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Prejudice-Related Bullying


NASUWT believes that all pupils/students and staff in schools and colleges have a right to learn and work in a safe and secure environment where they feel valued and respected. That is why the Union is committed to a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and to supporting schools and colleges in their efforts to tackle the problem.

The effects of bullying can last a lifetime. It is an invidious problem which seriously damages individual self-esteem, confidence, health and participation. All schools and colleges should have in place a clear anti-bullying policy and procedures to deal with the problem which should be developed in consultation with the school and college workforce unions. It is important that the problem of prejudice-related bullying is specifically identified in school and college policies for tackling the problem of bullying.

NASUWT is committed to equality of opportunity for all pupils and staff. The Union actively opposes all forms of unfair discrimination. As the largest union serving teachers and headteachers throughout the UK, NASUWT is well placed to take a lead role in actively campaigning for the elimination of all forms of bullying within schools, colleges and society.#

Defining the problem

Prejudice-related bullying is a social problem which has its roots within wider social discourses that seek to justify negative behaviours against particular groups within society. Prejudice-related bullying is often characterised by abusive behaviour, intolerance or ostracism on grounds of an individual's gender, ethnicity, body image/size, sexuality, disability, age, religion or belief. Prejudice-related bullying implies not only that individuals may be targeted by bullies on grounds of their identity and social characteristics; it may also be the case that individual bullies form alliances with other individuals who they believe to have common interests and a common identity. Given its roots, effective strategies to tackle prejudice-related bullying require concerted action across all spheres of society, as well as in schools and colleges, to create a climate in which difference and diversity are recognised, respected and celebrated.

Bullying that is prejudice-related can include verbal and physical assaults, threats, offensive 'jokes' or language, mockery and ridicule, insulting or abusive behaviour and gestures, graffiti, and theft and damage to property. It can also include the exclusion of others on grounds of their identity or characteristics. In particular, it should be noted that prejudice-related bullying is based on irrational views, beliefs and fears, leading to dislike and hatred of different individuals and groups.

Schools and colleges need to have in place effective systems to deal specifically with the problem of prejudice-related bullying. School and college anti-bullying policies and procedures should include specific reference to prejudice-related bullying in all its forms, including bullying on grounds of body image/size/obesity; homophobic bullying; racist bullying; faith-based bullying; ageist bullying; disability-related bullying; and sexist bullying.

Bullying on grounds of body image/size/obesity

Bullying on the grounds of body image/size/obesity is one of the most prevalent forms of prejudice-related bullying. Recently, the level of such bullying has been exacerbated by national concerns about rising levels of obesity. Research suggests that children who are perceived to be overweight are often considered to be inferior and less valued than others in educational and social terms. The media's constant reinforcement of concerns about body image/size/obesity and the trivialisation of these issues is a key factor related to this problem.

Homophobic bullying

Homophobic bullying is increasingly recognised as a widespread problem in schools and colleges and is the second most prevalent reason for bullying of pupils/students. Given the nature of this bullying, however, many individuals who are bullied may be unwilling to report the problem to parents, staff or colleagues since they may fear being further stigmatised and isolated. The problem of homophobia is often a hidden problem, because individuals may be unwilling to talk about it and may not feel safe in doing so. Research indicates that more than half of lesbian and gay young people had been subjected to homophobic bullying during their time at school or college.

Racist bullying

Bullying and harassment on racist grounds is a persistent issue that affects schools and colleges, including those where there are relatively few pupils or staff from black and minority ethnic groups. It is distinct from bullying on grounds of religion/belief. Racist bullying is often directed against individuals based on skin colour but might also include bullying against individuals because of their ethnic or national origin. Schools and colleges in areas where there is organised racist or fascist activity may also need additional support from local authorities, trade unions and other bodies to ensure that pupils/students and staff are protected.

Faith-based bullying

Faith-based bullying is directed against individuals and groups because of their religious belief or affiliation. It may also include bullying behaviour directed against individuals who are of no faith. The problem of faith-based bullying in schools and colleges has intensified in recent years, particularly in the case of anti-Muslim prejudice and racism. Prejudice-related bullying on grounds of religion or belief is also exacerbated by sectarian divisions in schools/colleges and society.

Ageist bullying

Ageist bullying is directed against individuals on the grounds of their age, and may be targeted at younger or older pupils/students and staff, often leading to exclusion from the social group or network.

Disability bullying

Bullying on grounds of disability, like other forms of prejudice-related bullying, is linked to irrational and unfounded beliefs, assumptions and stereotypes about the disabled person and her/his abilities.

Sexist bullying

Sexist bullying is most commonly directed against girls and women and is often sexual in nature. Sexual bullying is a form of gender-based bullying. It includes behaviour with a sexual element that is harmful, non-consensual and repeated.

Transphobic bullying

Transphobic bullying occurs when people are bullied due to their gender identity, their perceived gender identity or because they don’t conform to culturally conventional gender roles. Trans is as an umbrella term that describes people whose sense of their gender or gender identity is seen as being different to typical gender norms. Gender variance is different to sexual orientation as gender identity is different to sexual attraction. Trans people, just like everyone else can be straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual. Therefore transphobic bullying is different from homophobic bullying, although there are similarities.

Cyber bullying - a modern-day tool of the bully

The development of information communications technology (ICT) has seen a rapid increase in new forms of bullying behaviours. With wider access to, and availability of, the Internet, e-mail and mobile telephones, cyber bullying and associated threatening behaviour (cyber threats) are emerging as key challenges for schools and colleges. Between a fifth and a quarter of students have been cyber bullied at least once and the problem is more likely to occur outside rather than inside schools/colleges. A significant minority of those who are bullied tell no-one about the bullying.

Cyber bullying may include threats and intimidation directed against staff as well as pupils and jeopardises effective teaching and learning. All schools and colleges should have in place disciplinary policies and procedures which address the problem of cyber bullying to protect pupils/students and staff, and to regulate the use of ICT equipment inside and outside the school or college.

Prejudice-related bullying and schools

The NASUWT survey on prejudice-related bullying and harassment amongst teachers and headteachers highlighted that schools still need to do a lot of work to eradicate the prejudice-related bullying of both pupils and staff. The survey showed that more than half of all prejudice-related bullying or harassment incidents are not reported-only 15% of victims reported every incident that occurred. There were three main reasons for this underreporting:

  • concern about the negative impact on future career;
  • because the victims did not think appropriate action would be taken; and 
  • fear of future reprisals as a direct result of reporting. 

Half of all victims of bullying/harassment were not at all satisfied with the school/college response to bullying/harassment that had been reported. In 45% of cases, the victim was not aware of whether further action was taken by the school college.

Schools need to have in place effective systems to deal specifically with the problem of prejudice-related bullying. The Equality Act 2010 introduced the Public Sector Single Equality Duty. As part of this duty all public bodies, including schools, have to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance quality of opportunity and foster good relations. 

The Department for Education has produced on line advice, which outlines the government's approach to bullying, schools' legal obligations, the principles underpinning effective anti-bullying strategies and lists some specialist sources of information and resources.

The NASUWT believes that the best way for schools to show that it has ‘due regard’ for fostering good relations would be for schools to have robust policies to deal with both the bullying of pupils and adults.

The NASUWT and prejudice-related bullying

The NASUWT has been at the forefront of raising the problem of prejudice-related bullying and has ensured that this particular type of bullying is included in Government anti-bullying guidance.

The NASUWT previously engaged in a constructive dialogue with the then Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), now the Department for Education on a programme of work to tackle prejudice-related bullying in schools. This resulted in a range of guidance on tackling bullying related to race, religion and culture, followed by advice on cyberbullying along with the of the overarching ‘Safe to Learn?’ advice on how to embed anti-bullying work in schools.

The links give you access to the specialist advice on homophobic bullying, sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying and the bullying of pupils with special education needs (SEN) and disabilities, which the NASUWT was instrumental is securing. All of these documents provide valuable resources for dealing with the bullying of teachers as well as pupils. The NASUWT continues to make representations and lobby the DfE about the need to maintain the guidance and reporting in order to address the problem of bullying in schools effectively.

New NASUWT research on prejudice-related bullying and harassment amongst teachers and headteachers in schools