For a record of all amendments and updates, see the Amendments & Archives.

Specific definitions of key concepts used by safeguarding practitioners are available through the Glossary.


This chapter was revised in March 2020 when information about cyberbullying and upskirting was added.

Caption: Bullying table


Bullying is deliberately hurtful behaviour, usually repeated over a period of time, where it is difficult for the victims to defend themselves. 


The damage inflicted by bullying is often underestimated. It can cause considerable distress to children, to the extent that it affects their health and development and can be a source of significant harm, including self-harm and suicide.


Bullying can include emotional and / or physical harm to such a degree that it constitutes significant harm. See Responding to Abuse and Neglect Procedure.

Significant harm is defined in Responding to Concerns of Abuse and Neglect Procedure, Concept of significant harm as a situation where a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, a degree of physical, sexual and / or emotional harm (through abuse or neglect), which is so harmful that there needs to be compulsory intervention by child protection agencies into the life of the child and their family.


The three main types of bullying are:

  • Physical abuse (e.g. hitting, kicking, stabbing and setting alight), including for filming with mobile telephones and theft, commonly of mobile telephones;
  • Verbal or mobile telephone / online (internet) message abuse (e.g. racist, sexist or homophobic name-calling or threats) - this type of non-physical bullying may include sexual harassment;
  • Mobile telephone or online (internet) visual image abuse - these can include real or manipulated images;
  • Emotional abuse (e.g. isolating an individual from the group or emotional blackmail);
  • Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using technology. Whether on social media sites, through a mobile phone, or gaming sites, the effects can be devastating for the young person involved. There are ways to help prevent a child from being cyberbullied and to help them cope and stop the bullying if it does happen. It is another form of bullying which can happen at all times of the day, with a potentially bigger audience. By its very nature, cyberbullying tends to involve a number of online bystanders and can quickly spiral out of control. Children and young people who bully others online do not need to be physically stronger and their methods can often be hidden and subtle. The Department for Education have issued guidance for school staff and parents and carers on how to recognise signs of cyberbullying and support children who are being bullied in this way (see Department for Education, Preventing Bullying).

See also: Information and Communication Technology (ICT) based Forms of Abuse Procedure.

Upskirting, which involves taking a picture under a person's clothing without them knowing, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks to obtain sexual gratification, or cause the victim humiliation, distress or alarm; is a specific example of abusive behaviour which has been linked to on-line bullying and grooming. Upskirting is a criminal offence and should be reported to the Police.


There is the potential for bullying wherever groups of children spend time together on a regular basis or live together, such as in schools, detention centres, children's homes etc. Agencies should promote a culture of healthy adult / child and child / child interaction and discourages bullying.


Bullying outside the home can be an indication that a child could be experiencing abuse at home. Bullying can be present within families where there is a child with special needs.  There can be aggression directed towards the child with special needs or by the child towards another family member, sometimes a sibling. This can be physical, emotional or sexual abuse. See Disabilities Procedure.


Bullying can rapidly escalate into sexual or serious physical or emotional abuse. See Harmful Behaviour Procedure.


Professionals in all agencies should be alert to bullying and competent to support and manage both the victim and the abuser.


Staff should be supported by locally agreed thresholds and single agency policies to combat bullying. In the more serious cases, these should include discussion with the agency's designated safeguarding children professional and making a referral to local authority children's social care. Separate referrals for assessment and support should be made, one for the child victim and the other for the child abuser in line with Harmful Behaviour Procedure and Referral and Assessment Procedure.


See also Referral and Assessment Procedure, Referral criteria which provides guidance on the difference in local authority children's social care between s47 / assessment.


Where the bullying may involve an allegation of crime (assault, theft, harassment) a referral should be made to the police at the earliest opportunity. Many schools now operate a Crime Reporting in Schools (CRIS) programme to facilitate this.


DfE information about good practice in anti-bullying strategies for schools includes:

  • Safe to Learn: Embedding Anti-bullying Work in Schools - comprehensive suite of guidance for schools (2006 - 8);
  • Safe from Bullying  - suite of guidance documents on tackling bullying outside of schools (2009);
  • DVD resource pack on bullying related to SEN and disabilities (2009);
  • Guidance for schools on preventing and tackling sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying.


Children's Trust partners should consider tackling bullying as part of their wider role in safeguarding children and young people. The Anti-Bullying Alliance can provide support to local areas to tackle bullying in their communities.