PG6. Bullying

For a record of all amendments and updates, see the Amendments & Archives.

Specific definitions of key concepts used by safeguarding practitioners are available through the Glossary.


This chapter was revised in September 2023 when links to additional information were revised.
Caption: Bullying table


Bullying is defined as 'behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, which intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally' (DfE definition). Repeated bullying usually has a significant emotional component, where the anticipation and fear of being bullied seriously affects the behaviour and well-being of the victim.

Under the Children Act 1989 a bullying incident should be addressed as a child protection concern when there is ‘reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm’. Although bullying in itself is not a specific criminal offence in the UK, some types of harassing or threatening behaviour – or communications – could be a criminal offence.


The damage inflicted by bullying is often underestimated. It can cause considerable distress to children, to the extent that it affects their health and development and can be a source of significant harm, including self-harm and suicide.


Bullying can include emotional and / or physical harm to such a degree that it constitutes significant harm. See Recognising Abuse and Neglect Procedure.

Significant harm is defined in Responding to Concerns of Abuse and Neglect Procedure, Concept of significant harm as a situation where a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, a degree of physical, sexual and / or emotional harm (through abuse or neglect), which is so harmful that there needs to be compulsory intervention by child protection agencies into the life of the child and their family.


The three main types of bullying are:

  • Physical abuse (e.g. hitting, kicking, stabbing and setting alight), including for filming with mobile telephones and theft, commonly of mobile telephones;
  • Verbal or mobile telephone / online (internet) message abuse (e.g. racist, sexist or homophobic name-calling or threats) - this type of non-physical bullying may include sexual harassment;
  • Mobile telephone or online (internet) visual image abuse - these can include real or manipulated images;
  • Emotional abuse (e.g. isolating an individual from the group or emotional blackmail);
  • Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using technology. Whether on social media sites, through a mobile phone, or gaming sites, the effects can be devastating for the young person involved. There are ways to help prevent a child from being cyberbullied and to help them cope and stop the bullying if it does happen. It is another form of bullying which can happen at all times of the day, with a potentially bigger audience. By its very nature, cyberbullying tends to involve a number of online bystanders and can quickly spiral out of control. Children and young people who bully others online do not need to be physically stronger and their methods can often be hidden and subtle. The Department for Education have issued guidance for school staff and parents and carers on how to recognise signs of cyberbullying and support children who are being bullied in this way (see Department for Education, Preventing Bullying).

See also: Information and Communication Technology (ICT) based Forms of Abuse Procedure.

Upskirting, which involves taking a picture under a person's clothing without them knowing, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks to obtain sexual gratification, or cause the victim humiliation, distress or alarm; is a specific example of abusive behaviour which has been linked to on-line bullying and grooming. Upskirting is a criminal offence and should be reported to the Police.


There is the potential for bullying wherever groups of children spend time together on a regular basis or live together, such as in schools, detention centres, children's homes etc. Agencies should promote a culture of healthy adult / child and child / child interaction and discourages bullying.


Bullying outside the home can be an indication that a child could be experiencing abuse at home. Bullying can be present within families where there is a child with special needs.  There can be aggression directed towards the child with special needs or by the child towards another family member, sometimes a sibling. This can be physical, emotional or sexual abuse. See Disabilities Procedure.


Bullying can rapidly escalate into sexual or serious physical or emotional abuse. See Harmful Behaviour Procedure.


Professionals in all agencies should be alert to bullying and competent to support and manage both the victim and the abuser.


Staff should be supported by locally agreed thresholds and single agency policies to combat bullying. In the more serious cases, these should include discussion with the agency's designated safeguarding children professional and making a referral to local authority children's social care. Separate referrals for assessment and support should be made, one for the child victim and the other for the child abuser in line with Harmful Behaviour Procedure and Referral and Assessment Procedure.


See also Referral and Assessment Procedure, Referral criteria which provides guidance on the difference in local authority children's social care between s47 / assessment.


Where the bullying may involve an allegation of crime (assault, theft, harassment) a referral should be made to the police at the earliest opportunity. Many schools now operate a Crime Reporting in Schools (CRIS) programme to facilitate this.


DfE information about good practice in anti-bullying strategies for schools includes:

Preventing and Tackling Bullying - Advice for Headteachers, Staff and Governing Bodies (Department for Education, 2017)

Cyberbullying: Advice for Headteachers and School Staff (Department for Education, 2014)

Advice for Parents and Carers on Cyberbullying (Department for Education, 2014)


  • ChildNet International: Specialist resources for young people to raise awareness of online safety and how to protect themselves;
  • Think U Know: Resources provided by NCA-CEOP for children and young people, parents, carers and teachers on how to stay safe on a computer, tablet or phone;
  • Digizen: Provide online safety information for educators, parents, carers and young people;
  • Advice on Child Internet Safety: The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) has produced universal guidelines for providers on keeping children safe online;
  • Sexting: How to Respond to an Incident: The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) an overview for staff on how to respond to incidents involving sexting.


  • Ditch the Label: resources to use when tackling gender stereotypes;
  • Schools Out: Offers practical advice, resources (including lesson plans) and training to schools on LGBT equality in education;
  • Stonewall:  Resources to help schools, colleges and other settings ensure they are LGBT inclusive.



  • Racist and Faith Targeted Bullying: information on racist and faith targeted bullying including top tips for schools, advice countering intolerance and prejudice, promoting shared values and what the law says;
  • Show Racism the Red Card: Provide resources and workshops for schools to educate young people, often using the high profile of football, about racism;
  • Kick it Out: Uses the appeal of football to educate young people about racism and provide education packs for schools;
  • Anne Frank Trust: Runs a schools project to teach young people about Anne Frank and the Holocaust, the consequences of unchecked prejudice and discrimination, and cultural diversity.

Please note that internal servers may block access to some of these sites. Schools wishing to access these materials may need to adjust their settings.

Schools are the agency most likely to become aware of bullying and schools have statutory obligations to respond. Every school must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils. These measures should be part of the school’s behaviour policy which must be communicated to all pupils, school staff and parents

Headteachers also have the ability to discipline pupils for poor behaviour even when the pupil is not on school premises or under the lawful control of school staff.


Children's Trust partners should consider tackling bullying as part of their wider role in safeguarding children and young people. The Anti-Bullying Alliance can provide support to local areas to tackle bullying in their communities.