Re-defining safeguarding - bullying and statutory guidance

Written by Ruth McGuire - 25th November 2021 


Mention the word ‘safeguarding’ in the context of children and most people immediately think of sexual abuse. However, the Department for Education’s statutory guidance ‘Keeping children safe in education’ also known as KSCIE, makes it clear that ‘safeguarding’ children extends beyond sexual abuse and includes protecting them from emotional abuse.  Bullying is a form of emotional abuse and is listed as such in the KSCIE guidance. It also appears under the section that deals with peer-on-peer abuse. School staff who work directly with children therefore need to be aware of school policies that can help to protect children from bullies and from emotional abuse.

Behaviour policy

One of the key school policies identified by KSCIE, which is relevant to protecting children from bullying, is the school behaviour policy. This policy should include ‘measures to prevent bullying.’ Staff who work with children as teachers, teaching assistants or in some other support capacity should make sure they are familiar with the school’s behaviour policy and understand what aspects of the policy apply to their particular role. The behaviour policy should set out standards of behaviour expected from pupils and may also specify disciplinary sanctions that schools will take if standards are breached.

Culture and respect

Further guidance from the DfE highlights the importance of culture in tackling bullying. It suggests that “Schools which excel at tackling bullying have created an ethos of good behaviour where pupils treat one another and the school staff with respect because they know that this is the right way to behave. That culture extends beyond the classroom to the corridors, the dining hall, the playground, and beyond the school gates including travel to and from school.’ Ref. Department for Education. Preventing and tackling bullying. Advice for headteachers, staff and governing bodies. July 2017

The solution to bullying problems therefore, is not about being reactive to bullying but to getting the culture right in the school in the first place i.e. a safe culture. Such a culture is one where children feel safe and understand that bullying conduct is not tolerated. This goes beyond just words in a policy but is linked to actions. This includes all staff being committed to teaching and promoting values, such as respect for others. 

Staff who work with children can contribute to a culture that does not tolerate bullying by promoting, reinforcing, and ‘living’ or role modelling the values they expect of children. This includes values such as ‘mutual respect’, one of the values identified in the set of British Values that schools are required to promote. An example of one school that appears to have to have created the right culture is an outstanding school, ‘Elveden Church of England Primary Academy’ in Norfolk. Ofsted (2021) reported that: 

Staff model how they expect pupils to behave. Pupils behave well in lessons and during more unstructured times, for example, breaktimes. Pupils show respect for staff and each other. Pupils understand the school values of ‘hope, trust, respect and forgiveness’ and are taught how to use these in their day-to-day life’

A closer look at the school’s anti-bullying policy gives some idea of how the school promotes a zero tolerance towards bullying. Part of the policy includes expectations that staff will:

  • provide positive role models 
  • convey a clear understanding that we disapprove of unacceptable behaviour 
  • be fully involved in the development of the anti-bullying policy and support 
  • anti-bullying practice 


More than words

Actions speak louder than words – even when those words are written in school policies. Whilst the starting point for promoting good behaviour are policies such as a ‘behaviour policy’ or an ‘anti-bullying policy’, words on paper are not enough. Actions are needed. Children need to see that standards set for behaviour really do matter and that a school takes conduct such as bullying seriously. Standards of behaviour can be maintained at two levels – through ‘rewards and sanctions.’ Good behaviour should be acknowledged, praised, and rewarded. For example, some schools offer rewards such as ‘star pupil’ monthly awards, prizes, books or other ‘tokens’ or ‘symbols’ that recognise and reward good behaviour. In contrast, staff have to be confident about implementing sanctions for poor behaviour, such as bullying. Sanctions should be clearly specified in the school’s behaviour, anti-bullying, or disciplinary policies. School staff should never spring sanctions on children as a surprise but should ensure that as soon as children start at the school, they and their parents or carers are made aware of school values, expectations, policies, and procedures, and be informed of the consequences for any breaches of standards. 

Challenging inappropriate behaviour

Guidance in the DfE document highlights the importance of staff challenging inappropriate behaviour and not ‘downplaying’ or ‘dismissing’ behaviours that are clearly unacceptable. This is one of the key actions that contributes to an anti-bullying culture.  Early intervention when bullying incidents arise ensures that problems will not fester and escalate. Staff need to send a clear message through their early and swift actions and through sanctions that bullying will not be tolerated. This message will be received not just by bullies and potential bullies but by victims who will feel confident to report bullying.

Sanctions against ‘bullies’ should be fair and implemented consistently so that no child feels they are being treated unfairly.  When poor behaviour is identified, sanctions should be implemented consistently and fairly in line with the behaviour policy. Good schools will have a range of disciplinary measures clearly communicated to school staff, pupils, and parents. These can include: verbal reprimands, loss of privileges, lunch time detentions, suspension or expulsion from school clubs, exclusion from school trips and so on.

Parents and carers as partners

Schools should always aim to work in partnership with parents/carers to ensure they are supportive of school policies, especially those that relate to bullying and behaviour. Teaching staff and assistants may be directly involved in working with parents/carers to respond to behavioural issues. However, parents/carers should not be made to feel that the only time they are contacted is when problems arise. Regular communication with parents/carers as ‘partners’ in their child’s education and behaviour management, can also contribute towards a safe anti-bullying culture.

Useful resources and additional reading

Department for Education. Keeping children safe in education 2021.Statutory guidance for schools and Colleges. September 2021



Ruth McGuire is an Education Inspector with nearly 15 years of inspection experience. She has taught in both further and higher education. She is also a well-established education and training consultant, writer and freelance journalist. She is a Governor of an outstanding sixth form college and also holds board roles within the NHS.