New guidance on bullying: will it tackle the problem?

8th June 2018 at 00:00
We look at what is being proposed by the government – and how far there is to go

What is the idea behind the new guidance?

A commonly cited problem is that schools and local authorities record bullying in wide-ranging and sometimes idiosyncratic ways. As a result, some incidents may not be tackled or even recognised. The guidance seeks to standardise the recording of bullying incidents from 2018-19, making it easier to “identify key measures and actions that can be undertaken” (see

Who is it aimed at?

All state-school staff. The document says it is “crucial that everyone within the school community has a consistent approach to addressing bullying”. It does not apply to private early learning and childcare settings. The Scottish Council of Independent Schools supports Respect for All, the broader anti-bullying advice published in November, although it uses different IT systems to the Seemis system used by local authorities to record bullying.

How is bullying defined?

The agreed definition covers any behaviour that could make people feel hurt, threatened, frightened or left out, whether face to face or online. The guidance stresses that even a single incident could have a “significant impact”.

What about “prejudice-based bullying”?

This covers any characteristics “unique to an individual’s actual or perceived identity”, including their appearance or socioeconomic background. If an incident is motivated by prejudice – or perceived by any party to be such – this should be recorded.

What about incidents outside school?

Schools “may investigate” any bullying incidents that happen away from school premises or out of hours if they have had an effect on pupils’ learning or health and wellbeing.

How quickly should an incident be logged?

It should be put on Seemis “as soon as possible” and “ideally within three working days”. An investigation of the incident should follow, with Seemis updated “throughout the process”. Where an incident is found to be bullying, schools should ensure appropriate support and interventions “to address any underlying prejudice”.

What if a pupil doesn’t want it recorded?

Pupils should normally be informed of any intention to share information, but if they do not want the nature of the bullying incident disclosed, “every effort should be made for it not to be”. However, in some cases, childprotection considerations will trump privacy, which “is not an absolute right”.

How often should bullying be monitored?

School senior leadership teams should be “monitoring” overall bullying incidents more than once a term. Councils are advised to monitor incidents at the end of each term.

Will national statistics now be produced?

The Scottish government says it “currently has no plans” for national collection of data.

What has been the response from teachers?

NASUWT teaching union general secretary Chris Keates says the new approach is “a welcome development” in identifying the scale of bullying in schools, but that the measures “do not go far enough” and that NASUWT would be “pressing for this recording of incidents to be extended to incidents involving teachers”.

What about parents?

Connect (formerly the Scottish Parent Teacher Council) has surveyed 540 parents, with help from national anti-bullying service respectme (see The new guidance states that parents “should have access to a school’s anti-bullying policy and have an opportunity to engage with its development and implementation”. But Connect says its survey, which identifies a widespread lack of awareness about school anti-bullying policies, suggests “a whole-school community approach is not being used in many schools”.

What else does the Connect survey show?

It highlights some positive experiences “where bullying behaviour had been effectively challenged”, but also some “really devastating experiences, where families felt helpless and unsupported”. Some children had been subjected to physical assault, not simply bullying. Some 85 per cent thought bullying went on in their child’s school, while 46 per cent had actually witnessed incidents. And while 88 per cent knew who to contact at school to discuss concerns about bullying, 69 per cent had not seen the school’s anti-bullying policy.

What was the most extreme incident?

One incident involved a parent reporting their son being held down, having an orange stuffed in his mouth and being hit with sticks. The parent said: “The school did tell the bullies off but it didn’t really help…They still go around bullying people now. I feel like I was hitting a brick wall…because I couldn’t help him.”

What does Connect want to see happen?

It is calling for an anti-bullying helpline and better training of teachers.


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