Bullying - advice for teachers

Written by Ellen Lees
Ellen Lees
Counselling Directory Content Team

As a teacher, it can be very difficult to know how to handle a bullying-related situation. What do you do if a pupil comes to you asking for help? What if they haven’t asked for help, but you have witnessed it? What if you have seen nothing but have noticed a change in behaviour and are worried about the child?

On this page, we explore signs that a child may be experiencing bullying, steps teachers can take to support a child who is being bullied and how counselling can help. 

The impact of bullying in schools

Children spend most of their youth in education and if they are getting bullied, it can have a detrimental effect on their studies, health and happiness. They may not tell their parents what is going on, but if they are going through a tough time, they may turn to you - the teacher - for support.

By law, all public schools must have a behaviour policy in place, which will include measures to prevent all forms of school bullying among students. The policy will be decided by the school and is shared with all teachers, students and parents. Schools in England and Wales must also follow an anti-discrimination law, meaning that all staff must act to prevent discrimination, victimisation and harassment within the school. Find more information about school policy requirements on the gov.uk site.

Spotting the signs

A recent study by the Anti-Bullying Alliance found that nearly a quarter of children (23%) reported experiencing frequent face-to-face bullying, highlighting the importance of a teacher being able to recognise the signs of a child who is suffering. School bullying will affect children in different ways. Some children may not want to talk about what they are going through, so it can be difficult to know if there is a problem. 

If a child is being bullied, you may notice a change in behaviour, such as:

  • change in performance
  • easily upset
  • more prone to argue
  • becoming less social
  • increased number of sick days
  • staying behind or leaving early

Tips for teachers

Make sure your students know how to report bullying and who to speak to

Options for support should be known and information should be clear and accessible. Students need to know who to talk to so they feel confident in seeking help. Similarly, all school staff should be well-trained in the different forms of bullying a student may experience.

Have a clear definition of bullying

While there is no legal definition of bullying, the different forms of bullying should be understood and publicised. Students need to understand what is unacceptable behaviour and the consequences that can occur. Students also need to know what the school considers ‘bullying’ so they feel confident in reporting it. If a child believes they are being bullied, they shouldn't be dismissed. Instead, talk to them and together, you can work towards finding a solution.

Ask the student what they want to do

It’s important that the child has a say in the actions taken. Children often fear what might happen if they report bullying, which is why they often stay quiet. They don’t want to risk making the bully angry and making the situation worse. It's important for teachers to listen and be understanding, creating a safe space for open communication.

Be clear on your response to bullying

The school’s anti-bullying policy should provide clear information on how any form of bullying will be dealt with. You need to challenge the bullying behaviour and make sure it will not continue afterwards. With every incident of bullying, it is important to consider the whole school community and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Continue to communicate

Long after the incident is resolved, continue to keep in contact. Regular communication with the children and parents involved will help you understand whether the situation was dealt with correctly and if any further action needs to be taken.

If you are a parent and are worried about your child, you can find more information about spotting the signs and what to do on our dedicated advice for parents fact-sheet.

How counselling can help

If a child is experiencing bullying at school, counselling can provide a safe and confidential space to talk through their feelings and concerns without fear of judgement. Speaking to a counsellor can help process emotions, develop effective coping strategies and explore ways to address and overcome the impact of bullying.

Further support 

If you feel your school’s anti-bullying policy is lacking information, there are plenty of useful recourses that can provide support. 

  • Young Minds is a young people's mental health charity providing practical and confidential guidance free of charge.
  • National Bullying Helpline is a free confidential helpline service for anyone experiencing bullying and seeking advice. 
  • Anti-Bullying Alliance is a charity committed to preventing and responding to bullying of all children and young people.
  • Place2Be is a children and young people’s mental health charity that provides support, counselling, and training in UK schools.

Continue to learn and explore methods to support your students, and don't hesitate to share your ideas with the school. Unfortunately, bullying is still happening and overlooking the issue can affect a person later in life.

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