spoken to by a member of staff. Those involved in the bullying behaviour should be informed of the allegations (in a sensitive way, they need not know that it has been directly reported). They need to gain an understanding of the impact of their behaviour and, if necessary, an understanding of the potential unlawful implications of behaviour.
NO - Bearing in mind how they feel and keeping them involved, you need to plan to address the behaviour and ensure that the child/young person's experience of school is improved. At this point you should be relating to the policies and practices of your establishment. Take on board the reactive strategies and speak to the child/young person about applying them. This may involve speaking to all children/young people involved together or separately.
Are you confident in speaking to the child/young person(s) involved in bullying about their behaviour?
YES/NO - respectme would always advocate speaking to the child/young person involved in a manner that allows you to point out that the behaviour is bullying behaviour. This is regardless of whether or not their intent was to ‘bully'. Naming bullying behaviour does not automatically mean that you are labelling a child/young person a ‘bully' for life.
As adults, if someone wants us to change a behaviour or practice then we expect to be told what the negative or inappropriate behaviour is in order to change it. We believe that the same applies to children and young people. If you name the behaviour as bullying then be prepared for a reaction and use the reaction. No-one likes to be called a bully and the child/young person you are talking to is likely to be upset at this statement. Build upon this. Ask them why they are upset and what they find so offensive about their behaviour being called bullying. Children/young people need to understand that regardless of intention, if their behaviour leaves someone feeling frightened, anxious and low, the impact means that it's bullying.
Each situation needs to be judged on its own merit. As the teacher you are likely to have a reasonable or good knowledge of the child/young person you are dealing with and this knowledge can be of great use in this situation.
Is the anti-bullying policy of the school being adhered to?
YES - All teaching and non-teaching staff in the school should be familiar with the anti-bullying policy, whether it is explicit or part of a discipline/pupil support policy. The policy should offer direction on monitoring and recording allegations, informing and involving parents and outside agencies as appropriate, and implementing suggested strategies to address the behaviour and support all of those involved.
NO - Where there isn't a policy in place, or the policy is proving irrelevant or difficult to implement, then guidance should be sought from a senior member of staff with regard to the policy at Local Authority level. Get advice about recording and monitoring the allegation, involving and informing parents/carers and outside agencies if appropriate and implementing strategies to tackle the bullying behaviour.
Where there is no policy or the policy in place is proving to be inadequate then the school has to consider the development of a new policy or the review of existing policy. respectme can offer guidance and support with policy development and review.
Are there strategies in place to deal with bullying behaviour?
YES - There should be a range of strategies in place within the school to address and deal with bullying behaviour as it occurs. It is important to bear a number of things in mind when using strategies.
Firstly, one size does not fit all. It's likely that you will have to try a number of different strategies before finding one which will resolve the situation. This means that it can sometimes take time to find one which is successful. This should be communicated to all parties so that they are aware that the situation is being taken seriously and that every effort is being made. If temporary measures are in place during this period (e.g. early dismissal from school) then it is important to revisit these regularly to ensure that they are working, that there are no growing feelings of isolation, and that everyone involved is aware that these are temporary measures.
Secondly, some strategies can only be managed by a staff member who has particular training in the use of that strategy for it to be successful. This might mean that you, as the staff member who first addressed the bullying, are no longer the staff member responsible for addressing the behaviour. If you are no longer involved then you must be sensitive in removing yourself. Explain to the child/young person who first told you about the bullying why you won't be actively involved and the reasons for this. Ensure that they don't feel abandoned or ‘pushed on' to someone else to deal with. If it's appropriate for you to remain involved in some way, as someone the child/young person can continue to talk to, then try to do so.
NO - Where there are no strategies in place to deal with the incident then you should seek advice. It might be appropriate to ask people or agencies outwith the school. respectme can help, as can your Local Educational Psychologist, Behaviour Support Team or Youth Work team. Be aware that some strategies you come across will require training and might not be suitable at this stage.
Don't be tempted to jump straight to punitive measures when you don't know what else to do. Speak to the child/young person who has told you about the bullying and their parents/carers to find out which approach they would like the school to take. Speak to other members of staff who know those involved to gain their perspective on methods which would likely succeed. Explain to everyone involved that it might take some time to find a successful strategy (this is always the case) but that every effort is being made to find a successful resolution.
PRACTICAL CHECKLIST FOR CHILDMINDERS
Childminders are professional childcarers who work in their own homes to provide care and education for other people's children in a family setting. They have to be registered and inspected by the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care.
Childminders can care for up to six children aged up to 16 at any one time, of whom no more than three are yet attending primary school and no more than one is under the age of one. This will include the childminder's own children and can be subject to personal circumstances.
Childminders can and will come across bullying behaviour among the children that they are responsible for in the same way as they will come across a variety of challenging behaviours.
Children may be experiencing or displaying bullying behaviours while in the childminders home or may disclose to the childminder the fact that they are being bullied elsewhere.
The checklist below is intended to provide guidance for, and increase confidence and competence in relation to, addressing bullying behaviour.
Has the child disclosed that they are being bullied by another child in the childminder's care?
YES - Your first responsibility is to listen to the child and be respectful of the fact that they have chosen to talk to you. Try to talk with them in a quiet place, as free as possible from interruption. Allow them to tell you their concerns at their own pace. Be aware that it may be very difficult for them to tell you their concerns, particularly if one of the other children involved is your own child.
Reassure them that they have done the right thing by coming to you, that you believe them and that you will make sure that the bullying will stop. Ask them what they want you to do. Ultimately, most children and young people who are experiencing bullying just want it to stop with as little fuss as possible. If they are concerned about retaliation then take this on board and assure them that you will handle things sensitively.
NO - If the child has told you that they are being bullied by a child outwith your care, your initial response is still vital. Follow the advice above about listening well and reassuring them that they have done the right thing by telling and that you will help them.
Again, find out what they would like you to do. It is worth exploring who else they have told, if anyone. If they have not yet managed to tell their parents/carers or the school, then try to find out why. It is likely that they are worried about the response that they may get from the school or their parents. Try to find out more about these concerns and reassure them as far as possible that other adults will be supportive too.
In these circumstances, the child may tell you that they don't want you to tell anyone or do anything. Again, explore this further. Their concerns about you ‘doing something' are likely to be due to a fear of adults over-reacting. You have to decide what you should do with the information. This will depend on whether or not you think that the child is at risk of harm. It is best practice to tell a child/young person that you can't keep secrets about information they may give you that makes you worried for their safety. You can offer to tell the school or their parents on their behalf (if you were going to contact the school it is unlikely that you would be comfortable doing this without parental consent) or you can offer to be with them when they decide to tell another adult.
Are you convinced that the child is being subjected to bullying behaviour in your home?
YES - Let them know that you believe them and that it sounds like they are right to be concerned. It is important that they feel involved in what will happen next. Your knowledge of the children involved will aid your decision about how to address the behaviour most effectively.
NO - You may believe that they are experiencing relationship difficulties rather than bullying behaviour. Undeveloped social skills and/or negotiation skills, as well as normal childhood behaviour, means that children will fall out with each other, argue and decide what is cool and what isn't. Learning how to overcome this and behave respectfully are skills that you can help children develop.
If this is the case then it's important that you convey this to them. It's important that children and young people can appropriately define bullying behaviour as well as adults. You might want to consider reiterating the values of your household. It can be difficult, but not impossible, for children to learn that behaviour which may be accepted in some environments is not accepted in all. Deal with this in the same way you would deal with any challenging behaviour displayed by children in your care, including your decision to inform/involve parents.
Are you confident in using strategies to address the bullying behaviour?
YES - Be aware that you may have to have a number of strategies at your disposal depending on the age of the child involved. It is also important to bear in mind that you may have to use a number of strategies in order to effectively end the bullying behaviour. One size does not fit all.
NO - respectme would always advocate speaking to the child/young person involved in a way that allows you to point out that the behaviour is bullying behaviour. This is regardless of whether or not their intent was to ‘bully'. Naming bullying behaviour does not automatically mean that you are labelling a child/young person a ‘bully' for life. As adults, if someone wants us to change a behaviour or practice then we expect to be told what the negative or inappropriate behaviour is in order to change it. We believe that the same applies to children. If you name the behaviour as bullying then be prepared for a reaction and use the reaction. No-one likes to be called a bully and the child you are talking to is likely to be upset at this statement.
Build upon this. Ask them why they are upset and what they find so offensive about their behaviour being called bullying. Children/young people need to understand that regardless of intention, if the recipient of their behaviour is feeling frightened, anxious and low, then the impact means that it is bullying.
As always, it's important to speak to the child using words that they will understand. Explain that what they are doing is unacceptable and that it has to stop - they must understand what the consequences of their behaviours are likely to be. It might be that other children won't want to play with them or it may be tangible sanctions that you have in place (time out, removal of a toy for a set period of time, informing behaviour). With all challenging behaviour, including bullying behaviour, consistency is the key to success.
If you have many children from one school cluster within your care then it can be helpful to approach the school and ask to speak with them about the strategies that they employ to address bullying behaviour in order to mirror them within your home. This can be very effective in reinforcing what behaviour is unacceptable. The school may also have valuable information on any behaviour that they are seeing displayed by the child in the school, although you would need parental consent to speak to the school directly about an individual child. When developing any relationship with the school, and in particular, when wishing to obtain permission to discuss a particular child, always be positive with their parent. Explain that you don't want to confuse the child but to reinforce the positive messages they are receiving from the school and from their own home. This reinforcement is likely to have a more successful outcome for the child.
The childcare routine and setting should be reviewed in order to identify any factors which may allow or encourage bullying.
If bullying behaviour is observed, reported or disclosed within the childcare setting then it is worth considering whether there is anything within your control that could be altered. Your response and strategies in addressing bullying behaviour are only part of a bigger picture. Overall, the setting should foster an ethos of caring, respect and honesty where prejudices and bullying behaviour are not tolerated and diversity is celebrated.
This ethos should be reinforced through everyday activities. Children should be encouraged to speak respectfully to each other and to you. Diversity and difference should be celebrated and not watered down or ignored. Children should be encouraged to play together but more importantly, to be considerate and respectful when they don't want to play together. Exclusion and isolation should not be tolerated.
Consider how you will communicate this ethos to parents. You don't have to wait for something to happen to remind parents that the ethos of the childcare setting is important and that you have certain expectations of behaviour. Do the parents and the children know what you consider to be unacceptable behaviour? Do they know what will happen when bullying behaviour or other challenging behaviour occurs?
Finally, as you are likely to have a long-term caring commitment for the child who is experiencing bullying, it's important to remember that to limit the potential long-term impacts of bullying there must be support structures in place, even when the bullying has stopped. This should involve support from yourself, parents and, where applicable, the school or nursery. This will reduce the impacts on their self-confidence, esteem, communication and social skills.
It will also be in the best interests of the child who is displaying bullying behaviour for you to work alongside the parents and other adults to identify the reasons behind the bullying behaviour. All behaviour is communication and this is also true among young children. There may be something in their life that's causing them to feel anxious, stressed or scared, e.g. a house move, a divorce, a new sibling, changing school or bereavement.