Inspectors live in the real world. They know that pupils do not behave like angels all of the time. That said, they will be conscious of every child's right to attend a school where they are safe and not in fear of being bullied, nor having their learning interrupted by the misbehaviour of others.
As we all know, bullying doesn't just mean physical intimidation. Some of the most hurtful bullying typically involves passing spiteful remarks and excluding someone from a friendship group. It is a rare school where there is no bullying at all. What is most important, however, is how effective the school is in deterring bullying and tackling it when it occurs. Inspectors will also want to know that pupils feel able to raise worries over bullying with staff and feel confident that staff will take action.
If inspectors focus particularly on bullying in an inspection, it is often because the matter is raised by parents in their comments on pre- inspection questionnaires. Where bullying emerges as a significant concern, for example when it is raised by several parents, then you can expect inspectors to be looking particularly closely at the school's systems for discouraging bullying and for dealing with any incidents. You can expect them to look at how the school logs incidents and inspectors will almost certainly want to talk to pupils about their experiences. If the school is not dealing effectively with bullying, then you can expect that to be flagged by inspectors. This shortcoming is likely to be reflected in the inspector's grade for care, guidance and support and for leadership and management. If things are so bad that pupils feel unsafe at school, then this could result in the school being judged inadequate overall and being placed in special measures or issued with a notice to improve. If you know that bullying or behaviour are problems in your school, my advice would be to arrest it now rather than wait for inspectors to arrive.
Selwyn Ward has been an inspector for 15 years, working in primary and secondary schools. The views expressed here are his own. To ask him a question, email him at email@example.com.