LBU Together

School Bullying - Before, during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic

Over recent years there has been increasing cross-disciplinary debate about the precise definition of school bullying.  However, it is broadly agreed that a range of bullying behaviours are perpetrated with the intent to harm the recipient, either directly or indirectly, and a characteristic feature of it is that it is repeated. 

Boy with head in hands

There are also methodological differences in how studies have sought to measure the extent and nature of bullying, but most studies (including the Crime Survey for England and Wales, 2018) suggest that around 25% of children and young people are bullied each year, with just under half of that group being bullied several times a week.  In the past, bullying incidents mainly took place on school premises and were left at the school gate at the end of the day but, since the explosion in the use of social media, bullying often continues, or indeed may be initiated, online.  Despite cyber-bullying tending to dominate contemporary public discourse, however, verbal, non-verbal and physical bullying are all still commonplace.

School bullying has been relatively neglected within my own discipline of criminology, partly because of the desire not to criminalise the perpetrators, but it is an important criminological issue because some victim experiences might be categorised as a criminal offence if perpetrated against an adult or in a different geographical location.  The impact of bullying victimisation is striking, with high levels of anxiety and depression among those who are bullied and, tragically, there have been too many reports of suicide amongst children and young people who have been bullied.   From my previous research on the impact of repeat victimisation more generally, even relatively trivial incidents can have a significant impact on victims when they are repeated.  In addition, individuals who bully may be at increased risk of being suspended or excluded from school and more likely to participate in anti-social behaviour away from school.  These factors increase the likelihood of children and young people being involved crime.  Bullying behaviour may also be a response to a perpetrator’s own victimisation at school, at home or elsewhere. 

Legislation is in place to protect children and young people in education (for example The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989; The Education Act, 2002; The Children Act, 2004) and schools have policies and procedures in place to provide a safe environment for them to learn and thrive, often with limited resources for direct anti-bullying interventions.  Traditionally perceived as a school concern, and usually managed within a restorative conferencing approach within individual schools, in a small proportion of more serious cases police involvement is necessary.

As already implied, there is an increasingly large body of academic literature on school bullying, including many publications on how to tackle it, yet school bullying is a growing problem and the Covid-19 pandemic raises particular challenges. Many children and young people will be looking forward to going back to school.  However, for some, being at home since the start of the lockdown may have provided a welcome break from being bullied and they will be worried about going back.  For others, bullying will have continued (or started) online through the period of home-schooling since March. In a recently published paper for the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science (based at UCL), I explore what I think might happen during the Covid-19 pandemic in relation to school bullying, the on-going impact of it for some children and young people and suggest some ideas in response.  The paper can be accessed here.

There is also growing anecdotal evidence of the bullying of school teachers and data collection has just started for my research project on this type of bullying.  The survey is open to all classroom teachers, classroom assistants, peripatetic teachers and school leadership (in all settings). It asks teachers about their experiences of bullying (before and during the Covid-19 pandemic) and its impact.  The survey closes on 30th September 2020 and the link to it is here