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Bullying - staying safe out and about and on-line...

Bullying and children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities.

Children with disabilities are at an increased risk of being bullied. Bullying includes being made fun of because of a difference.

Differences can be physical, developmental, intellectual, emotional or sensory.  Bullying can occur because of physical vulnerability, difficulties with social skill, or being in settings or environments where disabilities are poorly understood. 

Within society, some people hold negative views and stereotypes of people with disabilities and conditions. Often a person is bullied because they are seen as different or vulnerable by the bully. Some special educational needs and disabilities increase a child’s vulnerability.

A survey by the charity Mencap discovered that eight out of 10 children with a learning disability have been bullied.

Parents may have extra concerns about bullying when their child has special educational needs or disabilities because:

  • The child may not understand that the behaviour towards them is bullying
  • Communication barriers may make it difficult for a child to say they are being bullied
  • Social isolation due to a disability reduces their support network
  • Being less able to defend themselves, either physically or verbally
  • Some children with SEN and disabilities may not recognise that they are being bullied or that their own behaviour may be seen by someone else as bullying.

And children with SEN and disabilities may;

  • be adversely affected by negative attitudes to disability and perceptions of difference;
  • find it more difficult to resist bullies; be more isolated, not have many friends;
  • not understand that what is happening is bullying;
  • have difficulties telling people about bullying.

Anti-Bullying Alliance ‘All Together’ Programme

The "All Together Programme" offers training, support and resources to schools to help them combat bullying. An All Together School is one that has proven its activity to reduce bullying of all children and schools can sign up to take part in the programme today. The All Together programme has been developed over the last three years and builds on the work of the Anti-Bullying Alliance’s previous SEND anti-bullying champion programme which saw significant positive results.

As part of the programme, the Anti Bullying Alliance and the Council for Disabled Children have made a short film of young people discussing some of the positive things that they use the internet for.

The internet has huge benefits to all young people and we recognise that young people with SEN are no exception to this and that they shouldn’t be deterred by threats of bullying or personal safety.

The Children’s Commissioner for England

The Children’s Commissioner for England has been looking at the ways children and young people are affected by digital information and social media.


Digital 5 A Day provides a simple framework that reflects the concerns of parents/ carers as well as children’s behaviours and needs. It can also act as a base for family agreements about internet and digital device use.

Find out more:


The Children’s Commissioner has also published a report looking at the ways younger children use platforms, which the social media companies say are not designed for them.”

“I want to see children living healthy digital lives. That means parents engaging more with what their children are doing online. Just because a child has learnt the safety messages at primary school does not mean they are prepared for all the challenges that social media will present. It means a bigger role for schools in making sure children are prepared for the emotional demands of social media. And it means social media companies need to take more responsibility.”

 Find out more: Life in ‘likes’ – Children’s Commissioner report into social media use among 8 – 12 year olds (PDF)

This article provides helpful tips on how to stay safe when you are out and about and online. 

Below are some frequently asked questions about bullying, what it is and what can be done to help or stop it. 

Page last updated 11/01/18

What do we mean when we call something bullying?

Bullying is the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or a group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power.

Bullying can happen face-to-face or through cyberspace, and comes in many different forms:

Verbal: Name calling, persistent teasing, mocking, taunting and threats. 

Physical: Any form of physical violence, intimidating behaviour, theft or the intentional damage of possessions. This includes hitting, kicking and pushing.

Emotional: Excluding, tormenting, ridiculing, humiliation, setting people up and spreading rumours.

Cyber: Cyberbullying is an increasingly common form of bullying behaviour. Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology. It includes using devices and equipment such as mobile phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites. Cyberbullying can include spreading rumours about someone, or posting nasty or embarrassing messages, images, photographs or videos.

Children may know who is bullying them online. It may be a continuation of offline peer bullying or they may be targeted by someone using a fake or anonymous account.

It is easy to be anonymous online and this may increase the probability of others getting involved with bullying in this way.

Because of the increased use and access to technology and social media Cyberbullying can happen at any time or anywhere. Children and young people can be bullied when they are alone in their bedroom and it can feel as if there is no escape.

The Anti-Bullying Alliance has produced this easy-to-read definition of bullying:

"People doing nasty or unkind things to you on purpose, more than once, which it is difficult to stop"

Not every disagreement is bullying...

One-off incidents: Bullying is persistent and repetitive, and generally fits a pattern of behaviour. However a one-off incident can be so significant that it causes long term effects, and is therefore thought of as bullying. One example may be extreme public humiliation that stops or puts someone off joining in discussions or social events.

Mutual conflict: A disagreement, argument or fight in which both parties have equally joined in and where there is no imbalance of power.

How can you tell if a child is being bullied?

Children do not always ask directly for help or discuss their concerns openly. When bullying is involved, they may feel or have been made to feel that they are partly to blame or think that something bad will happen if they tell an adult.

Changes you might notice if a child is being bullied:

  • Being withdrawn or anxious
  • Being worried about going to school / pretending to be ill to avoid school
  • Bruising and cuts
  • Low self-esteem and a drop in confidence
  • A change in behaviour, such as starting to bed wet or have trouble sleeping
  • Their belongings going missing
  • Having few friends
  • Depression and self-harming

Some of these behaviours may have other explanations but if you are concerned, or your child is displaying several of these signs it is important to seek help or advice.

What to do if the bullying is happening at school…

If your child is being bullied at school, let the school know straight away. Some schools have communication systems for parents, like home-school diaries or homework diaries.

If your child’s school has a similar system you can use this to tell the school about your concerns.  You may also want to speak to someone at the school. It is a good idea to speak to the class teacher to begin with. However, if you feel the situation is serious, you could speak to the SENCO, Designated Safeguarding Lead or Headteacher.

All schools should have an anti-bullying policy in place. The policy should set out the steps that will be taken by the school when incidents of bullying are reported or identified by staff, parents and children. You may find it useful to request a copy of the policy, they can often be found on the school website or in the school entrance hall.

The Department of Education’s Preventing and Tackling Bullying guidance (2014), outlines the legal duties and powers schools have to tackle bullying. This includes guidance on dealing with the bullying of children with special educational needs and disabilities.

What to do if the bullying is happening online…

Don’t reply or respond to and do not forward cyberbullying messages.

Do keep evidence of cyberbullying, record the dates, times, and descriptions of instances when cyberbullying has occurred.

Save and print screenshots, emails, and text messages. Use this evidence to report cyberbullying to web and smart phone service providers.

Block the person who is cyberbullying.

Report the instances of bullying to the school. Show them the evidence you have collected.

Cyberbullying can create a disruptive environment at school and is often related to in-person bullying. All schools are required to address cyberbullying in their anti-bullying policy. You can find your child’s school’s bullying policy on the school’s own website or you can request a copy from the school office.

Report to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre:

Report to the Internet Watch Foundation:

What to do if the bullying is happening out of school…

If bullying is happening within the community talk to your local council or housing association.  If you live in a council property or housing association property, let them know what is happening. Councils and housing associations can take action against tenants who victimise other tenants.

If bullying is happening on the way to and from school The Education and Inspections Act 2006 empowers Headteachers, to regulate the behaviour of students / pupils when they are off the school site and to impose disciplinary penalties for inappropriate behaviour. This is also pertinent to incidents of cyber-bullying, or other online-safety incidents, which may take place out of school, but is linked to membership of the school.

On line safety / safe behaviour online

The internet is an amazing resource for children and young people. They can play, learn, create and connect with others which opens up a whole world of exciting possibilities. As a parent or carer you play a key role in helping your child to stay safe online. Keeping track of what they’re doing and make sure they’re staying safe.

You don’t need to be an expert on the internet to help your child stay safe online. Advice and resources are out there to support you to support your child to use the internet safely, responsibility and positively.

Online risks for children and young people

Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology. This includes devices and equipment such as mobile phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites.

Sexting: Sexting is defined as “the exchange of sexual messages or images” and “creating, sharing and forwarding sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images” through mobile phones and the Internet.

Grooming: Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking. Children and young people can be groomed online or face-to-face, by a stranger or by someone they know - for example a family member, friend or professional.

Online Gaming: Online gaming is when you use an internet connected device such as a PSP, Xbox, Tablet, Mobile Phone or a computer to play games with other users online. Children and young people can easily spend too much time gaming online which may impact on their learning and development. There is also a risk of children seeing or hearing harmful content, being contacted by inappropriate adults or be subject to bullying.

Social networking sites: Social networking sites are where people have a profile and can meet other people or post messages on their own and others’ profiles. Children could be at risk of grooming and bullying through using social media. Most social media sites and apps will have a minimum age limit of 13.

Digital Footprint: Your digital footprint is everything on the internet that is about you. This could include: a profile; photographs that you, your friends or family have posted online; anything you have written or that has been written about you. It can be permanent. Other people can search for it and may be decide what kind of person you are because of what they find.

Tips for parents to help children and young people be safer online...

Whether you’re an online expert or you’re not sure where to start here are some tips that could help you:

  • Spend time with your children online, have them show you their favourite sites
  • Speak to your child about staying safe online and teach your children “cyber ethics”
  • Be computer savvy: use antivirus, antispyware, and a firewall, and keep them current
  • Agree rules for using the Internet
  • Teach your children to tell a parent, teacher or trusted adult if they feel uncomfortable about anything they’ve seen on a computer or online

What are the 4 C’s?

Contact ―Teach children how to have healthy and appropriate relationships online, and explain your expectations for how they communicate online.

Help them recognise and protect themselves from cyberbullies, hackers, phishers, and predators. Explain to them that unless we are communicating with people we know and trust, we never really know who is on the other end of a digital communication.

Content ― Communicate clearly your expectations for acceptable content. Is it healthy, responsible, ethical (the right thing to do)? This includes content that children both look at / view and share / upload. Help them understand that the Internet is forever: Everything they post online is tracked and stored and will follow them to future job interviews, university entrance interviews, and beyond.

Conduct Teach children appropriate online behaviour. Help them understand that everything they do online contributes to their online reputation. Because the Web can feel anonymous, some young people become uninhibited / too open about what they think and feel online. Help them be the good people online that they are offline.

Commercialism - There is a great deal of advertising and marketing on the internet, and young people’s privacy can easily be invaded. Children can receive unwanted adverts and marketing e-mail and text messages – often called SPAM. Children can also be encouraged to place expensive “in app purchases”. Teach your children not to reply to SPAM junk mail or in app notifications asking them to buy things. It is important to remind your children to keep their personal information private.

TIP: Consider using a family email address when filling in online forms – that way you can monitor what further e-mails you receive. Lastly, talk to your children about the adverts and marketing messages they are receiving online and teach them that if a deal sounds too good to be true … it probably is!

Guides and information about bullying...

Guides and information about online safety and cyber bullying...

Links for children and young people:

Links for teachers, professionals and others:

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