What does the law say you have to do?

The Education and Inspections Act 2006

There are a number of statutory obligations on schools with regard to behaviour which establish clear responsibilities in responding to bullying.

In particular section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006:

  • Provides that every school must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils. These measures should be part of the school’s behaviour policy which must be communicated to all pupils, school staff and parents;
  • Gives head teachers the ability to discipline pupils for poor behaviour that occurs even when the pupil is not on school premises or under the lawful control of school staff.

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 replaces previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act. A key provision is a new Public Sector Equality Duty, which came into force on 5 April 2011. It replaces the three previous public sector equality duties for race, disability and gender, and covers age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

The Duty has three aims. It requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to:

  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Act;
  • Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it;
  • Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.

Schools and all public sector organisations are required to comply with the new Equality Duty.

The Act also makes it unlawful for the responsible body of a school to discriminate against, harass or victimise a pupil or potential pupil in relation to admissions, the way it provides education for pupils, provision of pupil access to any benefit, facility or service, or by excluding a pupil or subjecting them to any other detriment. In England and Wales the Act applies to all maintained and independent schools, including Academies and Free Schools, and maintained and non-maintained special schools.

More information:


Human Rights Act (1998)

‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ (Article 3)

‘Everyone has the right of respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.’ (Article 8)

In October 2000 the Human Rights Act 1998 became law in the UK. This means that schools could have charges brought against them under the HRA 1998, if they allow the rights of children and young people that they work with to be breached through failing to take bullying seriously.

The National Association of Head Teachers has acknowledged this by adding to their guidelines on bullying that head teachers must ‘satisfy themselves’ that their school’s anti-bullying policy complies with the HRA 1998. Head teachers cannot do this without fully involving their teaching staff.

Schools, PRUs and all child and youth-orientated services have a legal, as well as a moral, imperative to treat bullying as a breach of human rights, and deal with it accordingly.

Safeguarding children and 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 suffer, significant harm’. Where this is the case, the school or organisation staff should report their concerns to their local authority children’s social care. Even where safeguarding is not considered to be an issue, schools and organisations 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.

Criminal law

Although bullying in itself is not a specific criminal offence in the UK, it is important to bear in mind that some types of harassing or threatening behaviour – or communications – could be a criminal offence, for example under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Malicious Communications Act 1988, the Communications Act 2003, and the Public Order Act 1986.

If staff feel that an offence may have been committed, they should seek assistance from the police.

For example, under the Malicious Communications Act 1988, it is an offence for a person to send an electronic communication to another person with the intent to cause distress or anxiety or to send an electronic communication which conveys a message which is indecent or grossly offensive, a threat, or information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender.

Bullying outside school premises

Headteachers have a specific statutory power to discipline pupils for poor behaviour outside of the school premises. Section 89(5) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 gives headteachers the power to regulate pupils’ conduct when they are not on school premises and are not under the lawful control or charge of a member of school staff (N.B. this legislation does not apply to independent schools).

This can relate to any bullying incidents occurring anywhere off the school premises, such as on school or public transport, outside the local shops, or in a town or village centre.

Where bullying outside school is reported to school staff, it should be investigated and acted on. The headteacher should also consider whether it is appropriate to notify the police (or Anti-Social Behaviour Co-ordinator in their local authority) of the action taken against a pupil. If the misbehaviour could be criminal or poses a serious threat to a member of the public, the police should always be informed.

More information:

Safe From Bullying on School Journeys (PDF)