Parents are usually very protective of their children so if their child comes home complaining of being bullied it's not surprising that they're concerned. They may be very upset and storm into school demanding to know what you are going to do about the problem.
We advise parents not to do that because if they were not aware of the problem the class teacher or head of year was probably not aware of it either. You can read the advice we give to parents here.
If after hearing a brief outline of the complaint, it's not convenient for you to discuss the matter, ask the parent to come back to see you at another time when you can talk about it in more detail. Parents are sometimes unclear themselves about what's been going on, particularly in the case of a younger child.
You may want to ask questions like:
- How long has the bullying been going on?
- What has been happening
- Where is it happening
- Who was involved?
- Were other pupils around at the time?
- How is it affecting the child?
- Did the child tell a teacher or any other adult?
If this is the first you've heard of the problem then explain to the parent that it's probably going to take you a few days to get to the bottom of it and suggest another meeting later in the week. Ask the parent to keep a diary, or to get an older child to keep their own diary of what goes on and who witnesses it. Give the parents a copy of the school bullying policy.
Although the parent has told you what's been going on you really need to hear from the pupil who was the target of bullying. Explain to the parents that you are taking the problem seriously and that you will investigate, report back to them within an agreed timescale and that you will either use sanctions like a warning or detention for minor misdemeanours or that in serious cases you will refer the complaint to the senior management team who have the power to temporarily or permanently exclude.
You need to interview
- the pupil
- bystanders who were named as being present
- other staff, learning support assistants and playground supervisors
- the pupil accused of bullying
- other pupils who are not particular friends of either child
Much bullying is by friends or ex-friends and if it persists could be dealt with by separating the pupils onto different tables if they're at infants or primary school.
In a secondary school pupils could be transferred to different sets. However, it's not appropriate to remove a bullied pupil to another form, it would be better to move the bully. Neither is it appropriate to keep a bullied pupil in at break for their own safety. The bully should be the one to have their free time curtailed.
It's vital to keep parents informed of the action you are taking. There's nothing more frustrating or upsetting for a parent than to wait by the phone for a promised call which never comes or to have letters ignored. This often leads to the problem escalating to the point where children are removed from school. When setting a timescale for investigating a bullying complaint be realistic and take into account your other commitments.
It's always best to keep written notes of the conversation between you and the parent and to put those on the pupil's file so there is an accurate record of what you were told and the action you have taken. This not only stops misunderstandings at a later date but also protects you from accusations that you were told about bullying but didn't take any action.
Sometimes parents may become aggressive or abusive. Politely excuse yourself and find a member of the senior management team to sit with you. If you can't do that then bring the meeting to a close and ask the parent to put their complaint in writing or make an appointment to see the head teacher.
Make immediate notes about what took place and pass them on to the head teacher. It's unacceptable for parents to behave in a threatening way and they can be barred from the premises.The police should be informed of threats or abuse.
Sometimes parents have unrealistic expectations
They expect pupils who bully their child to be expelled. They won't be pleased when you explain that this is unlikely to happen but they do need to know that exclusion is a process governed by rules and how the system operates.
Many of the parents who contact Bullying UK have already dealt with the classroom teacher or the head of year and they're unhappy that the problem hasn't been sorted out. We suggest that they write to the head teacher explaining what's been going on and to ask what strategy you can introduce to resolve the problem.
This is not meant to be confrontational but when parents have failed to get a problem resolved at a lower level they need to be assured that it will be taken seriously by the head teacher. Parents often report back that they are delighted with the head teacher's response but unfortunately many heads deny the pupil is being bullied, deny there is bullying in the school at all and parents get fed up with writing repeated letters of complaint about the same bullying issue.
In those circumstances the complaint is likely to escalate to the governors, the LEA and Secretary of State. If pupils are off school for a time they may lose their confidence and find it difficult to contemplate returning to class.
Ways to help them could include
- To find them a buddy
- To give them a teacher to report to if they feel under pressure
- To arrange a phased return to school
- To find them things to do at break and lunchtime so they are not alone