Learn how you can support a family experiencing bullying in school.
This resource has been produced for community sponsorship groups who may need to support refugee families who are experiencing bullying in school. It has been produced in collaboration with the Anti-Bullying Alliance who are a coalition of organisations and individuals that unite against bullying to create safer environments in which children and young people can live, grow, play and learn.
- What is bullying?
- Bullying and the Law
- Prevalence and impact of bullying of refugee young people
- Why might refugee young people be more likely to be bullied?
- Supporting parents and carers
- Online bullying
- Supporting families to make a complaint to the school
- Links to other useful information
1. What is bullying?
Learning to understand and manage conflict is an important part of growing up for all children and young people but bullying is not simply a ‘falling out’. It is vital to have a good, shared understanding of bullying. Too often, problems arise or incidents escalate in schools when bullying is misidentified, missed or if there is disagreement about whether or not something is bullying.
The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) and its members have an agreed shared definition of bullying based on research from across the world over the last 30 years:
“Bullying is the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. It can happen face to face or online.”
Bullying is a group behaviour and there are key roles that can be identified in all bullying incidents that help us to understand the group dynamic. You can find out more about these roles in this video.
2. Bullying and the Law
Bullying itself is not a criminal offence in the United Kingdom. However, some types of bullying are illegal and can be reported to the police. This includes bullying that involves the following (whether face to face or online):
- violence or assault
- repeated harassment or intimidation, for example name calling, threats and abusive phone calls, emails or text messages
- hate crimes
A hate crime is defined as any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s:
- race or perceived race;
- religion or perceived religion;
- sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation;
- disability or perceived disability
- transgender or perceived to be transgender.
A hate incident is any incident which the victim, or anyone else, thinks is based on someone’s prejudice towards them because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or because they are transgender.
Not all hate incidents will amount to criminal offences, but it is equally important that these are reported and recorded by the police.
You can contact Stop Hate UK if you think that a child might have been victim of a hate crime/incident. You can call their free helpline on: 0800 138 1625.
3. Prevalence and impact of bullying of refugee pupils
Research from the Anti-Bullying Alliance in 2016, with over 13,000 pupils aged between 7 and 15 across 44 schools in the UK, found that 25% of all the pupils surveyed had experienced bullying a lot or always. Because bullying is also predominantly a behaviour which involves a wider group, it is likely that almost all children and young people are aware that some bullying is happening in their school or community, even if they are not directly involved.
Research shows that some groups are often more likely to experience bullying than their peers, and this includes some race and faith minorities. In a literature review conducted by the Anti-Bullying Alliance in 2020, it found that among the groups more likely to be bullied were Gypsy, Roma and Traveller, asylum seeker/refugee and mixed-race children and young people. Additionally, recently there has been an increase in reports of hate crime and incidents in school, as well as increased contact from children to Childline about race and faith targeted bullying.
4. Why might refugee young people be more likely to be bullied?
There are 3 main factors to consider when thinking about what makes children and young people more likely to experience bullying. They are:
- Individual characteristics
This tends to be anything that could mark someone out as ‘different’ from others and this intersects with the way in which the school community or environment is set up. Refugee children and young people can be seen as ‘different’ from their peers because of the fact that they have come from a different country and very often have had a ‘different’ childhood prior to joining the school. They may also not speak the same language as their peers, and may have experienced trauma that their peers may not understand.
This can could cover a number of areas, such as:
- A young person’s own peer groups
- The relationship between pupils and their teachers
- The relationships between pupils and their own families
- The community
Sometimes the way the school community or environment is set up can make children more likely to be bullied. This could reflect the set-up of the school, the setting, or the community in which they live. For example, inadequate supervision on home to school transport could leave pupils more vulnerable to bullying. In an Anti-Bullying Week poll in 2020, 26% of young people who had been bullied reported it happening on home to school transport. Yet research has shown that despite many bus drivers seeing bullying taking place, only 21% had received any advice or instructions about how to handle it.
5. Supporting parents and carers
Here are some top tips to support families if they are worried about bullying:
- Advise parents/carers to stay calm, and ask their child what they would like to happen next.
- Make sure the child knows it’s not their fault and that they have family that will support them. Reassure them that action will not be taken without discussing it with them first.
- Encourage families to keep a record of any face to face and online bullying.
- Support families to understand the school’s approach to tackling bullying.
- Support families to report concerns to the school. If there are language needs, ensure there is an interpreter available for when the family discuss the bullying incident with the school.
- Find out what support is available from the school, e.g. pastoral support or resources translated into other languages.
- Seek expert advice where necessary (see our suggested resources at the bottom of the page).
If you are supporting a parent or carer who is worried that their child is being bullied, they might have noticed a change in their child’s behaviour that may cause concern. For example, the child could become withdrawn and anxious, not wanting to play with others, or some children could hit out at siblings at home or become aggressive at school. This podcast from Contact talks more about spotting the signs of bullying.
If a parent or carer you are supporting discovers that their child is being bullied and they need support with this, there are several things you can recommend. The three key steps are:
1. Talk to their child
- Talking and reassurance – Encourage the family to keep talking to the child, make sure the child knows it’s not their fault, and that they have done the right thing in telling someone about the bullying.
- Be clear on incidents – Support the family to keep a written record of what the child says, particularly names, dates, what happened and where it happened. Please note that you may need to support the family in writing to the child’s teacher. You may want to suggest the use of Contact’s bullying log to keep a record of any incidents.
- Physical injury – If there are any serious physical injuries, ask the family to take evidence of the child’s injuries and support them to access medical support.
- Mental distress – If the child is displaying signs of mental distress such as panic attacks, depression, self-harm, fear or anxiety, support them to take the child to their GP. The family should explain to the GP about the bullying and how it is affecting their child. If the child is too unwell to attend school, the GP can provide a fit note (previously known as a sick note), which should be provided to the school.
2. Talk to a teacher
- Request a meeting – You could go with the parent/carer and support them to tell the class teacher what has been happening and what the child has tried to do to stop it.
- The initial meeting – During the meeting, the family should share what the child has told them about the bullying. This may be the first time the teacher has heard about the problem, so be realistic about what you want them to do. The teacher should look into the allegations and take reasonable steps to stop the bullying and protect the child. Ask the teacher for a reasonable timeframe for action to take place. It may be necessary for an interpreter to be present for the meeting, should the family need help in communicating.
- School policies – Ask for a copy of the school’s Anti-Bullying Policy or Behavioural Policy, and ask them to explain how they handle bullying incidents.
You could support the family to write to the school to ask for a meeting and, at the meeting, present the information in a log. All educational settings have a duty to deal effectively with bullying and should take concerns seriously. Contact have a template letter that can be used to write to the school.
3. Take it further
- Taking it further – If the family are not satisﬁed with the class teacher’s response, you should make an appointment to speak to the Head Teacher or, in some cases, the member of the school’s Senior Leadership Team (‘SLT’) responsible for behaviour or for safeguarding, such as the Head of Year. Support the family to put their concerns in writing.
- Complaints policy – The family should also ask for a copy of the school’s Complaints Policy (all schools must have one). You may need to support the family through this process.
- Anti-bullying policy – They should ensure to take a copy of the school’s Anti-Bullying Policy or Behaviour Policy with them to refer to if you feel that the school is not following it.
- Medical advice – Support the family to access medical advice, such as taking the child to the GP and inform them how the bullying is affecting your child so that it can be documented.
6. Online bullying
If the child is experiencing online bullying, there are additional steps you can suggest are taken:
- Keep evidence of the bullying by saving any digital content or taking screenshots.
- Block abusive users.
- Regularly change passwords and let the child know the dangers of sharing passwords with others.
- Follow the procedures for reporting abusive content on social networks.
- Support the parents/carers to make a complaint to the school.
7. Supporting families to make a complaint to the school
All schools must have a complaints procedure which should be made available to parents and carers. The law is slightly different depending on whether the child attends a maintained, academy, free or independent school. The family will need to get a copy of the school’s complaints procedure and follow the steps in order.
Local Authority Maintained Schools must have a written complaints procedure that is available to parents on request.
All Academies are required to publish a written complaints procedure, which is available to parents on request.
All Free Schools are required to publish a written complaints procedure, which is available to parents on request.
All Independent Schools are required to publish a written complaints procedure, which is available to parents on request.
Before making a complaint, we would suggest that you seek further advice and support. The following organisations can offer help:
This podcast from Contact provides advice on what to do to keep things moving forward with the school and resolving bullying if things aren’t working.
It’s important to encourage families to keep checking in regularly with the child to check if the bullying has been resolved, especially as bullying behaviour is often repeated.
8. Links to other useful information
At the bottom of the web page you can find information on the following:
- What to expect from schools when a bullying incident occurs
- Prevention strategies
- External resources, tools and advice for families