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Bullying - information and support

Bullying - children and young people with SEND

The internet has huge benefits to all young people including young people with SEND. However children and young people with disabilities are at an increased risk of being bullied including in online environments.  

The charity Mencap ran a survey that discovered eight out of 10 children with a learning disability have been bullied.Children and young people with SEND may;

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

Parents/carers of with SEND do have additional concerns about bullying due to vulnerabilities that mean their child or young person:

  • may not understand or recognise that the behaviour towards them is bullying
  • communication barriers may make it difficult for them to say they are being bullied
  • social isolation due to a disability reduces and impacts support networks
  • sometimes being less able to defend themselves, either physically or verbally
  • may not recognise that their own behaviour may be seen as bullying

Anti-Bullying Alliance ‘All Together’ Programme

The internet has huge benefits to all young people and we recognise that young people with SEND are no exception. They shouldn’t be deterred by threats of bullying or personal safety. They have teamed up with the Council for Disabled Children to make this short film of young people with SEND discussing some of the positive things they use the internet for.


Page last updated 17/05/19

What we mean when we say bullying...

The Anti-Bullying Alliance 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"


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 online, 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.

Online:  Online bullying is an increasingly common form of bullying behaviour 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. This can can include spreading rumours about someone, or posting nasty or embarrassing messages, images, photographs or videos.

How can you tell if a child is being bullied?

Children and young people do not always ask directly for help or talk about 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.

You might notice changes if a child or young person is being bullied including:

  • becoming 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
  • changes in behaviour, such as starting to bed wet or have trouble sleeping
  • their belongings going missing
  • having few friends – becoming isolated
  • depression and self-harming

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

What to do if the bullying is happening at school…

All schools should have an anti-bullying policy in place setting out the steps that will be taken by the school when incidents of bullying are reported or identified by staff, parents and children.

The policy can found on the school website, on display or available on request from the school's office.

If your child is being bullied at school, let the school know straight away it is usually best to start with the class or form teacher. If you are not sure who best to talk to contact the school office to find out or look at the schools bullying policy for contact details. 

Some schools have communication systems for parent/carers of young people with SEND for example home-school diaries. You can use these to make a request for a member of staff to call you to discuss your concerns. 

Reassure your child or young person as they may be anxious about involving the school but schools have experience of dealing with these incidents sensitively. 

If you feel the situation is serious speak to the

  • SENCo
  • Designated Safeguarding Lead or
  • Headteacher

Online risks for children and young people

Online: Online 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.

There are ways to get content removed from the internet but these can be complicated.

If bullying is happening online…

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

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

  • Save and print screenshots, emails, and text messages.
  • Block the person who is online bullying.
  • Report the instances of bullying to the school.
  • Show them the evidence you have collected.
  • Use this evidence to report online bullying to web and smart phone service providers.

If bullying is happening out of school…

If bullying is happening on the way to and from school The Education and Inspections Act 2006 allows Headteachers to take action about behaviour of students / pupils even when they are off the school site. This may include diciplinary action for bullying or inappropriate behaviour. It applies to incidents of online bullying and safety incidents, which may take place out of school, but are linked to members of the school community.


If bullying is happening within the community talk to:

  • the Police
  • your local council or housing provider  

You can also report Hate Crime online: www.gov.uk/report-hate-crime

Tips for parents - online safety...

Whether you are confident online or are not sure where to start there are some tips that can 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 updated
  • 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
  • Keep communication flowing so your child or young person feels able to talk to you about whatever they are doing online

There is lots of help and guidance available. We have linked to some in the external links section of this page.

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