Harassment and bullying in schools – UK Government assessment
There have been legal or policy changes to improve human rights protections but very limited evidence of sustained improvements in the enjoyment of human rights on this issue
The UK Government’s new relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education guidance is welcome, as is action taken in response to Ofsted’s report on sexual harassment. A lack of data makes it difficult to assess progress in relation to bullying and harassment in schools. However, surveys by civil society organisations suggest that children continue to experience bullying and harassment, linked to protected characteristics. Schools are not required to record bullying and harassment other than sexual harassment and abuse, and funding for projects to tackle bullying has reduced.
- It is challenging to reach conclusions on trends in the prevalence of bullying and harassment because schools are not required to record incidents, with the exception of sexual harassment and abuse. The data that exists is not collected consistently, making it difficult for schools to develop effective strategies to combat bullying and harassment.
- Surveys carried out by civil society organisations suggest that children across the UK continue to experience bullying and harassment linked to race, sexual orientation, disability, sex, gender identity and reassignment, religion and household income. There is evidence that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller and mixed race children are more likely to be bullied, and that asylum seeker and refugee children may also be more likely to experience bullying.
- An Ofsted review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges found that certain forms of sexual harassment have become ‘normalised’ in the lives of some children and young people in England.
- Responses to Freedom of Information requests from 15 police forces in England showed a 72% increase in the number of assaults recorded on school premises between 2015 and 2019. Over 4,000 reports of sexual abuse and harassment from school and university students emerged in March 2021 following an online campaign.
- The UK Government’s 2017 advice for schools on preventing and tackling bullying does not set out a particular approach for schools to follow, instead providing significant discretion to schools, including whether to record incidents of bullying. Case studies published by the UK Government include schools that respond to bullying with sanctions, restorative practices or a combination of these.
- Tackling identity-based bullying and harassment is not a mandatory part of teacher training. A survey conducted in 2019 found that 27% of secondary school teachers would not feel confident tackling a sexist incident if they experienced or witnessed it in school; and 64% reported being unsure or unaware if policies and practices related to sexism prevention existed in their school.
- The new RSE and health education curriculum requires schools to teach about different types of bullying, including cyberbullying, and how to seek help. Teachers have discretion in how they implement some aspects of the guidance, leading to concerns that, without adequate training or support for schools, some children will be less informed than others. The guidance has not been accompanied by training for teachers on how to tackle incidents of bullying and harassment.
- In March 2021, the UK Government’s funding for projects tackling bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pupils ended, and funding for projects tackling bullying in schools towards other groups, including children with special educational needs or disability, ended in March 2020. The funding earmarked to help prevent and tackle bullying in schools for 2021–2024 is significantly lower than the grants allocated in previous years.
Read more about the UK Government’s actions on harassment and bullying in schools.