With Anti-Bullying Week approaching, Behaviour Matters provides tips on how to make your classrooms bully-free

What do you perceive as bullying? It is interesting that if you were to write down your perception then ask someone else to do the same, chances are the answers would be different. On the news and in the papers, bullying is on the rise. What about in your own school? Initiatives like National Anti-Bullying Week are ideal times to promote an anti-bullying friendly environment within your school. Charities such as Beat Bullying are also trying to raise awareness with the launch of their blue wristband campaign Cut it Out. Bullying will not just go away after one week − it requires a permanent conscientious effort by all.


There is no doubt that forms of bullying occur in all schools, at varying levels and at different times. These behaviours often begin with very young children and can, if no intervention takes place, become entrenched. Certainly, proactive work such as ‘Anti-bullying Week’ can make a difference in reducing the numbers of bullying incidents, but staff must be prepared and able to respond in both proactive and reactive terms. This means schools must develop a whole-school framework and ethos within which a social and emotionally aware community may work together. Staff will also need skills to respond to incidents that are perceived as and recognised as bullying.

It is vital at the reactive stage that both students and staff are able to identify acts of bullying, which may be confused with teasing, confrontation or general play. The Primary SEAL materials identify the characteristics of bullying as:

  • ongoing (this is not the same as conflict between two equals or random unprovoked aggressive acts)
  • unequal – bullying involves a power imbalance (this can result from size, number, higher status, or as having access to limited resources)

When attempting to identify forms of bullying, staff may often categorise the worst form of bullying as being that which involves physical hurt or pain. However, the many and varied forms of bullying that take place can only be assessed in the careful monitoring of the effect it has on the person experiencing the bullying. For some children a ‘look’, a carefully chosen word or act, an email, or even a text, can be as devastating as any other form of bullying. When discussing issues relating to bullying it is helpful for staff to be aware of their vocabulary and that of the students. Use terms such as ‘the person who is being bullied’ rather than ‘victim’ and ‘the person doing the bullying or using bullying behaviours’ rather than ‘bully’. It is important to describe behaviours rather than labelling individuals, which can lead to permanence and a resistance to change. Schools, and staff as a whole, should work hard to ensure that key messages relating to the school ethos are given clearly and regularly to all members of the school community. Measures should also be in place to ensure that these key messages are not only communicated to all staff but that they act on them consistently.

Practical Tips

In order to create a school environment that is safe and bully free we need to understand why children who are bullied and the witnesses of bullying feel unable to report the incidents. It is also too easy for staff to be judgemental about bullying. Remember that bullying can take many forms. The seriousness of the bullying is assessed by considering the way it made the person who experienced the bullying, feel. Bullying will create strong feelings, thoughts and behaviours in all parties. Students, of all ages, need response strategies, a plan and clear problem-solving techniques to enable them to deal with these emotions and behaviours.

Teach, and use, a problem-solving technique and use self-calming strategies to students who are actively or passively involved in bullying. Demonstrate these techniques and act as a role model in order for the techniques to be a natural and first response when faced with acts of bullying.

  • Identify the exact problem.
  • Think of at least five possible solutions to the problem.
  • Test your solutions with questions a) Will it work? b) Is it fair? c) How would it feel? d) What do I need to do?
  • Now try your chosen solution.
  • Monitor and evaluate your solution.
  • If it is not working, use your problem solving strategy again.

It is also worth considering where and when bullying might be taking place. Are there ‘hotspots’ in the school? Remember that incidents of bullying can take place in the classroom as well as outside. In fact it is sometimes the adult behaviour that can be perceived as bullying. Repeated sarcastic remarks about work or behaviour are not only damaging to the child the comments are directed towards but also to the witnesses. Our own reactions to minor levels of unkind behaviour can be highly influential in stopping this behaviour developing into bullying. We must create an environment that values individuals, provides opportunities and an ethos that allows and encourages all of us, staff and students, to talk about our fears and feelings and have them listened to.

It is our joint responsibility to ensure that similarities and difference are valued and celebrated in an atmosphere of empathy and respect.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2007

About the author: Dave Stott is the author of Behaviour Matters. He has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher level. He has worked in mainstream, special and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a successful consultant and trainer.