Across the UK there is legislation to protect children from a range of bullying and cyberbullying behaviour, including:
- persistent harassment and intimidation – such as name calling and threats
- sending indecent, offensive, false or threatening communications.
Harassment and victimisation
In England, Scotland and Wales, the Equality Act 2010 protects the individual’s right to be safe from discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
In Northern Ireland, Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1988 is the main anti-discrimination legislation and places public authorities including schools under a duty to promote equality of opportunity.
In England, Wales, and Scotland the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 prohibits repeated bullying that amounts to harassment.
In Northern Ireland, the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 makes it illegal to behave in a way that amounts to harassment.
Throughout the UK, the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to make improper use of a public communications network. Section 127 specifically makes it an offence to send an electronic message that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.
In England and Wales, the Malicious Communications Act 1988 makes it an offence to send a communication with the intention of causing distress or anxiety.
In Northern Ireland, the Malicious Communications (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 makes it an offence to send a communication with the intention of causing distress or anxiety.
In Scotland, breach of the peace common law may be used to prosecute any behaviour that causes fear or distress, including harassment and bullying (Scottish Government, 2013).
> Find out more about the legislation and guidance for online abuse
Schools’ duty to protect pupils from bullying
In England and Wales, under Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, maintained schools must have a policy in place to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. This includes when pupils are not on school premises and are not being supervised by a member of school staff.
The Independent School Standards (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 requires academies and other types of independent schools to have an anti-bullying strategy in place.
In Northern Ireland, under the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 and the Addressing Bullying in Schools Act (Northern Ireland) 2016, all grant-aided schools are required to have an anti-bullying policy in place that includes measures to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. This includes bullying that takes place while travelling to and from school and any bullying that is likely to have a detrimental effect on a pupil’s education.
In Scotland, under the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007, schools are required to be ‘health promoting’. This includes promoting children’s mental, emotional, social and physical health and wellbeing. The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 provides for support for children and young people who face barriers to learning – which can include additional support needs due to bullying.
In England and Wales, Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 gives head teachers of state schools the power to discipline students for bullying incidents that occur outside of school.
Across the UK, statutory guidance highlights the responsibility of those in the education, community and care sectors to safeguard children from all forms of abuse and neglect including bullying and cyberbullying. Find out more about child protection legislation and guidance in:
Guidance for schools
The Equality Act 2010 and schools (PDF) is a guide for school leaders, school staff, governing bodies and local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales on understanding their duties under the Equality Act (Department for Education, 2014a).
In England, the Department for Education (DfE) has produced guidance for headteachers, school staff and local authorities that outlines their duty to prevent and tackle bullying that occurs in and outside of school (PDF) (DfE, 2017).
The DfE has also produced guidance for schools on searching, screening and confiscation (PDF). In cases of cyberbullying school staff may use this guidance to search mobile phones (DfE, 2018).
In Northern Ireland, Safeguarding and child protection in schools - a guide for schools (PDF) includes guidance on schools' duty to protect children and young people from abuse including bullying and cyberbullying (Department of Education, 2001a) .
Pastoral care in schools: promoting positive behaviour (PDF) is a guide for schools in developing an anti-bullying policy (Department of Education, 2001b).
Scotland’s national anti-bullying service is Respectme. The service supports adults working with children and young people in dealing with all types of bullying behaviour including:
- developing an anti-bullying policy
- addressing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying
- understanding and responding to bullying (Scottish Government, 2018).
The Welsh Government provides a series of anti-bullying guidance for schools and other organisations. This includes information on:
- bullying linked to protected characteristics
- the law related to bullying
- effective anti-bullying strategies
- responding to bullying (Welsh Government, 2019).
The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) and the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) have produced a guide for schools (PDF) on tackling race and faith targeted bullying that occurs face to face and online (UKCCIS and ABA, 2017).
Keeping children safe from cyberbullying
The Home Office has developed the Online abuse and bullying prevention guide (PDF) for those who work with young people in England and Wales to help them understand the types of online abuse, its consequences and where to go for help. Topics covered include:
- threatening behaviour
- online grooming (Home Office, 2015).
In England, the Department for Education has published a guide for headteachers and school staff on protecting themselves from cyberbullying (PDF) (DfE, 2014b).
The Welsh Government has produced guidance on tacking cyberbullying in schools (PDF). The guidance includes information on:
- understanding cyberbullying
- the law around cyberbullying
- preventing and responding to cyberbullying (Welsh Government, 2011b).
> Take our Keeping children safe online course to help anyone who works with children across the UK understand what they need to do to safeguard children online.
In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum (NIABF) has published the NIABF strategic plan: 2017-2020 to end bullying (PDF), including online bullying/cyberbullying. The plan outlines four outcomes:
- having effective anti-bullying policies in place in schools and similar settings
- providing those who work with children and parents with the skills and knowledge to address bullying behaviour
- empowering children and young people to shape anti-bullying policy and procedure
using an evidence-based approach within the NIABF itself (NIABF, 2017).
In Scotland, Respect for all: the national approach to anti-bullying for Scotland’s children and young people (PDF) provides a framework for adults working with children and young people to address all aspects of bullying, including cyberbullying. The approach highlights the government's strategy to end bullying, including a commitment to:
- developing and implementing effective anti-bullying policies and practices
- improving children and young people’s skills, and those who play a role in their lives, to prevent and deal with bullying (Scottish Government, 2017).
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