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.
> Find out more about the legislation and guidance about online harassment and victimisation
Schools’ duty to protect pupils from bullying and cyberbullying
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, 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.
The Addressing Bullying in Schools Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 sets out the duties of grant-aided schools to prevent bullying and keep a record of incidents of bullying.
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, 2018b).
In Northern Ireland, Safeguarding and child protection in schools - a guide for schools includes guidance on schools' duty to protect children and young people from abuse including bullying and cyberbullying (Department of Education, 2020).
The Department of Education (DoE) has published statutory guidance for schools and boards of governors to support the implementation of the Addressing Bullying in Schools Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 (DoE, 2021). There are additional resources on effective responses to bullying behaviour to support schools in promoting an anti-bullying culture (DoE, 2022).
Pastoral care in schools: promoting positive behaviour (PDF) is a guide for schools in developing an anti-bullying policy (Department of Education, 2001).
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, 2021).
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, 2021).
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).
> Take our Online safety elearning course to help anyone who works with children across the UK understand what they need to do to safeguard children online
In Scotland, Respect for all: the national approach to anti-bullying for Scotland’s children and young people 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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