What does OFSTED say schools should be doing about bullying?
OFSTED inspectors will look at bullying and the school’s actions to prevent it and will bear in mind the importance of careful documentation and analysis such as logs and reporting methods. They will also want to hear the views of pupils and parents about the culture and ethos of the school environment and how safe pupils feel. Here is a link to the OFSTED Inspection Handbook which schools and inspectors use when undertaking an inspection. There are specific references to the need to tackle all forms of bullying including racist and homophobic bullying within the handbook.
The law: Education and Inspections Act 2006
There are a number of statutory obligations on schools with regard to behaviour which establish clear responsibilities to respond to bullying. In particular section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 provides that every school must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils. These measures should be part of the school’s behaviour policy which must be communicated to all pupils, school staff and parents. It also gives headteachers the ability to discipline pupils for poor behaviour even when the pupil is not on school premises or under the lawful control of school staff.
The legislation outlined above does not apply to independent schools.
The law: Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 replaces previous anti-discrimination laws with a single act. A key provision is a new public sector Equality Duty, which came into force on 5 April 2011. It replaces the three previous public sector equality duties for race, disability and gender, and covers age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. The Duty has three aims. It requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to:
eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the act
advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it
foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.
Schools are required to comply with the new Equality Duty.
The Act also makes it unlawful for the responsible body of a school to discriminate against, harass or vicitmise a pupil or potential pupil in relation to admissions, the way it provides education for pupils, provision of pupil access to any benefit, facility or service, or by excluding a pupil or subjecting them to any other detriment. In England and Wales the act applies to all maintained and independent schools, including academies and Free Schools, and maintained and non-maintained special schools.
The law: Safeguarding children and young people
Under the Children Act 1989 a bullying incident should be addressed as a child protection concern when there is ‘reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm’. Where this is the case, the school staff should report their concerns to their local authority children’s social care. Even where safeguarding is not considered to be an issue, schools may need to draw on a range of external services to support the pupil who is experiencing bullying, or to tackle any underlying issue which has contributed to a child engaging in bullying.
The law: bullying outside school premises
Headteachers have a specific statutory power to discipline pupils for poor behaviour outside of the school premises. Section 89(5) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 gives headteachers the power to regulate pupils’ conduct when they are not on school premises and are not under the lawful control or charge of a member of school staff (this legislation does not apply to independent schools). This can relate to any bullying incidents occurring anywhere off the school premises, such as on school or public transport, outside the local shops, or in a town or village centre.
Where bullying outside school is reported to school staff, it should be investigated and acted on. The headteacher should also consider whether it is appropriate to notify the police or anti-social behaviour coordinator in their local authority of the action taken against a pupil. If the misbehaviour could be criminal or poses a serious threat to a member of the public, the police should always be informed.
The law: Criminal law
Although bullying in itself is not a specific criminal offence in the UK, it is important to bear in mind that some types of harassing or threatening behaviour – or communications – could be a criminal offence, for example under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Malicious Communications Act 1988, the Communications Act 2003, and the Public Order Act 1986. If school staff feel that an offence may have been committed they should seek assistance from the police. For example, under the Malicious Communications Act 1988, it is an offence for a person to send an electronic communication to another person with the intent to cause distress or anxiety or to send an electronic communication which conveys a message which is indecent or grossly offensive, a threat, or information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender.