The types and forms bullying takes

Define what you mean!

Bullying is a broad term ranging from name calling to hate speech, from cyberbullying to pushing and shoving. That is why we believe a really good definition is vital for good practice. You, your staff, the pupils and parents all need to know what is being referred to as bullying and equally – when it is not bullying.

Many schools use definitions of bullying which do not conform to any national definition. Why not check yours against these well-used definitions and make sure yours covers all three elements? Then read on to consider how best to express the different forms bullying takes in your policy.

BIG Award definition

Bullying is the persistent intentional harming of another person (or group) within an unequal power relationship.

There are 3 elements which should be mentioned and we look for in BIG Award when we assess your policy:

  1. Bullying is deliberate or intentional,
  2. It is usually repeated and
  3. There is an imbalance of power between perpetrator and target.

 A one off incident is seldom, regarded as bullying except in certain rare circumstances where the other two elements and prejudice are present. In some cases such as bullying targeting someone with special needs or disability, a racist incident, or if there is a significant risk of harm, we would not look for repeated incidents to classify it as bullying if all the other aspects were there.

Bullying can be frequent or infrequent, long term, high or low level and persistent. Bullying can include bullying of and by school staff, whether by pupils, parents or staff. Download our definition for policies

Anti-Bullying Alliance definition:

‘Bullying is the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power.’

Government guidance defines it in this way:

What is bullying?

Bullying is behaviour by an individual or group, repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally.

Bullying can take many forms (for instance, cyber-bullying via text messages or the internet), and is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups, for example on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or because a child is adopted or has caring responsibilities. It might be motivated by actual differences between children, or perceived differences. Stopping violence and ensuring immediate physical safety is obviously a school’s first priority but emotional bullying can be more damaging than physical; teachers and schools have to make their own judgements about each specific case.

Many experts say that bullying involves an imbalance of power between the perpetrator and the victim. This could involve perpetrators of bullying having control over the relationship which makes it difficult for those they bully to defend themselves. The imbalance of power can manifest itself in several ways, it may be physical, psychological (knowing what upsets someone), derive from an intellectual imbalance, or by having access to the support of a group, or the capacity to socially isolate. It can result in the intimidation of a person or persons through the threat of violence or by isolating them either physically or online.



Bullying uses all tools available

At BIG Award we believe it is a lot easier to understand if you separate the forms bullying takes from the types of prejudice driven bullying – so:

 Bullying can take many forms:

  • Physical – kicking and shoving, injuring the target or damaging their belongings, intimidation
  • Verbal – taunts and name-calling, insults, threats or humiliation, intimidation
  • Emotional – behaviour intended to isolate, hurt or humiliate someone
  • Indirect – sly and underhand, behind the target’s back, rumour spreading
  • Cyber – using any form of electronic means, mobile phones, social networks, gaming, chat rooms, forums or apps.
  • Relational aggression – this is a useful term to describe those almost intangible forms of bullying such as rolling of the eyes every time the targeted person walks past; alienating their friends; isolating  or shunning them for no apparent reason. (It might be jealousy). Girls are very skilled at this form of bullying which can be all but invisible to the outsider but is experienced painfully by the victim. It can be perpetrated by the girl who is best in schoolwork and pretty, popular with others and never in trouble. But she is leading a campaign against another girl and this can be hard to pin down. Her parents deny it is possible and the perpetrator has always kept on the right side of the teachers. Having a label to describe this behaviour is very useful as it is hardly suitable to discipline someone for rolling their eyes!Prejudice driven bullying is then described.

Fight stereotypes and prejudice

Bullying can be driven by prejudice or fear of difference. It can be linked to

  • Race, religion or culture
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability or special  need
  • Long term illness
  • Appearance
  • Family arrangements
  • Any protected characteristic within the Equality Act 2010


The rapid development of, and widespread access to, technology has provided a new medium for ‘virtual’ bullying, which can occur in or outside school. Cyber-bullying is a different form of bullying and can happen at all times of the day, with a potentially bigger audience, and more accessories as people forward on content at a click. The wider search powers included in the Education Act 2011 give teachers stronger powers to tackle cyber-bullying by providing a specific power to search for and, if necessary, delete inappropriate images (or files) on electronic devices, including mobile phones. READ MORE

Safeguarding children & young people

‘Under the Children Act 1989 a bullying incident should be addressed as a child protection concern when there is ‘reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to 4 suffer, significant harm’. Where this is the case, the school staff should report their concerns to their local authority children’s social care. Even where safeguarding is not considered to be an issue, schools may need to draw on a range of external services to support the pupil who is experiencing bullying, or to tackle any underlying issue which has contributed to a child engaging in bullying’ Peventinand Tackling Bullying, DfE.

  •  In the new Ofsted Framework, bullying is now under Personal Development and Welfare.
  • ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ July 2015 makes it clear that safeguarding includes bullying both on and offline. It also includes online safety.
  • The Equality Act 2010 requires a school to publish their equality aims

Read more on our dedicated pages