We are seeing a steady rise in the numbers of parents who are withdrawing their children from school on the basis that their child has been bullied and the school’s failure, so they allege, to tackle the situation appropriately leading to mental health difficulties and barriers to learning on the part of the victim.
By effectively preventing and tackling bullying, schools can create safe, disciplined environments where pupils are able to learn and fulfil their potential, whilst also preventing the myriad of parental complaints which arise from such situations.
What is bullying?
Whilst there is no strict legal definition of bullying, the DfE advice on preventing and tackling bullying describes bullying as “behaviour by an individual or group, repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally”.
It is recognised that bullying can take many forms and is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups because they are perceived to be ‘different’ or share a particular protected characteristic.
What does the law say?
The Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 (ISSRs) provide that the proprietor of an independent school ensures that bullying at the school is prevented in so far as is reasonably practicable, by the drawing up and implementation of an effective anti-bullying policy.
The ISSRs also provide that the proprietor promotes the fundamental British values of, amongst other things, individual freedoms and the mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs which in turn reflect the school’s Equality Act duties in respect of religion, faith and other identified protected characteristics; all of which can in turn give rise to bullying behaviours.
Independent schools are also required to have in place arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of pupils. Promoting welfare is defined as “protecting children from maltreatment; preventing impairment of children’s health and development; ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care and taking actions to enable all children to have the best outcomes” (KCSIE September 2018 – new guidance to be published on 2 September 2019).
What should we do?
Schools should ensure that they have robust anti-bullying, acceptable use and behaviour policies in place which reflect the latest departmental statutory guidance and advice – whilst also reflecting the day-to-day practice of the school.
These policies should be accessible and known to all pupils, parents and staff, making it clear that the school does not tolerate bullying and that disciplinary sanctions will reflect the seriousness of the incident so that the clear message is that bullying is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
All allegations of bullying, both within and outside of school, should be investigated thoroughly as with any other safeguarding incident. Clear statements should be made in writing and all incidents recorded and reported. It should be remembered that schools have powers to confiscate and search electronic devices when dealing with allegations of cyberbullying, with appropriate and proportionate sanctions being applied consistently.
The impact of bullying can be severe because of the nature and extent of the bullying or because it is combined with other factors which also affect the social, mental and emotional health of the pupil. In all cases, schools have a responsibility to support children who are bullied and make appropriate provision for a child’s needs, including setting out what actions they are taking when bullying has had a serious impact on a child’s ability to learn.
Our team of specialist education lawyers have a wealth of relevant experience in this complex legal area and our history of representing parents gives us a unique insight into the issues that can arise when dealing with these sensitive matters.
Contact Sinclairslaw and whatever your need, our expert team of solicitors can help with straightforward advice that you can trust.
T: 02088 914 488