Bullying fuelled by prejudice frequently goes unchecked in Scottish schools because teachers are too busy to tackle it, council policies are outdated and many incidents are not deemed serious enough to record, research has concluded.
As a result, many bullied pupils choose not to report incidents, risking mental health problems and alienation from school.
The research (bit.lyBullyingResearch), commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, calls for every incident to be taken seriously amid concerns that many LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) pupils leave school after being bullied.
Researchers from LGBT Youth Scotland and anti-bullying organisation Respectme surveyed 1,281 secondary pupils and 336 teachers for the study.
They found that schools were often reluctant to record incidents and "very little evidence" that bullying was monitored consistently around Scotland. Only half the pupils felt they had been taught about prejudice - a "worryingly low" figure, according to the researchers. Fewer than three in five who had reported a bullying incident said they would do so again.
Some reporting systems were little used. "Worry boxes", where students can leave notes about what is concerning them, were left empty at several schools. Pupils at another school failed to mention that older students had offered to help support them in an "anti-bullying room" during breaks.
Students also did not often know what happened after a report was made. Just 29 per cent said that records were kept of bullying incidents but nearly 75 per cent of teachers said they were. Only half the pupils thought a report of bullying would be taken seriously, a finding the researchers described as "concerning".
`More needs to be done'
The report advises school staff to challenge all forms of prejudice-based bullying and record every incident, with low-level harassment taken as seriously as incidents that cause visible harm. Classrooms, offices and hallways should highlight a school's anti-bullying policy and state clearly that prejudice-based bullying is unacceptable, it adds.
The report also suggests that pupils should be surveyed anonymously by schools or local authorities to uncover local bullying trends.
Robert Macmillan, acting president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said: "There is clearly much more work that we need to do to ensure that bullying is reported, recorded, investigated and dealt with. No pupil comes to school to be subjected to bullying - yet on the basis of this research, all too often that is happening."
It was "especially worrying" when pupils saw no benefit after reporting bullying, he said. Mr Macmillan, who teaches in Fife, added that support systems should be publicised, and parents and carers should encourage children to come forward.
LGBT Youth Scotland last month launched resources (bit.lyLGBTScotResources) to build teachers' confidence in dealing with bullying. Chief executive Fergus McMillan said: "Evidence shows that by not talking positively about the lives of LGBT people in school we create environments where homophobic, bi-phobic and transphobic bullying can and do flourish, and LGBT young people sometimes leave education as a result."
An Education Scotland spokeswoman said: "Bullying and discrimination is unacceptable. We work in partnership with Scottish government and Respectme to support the implementation of a national approach within schools and communities."
A source of pride
The report also highlights positive action, with pastoral and guidance teachers often making it easier to report bullying.
Angus, Edinburgh and Scottish Borders councils are all praised for good practice. Angus is strong in reporting procedures - recording which type of prejudice was involved in an incident, for example - while Edinburgh helps staff explore potentially offensive words.
In the Borders, 12 young people formed a commission on bullying, with an advisory board that included representation from Respectme and other bodies.