Young girl smiling in class Close up head shot of boy in school Girl holding hand up, with teacher at white board


Bullying can be a reason for a child’s non-attendance at school. As a parent you should be aware of how to respond if you find your child is / has been bullied or is displaying bullying behaviour.

What is Bullying?
Are there different types of bullying?
What are the signs and symptons of Bullying?
What are the characteristics of bullying behaviour?
Where does bullying happen?
Why does bullying occur?
How can I deal with bullying?
What is the School's responsibility?
What actions can the School take to prevent bullying?
What support / help can be offered to the victims of bullying by the school?
What support / help can be offered to the perpertrator of bullying by the School?
What can I do if I am unhappy with the School's response? 


What other supports are available?

What is Bullying?
It is the wilful, conscious desire to hurt, threaten or frighten someone. The Department of Education (DE) defines bullying as “

The function of the school is to provide the best standard of education for all its pupils. A safe and secure environment is essential in achieving this goal. Bullying thrives in an atmosphere of uncertainty, secrecy and fear and by its very nature undermines and weakens the quality of education and imposes psychological damage. Therefore it is an issue which must be positively and firmly addressed through school and local community agencies.
Bullying affects not only those immediately involved – it affects everyone in the classroom, the school community and ultimately, in the wider community. A high degree of collective vigilance is needed if bullying is to be detected and dealt with in an appropriate way.
Are there different types of bullying?

Bullying covers a very wide range of activity: -

1. Pupil Behaviour

(i) Physical Aggression:
This includes pushing, shoving, kicking and punching – it may also take the form of severe physical assault. In extreme cases weapons, such as knives, can be used. This behaviour appears to occur more frequently among boys than girls.
(ii) Verbal:
Here the voice is used as a weapon. It may be in the form of persistent name calling directed at the same individual(s) which humiliates, hurts or insults. This bullying is often directed at the victim because of perceived differences in physical appearance, accent or distinct voice characteristics and academic ability of both high and low achievers. Name calling may also take the form of suggestive remarks about a pupil’s sexual orientation. (The use of anonymous phone calls is a very prevalent form of verbal bullying where children and indeed teachers can be victims).
(iii) Intimidation:
This is based on the use of very aggressive body language and tone of voice where the victim may be pressurised to do something that he/she does not want to. The bully’s facial expression or “look” can convey aggression and/or dislike. Threats are consistently used to undermine the victim’s confidence.
(iv) Exclusion:
This practice is usually initiated by the bully. The victim is purposely isolated, excluded or ignored by some or all of the class group. It may be compounded by circulating notes, whispering insults which can be overheard by the victim or writing derogatory remarks on blackboards or in public places.
(v) Extortion:
Money may be demanded and the victim threatened if he/she does not pay up promptly. Victim’s lunches, dinner tickets or lunch money may be taken. The victim may be coerced into stealing property for the bully. Such tactics may be employed solely to incriminate the victim.
(vi) Damage to Property:
The bully may focus attention on the victim’s property. As a result clothing, school books or other personal property may be damaged, stolen or hidden.

2. Adult Behaviour

Unwittingly or otherwise, an adult in a school setting may engage in, instigate or reinforce bullying behaviour by: -
(i) Humiliating a pupil who is academically weak/outstanding or vulnerable in other ways.
(ii) Using sarcasm/negative comments with regards to a pupil’s physical appearance or background.
(iii) Using gestures or expressions which are intimidating and threatening.

What are the signs and symptons of Bullying?
Although victims often remain silent, changes of mood and behaviour can be indicative of their suffering. Victims of bullying feel helpless and overwhelmed by the power that the bully exercises. This leads to insecurity, increased fear, loss of confidence and consequent lowering of self-esteem. Thus, the victim becomes more vulnerable. In extreme cases, bullying can lead to suicide. Vigilance with regards to any behavioural changes is important as early intervention is crucial.
A pupil who is being bullied may display some of the following signs and symptoms:

  • A pattern of physical illness e.g. stomach aches, headaches.

  • Anxiety about travelling to and from school; wanting to be taken to and collected from school, avoiding regular times for travelling.

  • Changes in temperament and/or behaviour.

  • Signs of anxiety or distress – difficulty in sleeping, not eating, weeping, bed-wetting, nightmares, stammering, becoming introverted or unsociable.

  • Possessions and/or clothing damages or missing.

  • Increased requests for, and/or stealing money.

  • Unexplained bruising or cuts.

  • Deterioration in educational performance or loss of enthusiasm and interest in school.

  • Reluctance and/or refusal to say what is troubling him/her.

  • Self- harm and attempted suicides. 

Individually, these signs and symptoms do not necessarily mean that a pupil is being bullied. However, if there is a combination or repetitive occurrence of these, then further investigation is needed in order to determine what is affecting the pupil.
What are the characteristics of bullying behaviour?
Bullying is a persistent and predominately secretive activity.
Any child can be bullied through no fault of their own. Recent studies have indicated that up to 20% of all school children are affected by bullying behaviour.
The victim is perceived to be different. He/she may be sensitive, emotional, passive, ‘a loner’, successful – socially or academically, or may be a victim of abuse at home, or may be from a different race / culture / religion / sexual orientation etc.
In the course of normal activity, pupils may tease or taunt each other. However, there comes a time when this can develop into bullying behaviour. The seriousness and duration of this is directly related to the victim’s response to the verbal, physical or psychological aggression.
Bullied victims are innocent, however some pupils can unwittingly behave in a manner that attracts bullying behaviour.
It is generally accepted that bullying is a learned behaviour, which can be carried out by an individual or a group.
The bully may often be insecure, an under-achiever with low self-esteem, is power seeking, a show-off, jealous and less motivated that his peers. He/she can lack any sense of remorse, and can convince himself/herself that the victim deserves to be the subject of bullying behaviour .
It is important that schools recognise that any pupil can be a victim, or a perpetrator, of bullying behaviour.
Where does bullying happen?
Bullying in school often takes place at times during unstructured time for example break or lunch time. Bullies are able to take advantage of their victim when there is no adult in authority to check their behaviour.
Research has shown that most bullying takes place in the playground.
There may be various reasons for this:

  • Inadequate supervision;

  • Lack of constructive play and play areas;

  • Hidden areas obscuring anti- social behaviour;

  • Children can ‘gang up’ on their victim;

  • Noise level is high and can hide what is going on;

  • Physical nature of the games;

  • Wide age range of pupils resulting in the vulnerability of smaller and younger children. 

Other areas where there is opportunity for bullying include: - toilets, cloakrooms, locker areas, corridors, showers, changing rooms and school buses. Close supervision is required if the incidence of bullying is to be reduced.  Bullying may also occur in the classroom. This is where the teacher plays an important role in providing an atmosphere of stability and security. Pupils must be discouraged from using verbal or physical abuse, however subtle. Similarly teachers themselves, should not be using demeaning and sarcastic language or any physical abuse.
The journey to and from school provides yet another opportunity for anti-social behaviour.
It is important to recognise that bullying also takes place outside the school environment. Often the problem can affect the social life of the young person and may be evident within – e.g. youth organisations.
Why does bullying occur?
The reasons for bullying behaviour are complex and varied. The following are some of the more common reasons:

  • the false perspective that aggressive behaviour is acceptable;

  • to gain status in front of friends and peers;

  • to gain attention from significant adults;

  • boredom;

  • extortion;

  • to compensate for failure – both academic and social, and from parental pressure;

  • bullying behaviour can also be symptomatic of a victim of child abuse/neglect.

How can I deal with bullying?


  • Do not ignore the signs or symptoms

  • Do not take the matter into your own hands

  • Talk to / Listen to your child and take the matter seriously

  • Write down the detail or information you have been given

  • Keep any evidence that might help to prove what is happening for example a text message, a note, an e mail etc

  • Ensure your child is in no immediate danger

  • Contact the school as soon as possible to arrange a meeting to discuss the concern

  • Bring a friend or a relative if you need some support

  • Stay calm and try to put your concerns in a clear and rational manner

What is the School's responsibility?
The Board of Governors is legally responsible for promoting and safeguarding the welfare of all children in their school. Their duties are set out in the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 2003 Article 17, 18 and 19. They must ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to provide a safe environment for pupils to fulfil their educational potential.
The leadership of the Principal is crucial in developing and implementing a whole school policy on bullying. Such a policy must be developed in conjunction with school staff, teaching and non-teaching and in consultation with parents and pupils. Youth workers may be able to provide continued evidence of bullying outside the school environment.
All concerned must clearly understand the policy aims, roles and objectives
What actions can the School take to prevent bullying?
A school policy on bullying is most effective when introduced into an atmosphere of caring and consideration for others and should be seen as part of the pastoral care system. It must be made clear that bullying behaviour is not acceptable in the school. Pupils should be encouraged to report incidents and to accept responsibility for the welfare of other pupils. School staff are responsible for creating a positive atmosphere and safe environment through being positive role models.

1. Raising Awareness (examples)

(i) A bullying policy should be part of a school discipline policy.
(ii) It should be written and available to all.
(iii) Governors must oversee the development and implementation of a whole school policy.
(iv) A staff awareness day could be one of the first workshops to be organised.
(v) A pupil awareness day could follow e.g. posters, questionnaires etc.
(vi) An evening organised by the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) can provide a school with the opportunity for involving parents.
(vii) A Programme for Community Awareness could be developed e.g. alongside nurse/church, police/youth groups.
Curriculum activities can play an invaluable part in raising awareness among pupils – e.g. English; Drama; Social Studies; PE; Health Education; School Assembly; EMU and Kidscape/Stay Safe Programmes.

2. Supervision

(i) Close supervision of bullying ‘hot spots’.
(ii) Senior pupils may take responsibility.
(iii) Ensure all school staff are trained and have the authority (in particular non-teaching staff) required to perform their duties effectively.
(iv) Contact bus companies regarding school policy.
(v) ‘Stagger’ lunch times.
(vi) Have a ‘respite area’ for first year pupils.
(vii) ‘Stagger’ bell times. Reduce time around the school.
(viii) Divide playground into small play areas.
(ix) Provide separate lavatories for juniors and seniors.
(x) Positive play – perhaps supervised by volunteers.

3. Recording Procedures

(i) There should be a recording procedure for recording all incidents of bullying. (Standard form would be desirable)
(ii) Detailed cataloguing accounts should be recorded by designated person in on-going and/or serious cases.
(iii) Serious incidents should be reported.
(iv) Parents of children involved should be informed in order that they may support their child and the school.
(v) Parents should know the appropriate person to contact regarding any incidents of bullying which they are knowledgeable of.
(vi) Photography of any injuries. Inform police if matter is serious.


What support / help can be offered to the victims of bullying by the school?


  • Reassure the victim and the parents that matter has been taken seriously and will be dealt with.

  • Meet with the victim as soon as possible. Ask for a written record of what has happened. Give guidelines if necessary – where/what/when did incident occur?

  • Meet with individual witnesses to try to get a clearer picture.

  • Help the victim to plan self-protective strategies and a response, if the incident should re-occur.

  • Befriend the victim. Ask an older child to befriend or “shadow”.

  • Making use of the curriculum to restore self-confidence e.g. drama, poetry, video, Kidscape programme etc.

  • Agree action to be taken – e.g. interview the bully and let them know this behaviour is unacceptable.

  • Review date: Arrange to see the victim in agreed short period to review situation.

  • Possible referral to other agency – e.g. Psychologist, Clinical Medical Officer, Education Welfare, Youth Service. 

What support / help can be offered to the perpertrator of bullying by the School?


  • Meet with the bully and the parents as soon as possible. Ask for a written record of what happened. (Where, What and When)

  • Stress that it is the behaviour and not the pupil that is unacceptable.

  • Suggest acceptable forms of behaviour and highlight any good form that the pupil has already demonstrated.

  • Responsibility for any harm/hurt/damage must be accepted by the bully and recompense made.

  • Make use of the curriculum to highlight acceptable behaviour. Personal and social education, form period, drama.

  • Contact other agencies – Educational Psychology; Clinical Medical Officer; Social Services; Adolescent Unit; Youth Service.

  • Agree action to be taken: Let the bully know that behaviour will be closely monitored.

  • Review date: Arrange to see the bully in the short term as he/she may need support regarding positive behaviour.

  • Possible referral to another agency, where appropriate.

What can I do if I am unhappy with the School's response?
Bullying is becoming an area of concern in both primary/post primary education.

It is hoped that a clear policy document and the full commitment of all professionals involved, will serve to increase awareness and understanding in the whole community, and thus help in countering this problem.
Parents who are unhappy with procedures should in the first instance:

  • Contact the principal of the school to discuss the concerns. If unsatisfied then

  • Contact the Chair of the Board of Governors of the school

  • Contact the Education and Library Board’s Education Welfare Service.

  • Access any independent advice from any other agencies for example the Children’s Law Centre



What other supports are available?