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Bullying causes intense misery and many pupils who email us say they are self harming or have made suicide attempts. Large numbers of pupils who contact us, girls in particular, are at home because they are afraid or can't face going to school. The classroom teacher in a primary school and the form tutor in a secondary school have a vital role to play in identifying bullying and nipping it in the bud before it escalates.
Boys and girls bully in different ways but both are skilled manipulators, often lying their way out of situations and turning the tables on their victim. It's common for problems in the community between neighbours and relatives to spill over into school disputes.
The victim is often an ex-best friend who is suddenly excluded from sleep-overs and social events. In happier times she will have shared confidences with the bully who uses that information against her. Rumours and hurtful gossip are spread to mutual friends and the victim is deliberately isolated, spending break on her own and having nobody to partner her in class.
If she's a teenager she may get abusive text messages including death threats or she might be called names alleging she is gay. Former schoolfriends may gang up on her on IM. She may self harm and conceal the fact by being reluctant to change for PE.
Girl bullies can be vicious and quick to turn a perceived slight into an opportunity for a fight. They are often motivated by jealousy. Friendships can be volatile and a temporary falling out can quickly escalate. Read our report about Girls and Bullying.
The victim is often quiet and lacking confidence. Homophobic bullying is common, particularly if he is also popular with girls. Younger boys tend to be targeted with violence in the playground which is laughed off as just messing around while older ones can be targeted during games lessons when there is little supervision in the changing room.
Boys often find they are the butt of jokes and it's particularly hurtful when their friends join in. They find that their friends go along with bullying which sends a mixed message and they're not sure when to laugh it off and when they need to ask for help from a parent or teacher. Boys are often reluctant to report bullying, feeling that they should be able to handle it themselves.
Both boys and girls are likely to be targeted on abusive internet websites which may contain pictures of them with offensive comments. Bullying UK has had a large number of complaints about hi-tech bullying which includes text abuse, happy slapping, identity theft and hate websites and forums.
Children will bully for many reasons but some of the things bullies will focus on include:
When dealing with someone who is being bullied it's important to remember that they will be very upset although they may not show it on the outside. If they have plucked up the courage to talk to you then they need to know you will take the problem seriously. How you react and respond to that pupil may make the difference between resolving the issue or allowing misery to continue that could affect the rest of their school life.
Bullying UK suggests that if a pupil comes to you to say they are being bullied you should talk to them out of earshot of other pupils. This allows the victim to feel safe and will stop anyone seeing or hearing what is being discussed.
If that isn't possible then explain to the pupil that you will ask them to see you at the end of school about some work so that they get the chance to discuss the problem privately without other pupils thinking that they are telling tales.
Reassure the pupil that you will take the complaint seriously and that you will look into it. It's a good idea to ask the pupil to write down exactly what happened and who was there so that you can speak to other people. The more information you have the better you will be able to deal with the problem and the faster you can sort out exactly what happened.
Assure the victim that you will be back in touch with them as soon as you have completed your investigation and that if there are any more problems in the mean time they must let you know immediately. You could give the child your internal email address to make this easier for them. Tell the pupil when you expect to be able to speak to them again. Try not to set an unrealistic time frame if you know you might not be able to meet it.
Explain how you will investigate the complaint, who you will be talking to, that you will need to hear both sides of the story as well as the account of the person they are saying has bullied them. Sometimes pupils are teased because of something like dyslexia or Aspergers. If you're aware that they have a problem then perhaps asking for input from the pupil support dept at the LEA, through the school SENCO would be helpful.
You could arrange for a bullied pupil to have a playground buddy and in the longer term you could think about setting up a peer support scheme to benefit the whole school. If pupils complain that particular areas of school are unsafe - for instance the toilets or isolated parts of the school playground or buildings - staff could set up extra patrols.