Putting a stop to bullying

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Rights and conditions
04 October 2017
Every school/college should have a policy to deal with issues arising from bullying to harassment of staff. This policy should provide that, where a properly-conducted investigation has established that bullying as taken place, this will be treated as a disciplinary matter.

For more information, see this page on policies and procedures, or download ATL's model bullying policy.

Grievance procedures

If your school has no disciplinary policy, one way to take the issue forward is to invoke a grievance against the relevant individual or individuals - however, do not do this without first consulting ATL for advice.

There may be a meeting to discuss the problem informally, in which case you should be accompanied by a representative from ATL. If you are not satisfied with the outcome of this meeting, you should seek advice from ATL once again. You may be advised to move on the next stage and seek a meeting with the governing body or equivalent which deals with grievances.

If the bully is the headteacher or principal, you may decide to make a formal complaint to the chair of the governing body (or equivalent). This is a very serious step to take and it is important that you seek advice from ATL before doing so.

The governors should realise that you will be aware of their implicit and explicit confidence in the headteacher or principal; they should therefore appreciate that the problem is so severe you feel you have no option but to invoke the grievance procedure. It is also vital that you are supported by an ATL representative from outside the school.

Although a grievance procedure may provide a solution, it may not completely resolve the situation. Both parties will have to work together, and tensions are likely to remain.

ATL will provide you with support during this traumatic time, but the pressure on the person who has invoked the grievance can be quite intense. ATL therefore makes every effort to resolve matters without recourse to formal procedures.

Informal action

There are a number of informal steps you might consider to ensure that the unacceptable behaviour ceases without recourse to formal procedures:

  • keep a private record of bullying incidents as they occur, noting objectively the basic facts and circumstances, including time and date - this could prove useful should you decide to take formal action
  • if there are any witnesses to such incidents, consider asking if they would be willing to record their observations of events
  • if you feel able, speak to the person who is bullying you and state that their behaviour is unhelpful and ask that it stops immediately - and consider telling the bully that, if the bullying persists, you will have no alternative but to register a formal complaint
  • be assertive, but not aggressive - if you prefer not to speak directly to the bully, you could express your views in writing (remember to keep a copy)
  • confide in your ATL representative or a senior colleague you can trust, to see if they can intervene or help you
  • establish if other colleagues are having similar problems and if so, whether to take collective action on the matter
  • contact ATL for advice and support - it may be able to suggest alternative strategies for handling the situation.

Legal action

Prosecutions can be brought under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which states that any intentional harassment in the workplace may be a criminal offence and is punishable by law.

In some cases, health and safety law, which applies to the physical and mental well-being of employees, may also be brought to bear. In some cases bullying may contravene anti-discrimination legislation.

In every case, taking early advice from ATL before legal action is essential.

Tackling racist bullying

No-one should have to experience bullying of any kind, and tackling racist bullying should be a key priority for all schools. The Department for Children, Schools and Families (now the DfE) produced a set of guidelines for schools on tackling this problem, Bullying around racism, religion and culture.

These guidelines were developed in partnership with unions including ATL, anti-racist organisations, local authorities, community and voluntary sector groups and young people.

They suggest anti-bullying strategies to help schools identify, prevent and deal with racist bullying, and should become a key part of schools' compulsory anti-bullying policies.

Tackling 'cyberbullying'

Bullying using a mobile phone, email or the internet is a growing problem, with increasing numbers of both pupils and teachers experiencing it.

ATL is receiving an increasing number of calls from members who are concerned about comments and/or images held on certain websites. A five step guide on how to deal with this problem is available in the ATL factsheet Cyberbullying.

Related publications from ATL