The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report Prevention and Response to Identity-based Bullying among Local Authorities in England, Scotland and Wales presents a worrying picture of the prevalence of this form of bullying.

Its review of research literature finds great variation in what is currently known about different forms of identity-based bullying. While homophobic, racist and disablist bullying is quite well researched, very little is known about bullying based on gender identity or towards asylum seekers, refugees and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children.

The report calls on schools to ensure that any programmes of teaching about bullying ensure that all forms of identity-based bullying are covered.

The report raises concerns that most LAs are not able to report the prevalence of identity-based bullying, although the majority report that they provide their schools with training to tackle all forms of bullying.The literature review and stakeholder interviews strongly indicate the importance of preventative strategies in tackling bullying, and the effectiveness of adopting a whole-school approach that considers all of the equality strands. Whole-school policies, assemblies, workshops and the PHSE curriculum are all effective methods through which to challenge prejudiced beliefs.

Results from the survey showed that LAs do use specific preventative strategies, but that these are mostly for racist, disablist and homophobic bullying.

The study found that:

  • nearly two in 10 of all students said that they do not feel physically safe at school
  • nearly half of six to 10 and 14-year-olds said they had been bullied at school
  • among primary school children who said they were being bullied, four in 10 said it was happening at least once a week.
  • more than eight in 10 disabled pupils have been bullied at school
  • two in three lesbian, gay or transgender secondary school pupils said they had been bullied and nearly one in six had received death threats.

The report recommends that:

  • LAs need to gather evidence on the extent of identity-based bullying – without understanding the size of the problem it is impossible to target resources where they are needed or to monitor progress
  • LAs have asked for, and need, more guidance and support to help them tackle bullying in their schools. Any guidance developed should be specific to each type of bullying
  • a preventative strategy should be adopted which considers all the equality strands and focuses on tackling prejudice. The aim should be to adopt a ‘whole of school’ policy and create an environment which promotes diversity and inclusion.

The study concludes that real or perceived differences between children are repeatedly highlighted as a cause for bullying, suggesting a poor understanding of diversity among children. It also draws attention to the lack of confidence among teachers and pupils in talking about issues relating to race, religion disability, sexual orientation, and all other group-based characteristics.

Prevention and response
Preventative strategies are seen as key in tackling all forms of bullying. Raising awareness and acceptance of difference, together with the creation of environments that promote diversity and inclusion, are considered to play the major role in tackling identity-based bullying.

Schools are asked to address identity-based bullying at all levels of the school community, through the use of equality and anti-bullying policies, assemblies, awareness-raising activities, and as part of the PHSE and citizenship curriculum.

The report also addresses the need for establishing response strategies to ensure that the bullying doesn’t continue and to help the victim cope with their experiences. The research reports that many victims are reluctant to report incidents because of perceived prejudice among teachers, fear of being judged or uncertainty over whether their report will be believed or acted on.

The report calls upon schools to ensure that staff are equipped to manage identity-based bullying through the development of anti-bullying programmes that cover all types of bullying and through training on bullying issues and diversity.

This is a long but easy-to-read report that would act as a good introduction to issues relating to identity-based bullying. It is a challenging report and suggests that schools have a long way to go in this area. Teachers are asked to examine their own practice and prejudices to ensure they do not give out the wrong message to pupils.

What is identity-based bullying?
The report defines identity-based bullying as follows: ‘Identity-based bullying refers to any form of bullying related to the characteristics considered unique to a child’s identity, such as their race, religion, sexual orientation or physical appearance. These forms of bullying are not only targeted at an individual, but reflect negative attitudes towards a wider sub-community or group to whom that individual identifies with (or is believed to identify with). Young people in such groups may be more vulnerable to or at risk of experiencing bullying and can benefit from more targeted support.’