Widespread bullying in schools is not being tackled, new report shows

02 March 2011

New research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission has found that bullying based on students' identities remains a widespread problem and is limiting the achievements of those who are bullied. Efforts to tackle the problem vary between local authorities and for different types of prejudice related bullying. 

A panel of guests including Nick Gibb MP, Minister for Schools will be debating the findings of the Commission's report 'Prevention and Response to Identity Based Bullying' and its detailed review of equality - 'How Fair is Britain' - today at Westminster Academy, London.

The study for the Commission carried out by Goldsmiths, University of London found that nearly two in ten of all school students said that they do not feel physically safe at school.  Nearly half of 6-10 and 14 year olds said they had been bullied at school. Among the primary school children who said they were being bullied, four in ten said it was happening at least once a week.

More than eight in ten disabled pupils have been bullied at school. Two in three lesbian, gay or transgender secondary school pupils said they had been bullied and nearly one in six of them had received death threats.

The failure of local authorities to address the problem has a negative impact on the achievements of young people who are being bullied.  They do worse in their GCSE exams and are twice as likely as others not to be in education, employment or training at the age of 16. 

Most local authorities agree there is a need for monitoring the prevalence of bullying across all groups in school or in the community, however, very few have this in place as they are only obliged to gather evidence of race-related bullying. While 75 per cent had evidence related to the prevalence of racist bullying in schools, this fell to less than 40 per cent for bullying relating to sexual orientation, gender and religion or belief and to less than 30 per cent for disability-related bullying.

The report recommends action in several critical areas, including:

  • Local authorities need to gather more evidence on the extent of identity based bullying; without understanding the size of the problem it is impossible to target resources where they are needed or to monitor progress. 
  • Local authorities have asked for, and need, more guidance and support to help them tackle bullying in their schools.  Any guidance developed should be specific to each type of bullying.
  • A preventative strategy should be adopted which considers all the equality strands and focuses on tackling prejudice.  The aim should be to adopt a 'whole of school' policy and create an environment which promotes diversity and inclusion.

Based on evidence in its review of equality 'How Fair is Britain', the Commission has already specifically recommended that action is needed to reduce the incidence of homophobic, trans-phobic, disability and religiously motivated bullying in schools and workplaces.

Baroness Margaret Prosser, Commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

'Bullying is a corrosive element running through the lives of many young people.  Parents should expect that their children will be safe in school, but that is not the experience of many school children.  

'As a society we are paying a high price for failing to adequately tackle the issue.  Bullying not only affects the day to day life of those involved but also blight's their chances in life.

'Schools should have the support they need to address bullying. This could be through preventative strategies that really get to the root causes of prejudice and by having equality and diversity as key components of the core curriculum.'

The Commission will shortly hold a roundtable with key policy makers from government and the education and voluntary sectors to discuss the report findings and develop a coordinated approach to tackle the problem. 


For more press information contact the Commission's media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

For general enquiries please contact the Commission's national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.

Notes to editors

Prevention and response to identity-based bullying among local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales
Identity or prejudice based bullying refers to any form of bullying related to the characteristics considered unique to a child's identity, such as their race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. These characteristics are protected by the Equality Act 2010. 

On average young people who are being bullied are 15 percentage points less likely to get five GCSEs at grades A* to C.

The study was commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in December 2009 and carried out by the Unit for School and Family Studies at Goldsmiths University, University of London. Evidence was obtained through a review of academic and other relevant literature; interviews conducted with national anti-bullying organisations and a survey of all local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. The response rate was 38% for England, 24% for Scotland and 18% for Wales. The findings relating to the local authority survey presented here relate to England only.

How Fair is Britain?
The Commission's three-yearly review was published in October. The 700-page report is the most comprehensive compilation of evidence on discrimination and disadvantage in Britain today. It looks at seven areas of discrimination: age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation and transgender status. It also identifies five critical 'gateways to opportunity' which can make the difference between success and failure in life: Health and Well-being: Education and Inclusion; Work and Wealth; Safety and Security; and Autonomy and Voice.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission
The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.  It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain.  It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.  The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act.  It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.