Reviewing your Anti-Bullying Policy

Written by: Lauren Seager-Smith | Published:

What does your anti-bullying policy say about your school? As Anti-Bullying Week approaches, Lauren Seager-Smith looks at the key ingredients of an effective policy

With Anti-Bullying Week approaching (November 14 to 18) we are aware that a large number of schools will use the week to write or update their anti-bullying policy.

We are often asked for a template policy but we do not make this available, because for a policy to mean anything, it should involve collaboration from the whole-school community and reflect the very individual needs of each school and the community it serves.

There are however some guiding principles to support schools in writing anti-bullying policies and we have put these together as part of the suite of Anti-Bullying Week resources available on the Anti-Bullying Alliance website (see further information).

When you think of school policies, there can be a tendency to think of rather dry documents that have been written by a member of the school leadership team under duress. In the best case they are available on the school website and in the worse case they either don’t exist, or it takes some time for them to be found and shared. We have had situations where parents have asked for their school’s anti-bullying policy and have received no response at all.

It all comes back to the purpose of a school’s anti-bullying policy. If it is not easily available then it is likely to have no impact. There is the argument that a policy is just a piece of paper and what matters is your practice, but if you do not create an opportunity to carefully consider what your practice is and put this into writing, it is difficult for pupils, staff and parents to know where they stand.

Take for example, the very live subject of sexual harassment. Earlier this year Maria Miller MP led an inquiry into harassment and sexual violence in schools and found the scale and impact to be significant.

As a result, one of the recommendations of the inquiry is to: “Require Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate to assess schools on how well they are recording, monitoring, preventing and responding to incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence.” (Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence in Schools, House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, September 2016)

From my experience as a trainer in this area, only a minority of schools have actively addressed the issue of harassment and sexual violence within a school policy – and because of this, it leaves pupils and staff vulnerable. If the recommendation for Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate to assess schools on their action in this area comes into place, it is very difficult to evidence what your approach is, if you haven’t worked with pupils, staff and parents to decide your school policy.

One of the current descriptors of an outstanding school in Ofsted’s School Inspection Handbook is that “pupils work hard with the school to prevent all forms of bullying, including online bullying and prejudice-based bullying”. We would say that working with pupils to prevent all forms of bullying, harassment and violence is absolutely paramount.

The first step is to find out what is happening in your school by talking to all members of the school community. This can be done through surveys, focus groups and class discussions.

This shouldn’t be a one-off, we would encourage schools to do this on an annual basis as bullying behaviour can be affected by many things including new pupil and/or staff dynamics, youth trends both on and offline (e.g. terrifying clowns, the latest anonymous feedback app) and societal influences.

The important thing is that all students and staff, particularly those that may be most vulnerable to bullying (e.g. disabled young people, those from a minority race and faith background, young people that identify as or are perceived to be LGBT), feel they can be honest about what is working well, and not so well within your school community.

If we take the subject of sexual harassment and violence in schools as an example, it requires headteachers and the senior leadership team to talk to students and staff about what may or may not be happening inside and outside of school. This requires a high level of sensitivity and openness, but without it, it is very easy to be caught off guard.

Once pupils and staff feel confident to share with you what is happening you can work together as a school to agree on acceptable behaviour, preventative action, how you will respond and how you will restore relationships.

If this is down in a policy it makes it much easier for you to share with new pupils and parents and refer to if and when there is an incident. The example of sexual harassment and violence is a good one as there can be an assumption that pupils automatically know what acceptable behaviour looks like. Yet how many schools work with pupils to be very clear on where the boundaries lie?

Consider the following questions about your own school:

  • Have you worked with pupils and staff to identify what you mean by sexist and sexual language?
  • Have you agreed boundaries of physical touch with pupils (e.g. do you allow hugging and kissing between pupils and if you do, how can you differentiate between consensual and non-consensual behaviour)?
  • Have you discussed the subject of “sexting” with your pupils and staff and agreed protocols if an image is shared with other pupils and it comes to your notice?
  • Have you discussed with staff how to handle inappropriate comments from pupils?

Considering these types of questions is fundamental in the design of an effective behaviour or anti-bullying policy.
In 2013/14, there were 50 permanent exclusions and 1,880 fixed term exclusions for sexual misconduct in secondary schools, 170 fixed term exclusions for sexual misconduct in primary schools, and 90 fixed term exclusions for sexual misconduct in special schools.

I used to be an education advocate for children that had been excluded from school and supported a number of cases involving exclusion for sexual misconduct.

What always struck me with these cases was the complete lack of school policy around what sexual misconduct actually looks like. This meant that pupils were not clear on boundaries and were taken by surprise when it came to school action.

If you do have to take punitive action following a serious incident of bullying, it should never be a surprise. A good anti-bullying policy that has been written by and for all members of your school community will have made it very clear what bullying behaviour looks like and will have spelt out the type of action you will take.

It benefits all members of the school community to have this in place: it keeps pupils safe and it keeps staff safe and, rather than not being worth the paper it is written on, it is worth its weight in gold.

  • Lauren Seager-Smith is national coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance.

Further information

The Anti-Bullying Alliance is hosted by the National Children’s Bureau. For more information about Anti-Bullying Week 2016 including the guidance to help with updating/writing your anti-bullying policy, visit www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/anti-bullying-week


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