Nord Anglia Education
Nord Anglia
09 April, 2024

Let's talk about... bullying

Let's talk about... bullying - Lets talk about bullying
By Barry Armstrong, Head of Safeguarding at Nord Anglia Education

It’s important to start this piece by recognising the complexity of bullying. Blanket definitions are probably unhelpful as the grey area is so undefined. What’s the harm in ‘banter’? When does light-hearted teasing go too far? What counts as deliberate exclusion?

When I look at bullying, or try to identify bullying, I look for a behaviour by an individual or group that’s repeated over time to intentionally hurt another, either physically or emotionally.

It’s not always this simple though, and when we’re putting this into practice in our schools, we make sure we have educators trained to look out for a whole host of behaviours – understanding bullying from its signs all the way down to its psychology.


Why do some children bully?

Like I said before, defining a ‘bully’ is incredibly difficult and can sometimes be unhelpful. What we can do is assess negative behaviours — how long have they gone on for? Are they deliberate? Are they causing emotional or physical harm? Are they targeting individuals because of their sexuality, gender, race, or other characteristic?

Often people can bully without being inherently bad, or naturally ‘bullies’, especially younger learners who don’t fully appreciate the reasons behind or impact of their behaviours. They may hold prejudices or unconscious biases that cause them to display bullying behaviours.

And that’s where education comes in. A good education opens the world to a young person, it teaches them not just academic skills but also the skills of empathy, global mindedness, and collaboration.

As Doireann Dunphy, Assistant Head of Secondary – Pastoral, at NAIS Dublin says “Of course we tell our students not to bully and have a strict disciplinary process for those that do, but we’ve actually found it far more helpful to develop a more positive behaviour policy.

Instead of saying ‘don’t be a bully’ (something to which most kids will reply “well, I’m not”), we look at specific behaviours and their impact. Whether that’s teaching students about unconscious bias, or teaching students about different cultures or neurodivergence, it’s about teaching empathy and self-reflection. Asking questions like ‘I might not be a bully, but what was the impact of that joke I made?’”


What are the signs to look out for at home?

If you’re a parent who’s concerned that your child might be experiencing something like bullying at school, there are some behaviours that can be consistent and act as a sign. However, it’s important to note that signs can vary amongst children and can be indicative of different problems, not just bullying.

  • Changes in mood and behavior, stress-induced physical symptoms (such as stomachaches and headaches).
  • Loss of interest in school.
  • Reluctance to attend specific classes or lessons.
  • Problems with sleep and eating.

Whilst these behaviours can be good indicators, I don’t think a checklist approach is really all that helpful, as these signs are usually stress responses and can be caused by a whole host of reasons. I think the key is to be attentive to consistent patterns in behaviours and address any problems or irregularities your child is displaying.


How do I talk to my child about bullying and what should I do?

A recurring theme when addressing these kinds of pastoral issues, whether it’s exam stress or bullying, is “communication is key”. Open communication is the only way we’re going to have a real idea of what’s going on in our kids’ brains, and the best way to rationalise their fears.

As Doireann says, “I think the key thing is conversation, and not just when things are really bad because then there's sort of negative connotations to the communication. Whether it’s about topics your child might find awkward, like sexual health, or it's about devices and internet safety, rather than one 10-minute conversation, it would be much more beneficial to have 10 one-minute chats. This means that children begin to get sense that these are not taboo topics and that there is a foundation of trust built; enabling them to come forward with an issue or concern if it arises.



As parents, the first thing we’ll want to do when we hear our child is experiencing bullying is to go straight to the school and put a stop to it. This isn’t always the best way to handle it though.

A recurring fear from victims is that escalating and reporting may make the abuse they suffer even worse, and sometimes it can. I’d encourage parents to develop a sort of contingency plan with their child, something like “Okay, well today at school how about you try this and if that doesn’t work, we’ll do this.”

This planning can continue when you raise the issue with the school – you can work together to create a collaborative plan that considers the child’s wants and/or anxieties. This can make the whole process much more comfortable for the child who’s been bullied.


Dealing with bullying and supporting the victim

Nuance is the order of the day when it comes to talking bullying, and that carries over to how we deal with the perpetrators and support the victims. Experiencing bullying can affect two children in entirely different ways. Where one child might be relatively unaffected, another might need significant help in rebuilding trust and relationships with peers.

I believe in a real ‘wrap-around’ care package that involves regular sessions with professionals as well as observation and regular checkups. Having trained pastoral experts in schools is so important not just for spotting bullying but also for the process of recovery.

At Nord Anglia Education we aim to foster positive environments of awareness and inclusion, rather than a punishment-oriented approach. By exposing young people to different cultures and backgrounds, we aim to eliminate the prejudices or misunderstanding which might lead to bullying behaviours.