Definition of Bullying

Bullying Forms & Types

Forms of Bullying

Bullying behaviour across all types of bullying can represent itself in a number of different forms. Children and young people can be bullied in ways that are:

Physical – by being punched, pushed or hurt; made to give up money or belongings; having property, clothes or belongings damaged; being forced to do something they don’t want to do.  

Verbal – by being teased in a nasty way; called gay (whether or not it’s true); insulted about their race, religion or culture; called names in other ways or having offensive comments directed at them.

Indirect – by having nasty stories told about then; being left out, ignored or excluded from groups.

Electronic / ‘cyberbullying’ – via text message; via instant messenger services and social network sites; via email; and via images or videos posted on the internet or spread via mobile phones. 

Types of Bullying

The term ‘prejudice-related’ bullying refers to a range of hurtful behaviour, physical or emotional or both, which causes someone to feel powerless, worthless, excluded or marginalised, and which is connected with prejudices around belonging, identity and equality in wider society – in particular, prejudices to do with:

  • ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds
  • gender
  • gender identity
  • sexual identity
  • special educational needs and disabilities

The above are defined by the Equality Act 2010 as ‘protected characteristics’ and children and young people can have or be perceived to have more than one ‘protected characteristic’ and as a result may be bullied because of a number of prejudices.

Schools are advised to log all incidents of racist, sexist, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic (HBT), faith- and disability-related bullying and report them on a regular basis (termly) on the PRIDE website:

This enables the local authority to monitor the occurrence of incidents and identify underlying trends in prejudice-related bullying so that appropriate and relevant training and support can be provided to schools. It is important to note that all incidents that are identified as potentially prejudice-related must be recorded, reported and investigated as such. The definition of a prejudice-related incident is derived from The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report (1999) definition of a racist incident: “. any incident which is perceived to be prejudice-related [racist] by the victim or any other person.”

In addition to prejudice-related bullying linked with one or more of the ‘protected characteristics’, children and young people can be made to feel worthless, excluded or marginalised because of other prejudices relating to their home life, for example in relation to issues of care, parental occupation, poverty and social class.

Bullying related to ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds

Racist or faith-based bullying is bullying based on a person’s ethnic background, colour, religion or cultural heritage. Some surveys and focus groups have found that a high proportion of bullied pupils have experienced racist or faith-based bullying. Recent political and social issues also appear to have been a factor in the rise in this type of bullying and harassment. There is research to support the suggestion that where Black and minority ethnic (BME) children experience bullying, it is more likely to be severe bullying. Moreover, bullying incidents can be a subset of the indirect and direct racist hostility which BME children, children of different faiths and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children can experience in a number of situations.

When racist or faith-based bullying takes place, the characteristics singled out not only apply to the individual child but also make reference to their family and more broadly their ethnic or faith community as a whole. Racist and cultural dimensions in bullying can be seen to heighten the negative impact on a child’s sense of identity, self- worth and self-esteem.

Bullying related to gender

Sexist and sexual bullying affects all genders. Sexist bullying is based on sexist attitudes that when expressed demean, intimidate or harm another person because of their sex or gender. Gender stereotyping can also have a negative impact on children and young people in that it can limit their aspirations and can make them feel they should not or cannot do certain things, e.g. ‘boys don’t do ballet’ or ‘girls can’t play football’.  Sexual bullying may be characterised by name calling, comments and overt “looks” about appearance, attractiveness and emerging puberty. In addition, uninvited touching, innuendos and propositions, pornographic imagery or graffiti may be used.

Bullying related to gender identity

Children and young people who do not conform to gender stereotypes or who do not identify with the binary construct of gender (i.e who identify as non-binary), those identifying as transgender or experiencing gender dysphoria (feeling that they belong to another gender or do not conform with the birth sex ascribed to them) can become targets of transphobic bullying. Gender identity is often confused with sexual identity and so children and young people who do not conform to their perceived gender can also be subjected to homophobic and biphobic bullying. For this reason, homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying are commonly linked together as ‘HBT’ bullying.

Bullying related to sexual identity or orientation

Homophobic and biphobic bullying involves the targeting of individuals on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation. Evidence of homophobic and biphobic bullying suggests that children and young people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual (or perceived to be) face a higher risk of victimisation than their peers. Homophobic and biphobic bullying is perhaps the form of bullying least likely to be self-reported, since disclosure carries risks not associated with other forms of bullying. The young person may not want to report bullying if it means “coming out” to teachers and parents before they are ready to.

Homophobic and biphobic bullying includes all forms of bullying but in particular it can include:

·         Verbal abuse - the regular use, consciously or unconsciously, of offensive and discriminatory language, particularly the widespread use of the term ‘gay’ in a negative context; biphobic abuse such as ‘don’t be greedy’ or ‘make your mind up’; also spreading rumours that cause an individual’s perceived sexual orientation to be ridiculed, questioned or insulted

·         Physical abuse – including hitting, punching, kicking, sexual assault and threatening behavior

·         Cyberbullying – using on-line spaces to spread rumours about someone or exclude them. Can also include text messaging, including video and picture messaging.   

Bullying related to special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)

Research shows that children and young people with SEN and disabilities are more at risk of bullying than their peers. Public bodies have new responsibilities to actively promote equality of opportunity for all disabled people and eliminate disability-related harassment.

Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, whether in mainstream or special schools, do not always have the levels of social confidence and competence and the robust friendship bonds that can protect against bullying. Where children with SEN and disabilities are themselves found to be bullying, in most cases (except those related to specific conditions) schools should expect the same standards of behaviour as those which apply to the rest of the school community, having made the reasonable adjustments necessary.

Bullying related to gifted and talented children and young people

Children and young people who are gifted and talented can be vulnerable to bullying. Their achievements, different interests and advanced abilities can set them apart from their peers and can lead to a sense of not ‘fitting in’ and feelings of isolation. Their talents and abilities may cause feelings of resentment and jealousy among their peers which may make them targets for bullying behaviour.        

Bullying related to appearance or health conditions

Those with health or visible medical conditions, such as eczema, may be more likely than their peers to become targets for bullying behaviour. Perceived physical limitations, such as size and weight, and other body image issues can result in bullying, and obvious signs of affluence (or lack of it), can also be exploited.

Bullying of young carers or looked after children or otherwise linked to home circumstances

Children and young people may be made vulnerable to bullying by the fact that they provide care to someone in their family with an illness, disability, mental health or substance misuse problem. Young carers may be taking on practical and emotional caring responsibilities that would normally be expected of an adult. Research has highlighted the difficulties young carers face, including risks of ill-health, stress and tiredness, especially when they care through the night. Many feel bullied or isolated. Children in care may also be vulnerable to bullying for a variety of reasons, such as their not living with their birth parents or because they have fallen behind in their studies. Some children and young people are heavily influenced by their communities or homes where bullying and abuse may be common. Some bullying at school may arise from trauma or instability at home related to issues of domestic violence or bereavement or from the experience of being part of a refugee family. Siblings of vulnerable children may themselves be the subject of bullying by association.