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Prejudice Based Bullying Guidance

In its 2012 report ‘No Place for Bullying’ Ofsted identified that, while teaching and support staff have receive high quality generic anti-bullying training, staff were neither well trained nor confident to respond to the different forms of bullying, including prejudice based bullying.

What is Prejudice Based Bullying?

Prejudice based bullying is repeated hurtful behaviour that exploits or abuses someone based on their actual or supposed membership of a vulnerable group or their support for such a group. The following protected characteristics identified in the Equality Act 2010 are particularly relevant in this context: age, disability, gender/sex, gender identity, race/ethnicity, religion and sexuality. These dimensions have legal protection because they expose individuals to particular vulnerabilities within our society and within our schools.

What is a Prejudice Based Incident?

Schools are increasingly and correctly concerned to prevent any escalation of hurtful or unkind behaviour to the point where it becomes bullying.  Individual incidents that reflect attitudes that suggest that one group is superior to another are prejudice based incidents. 

Prejudice focuses on the difference between ‘us’ and ‘the other’.  Any context where one person uses hurtful behaviour or language that communicates their superiority over someone else is likely to involve prejudice. Young children know the hurtfulness of words like ‘stupid’ and ‘thick’.  Their power is based on a prejudice within our society that it is better to intelligent than not to be.  The belief that clever people are better in some way than people who are not clever gives particular power to the words.  A child who uses this language to be hurtful but does not understand that it is a prejudice is not excused; but rather needs to be taught that it is hurtful, it is prejudice and it is unacceptable.

Schools are experienced in using the following definition for recording and responding to racist incidents: “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”.  The Police have for some years used this approach more broadly to apply across all areas of Hate Crime.  Under the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 it is important that schools provide consistency in their response to the protected characteristics. 

It is particularly helpful to broaden the definition already well established whereby a prejudiced incident is any incident which is perceived to be prejudice by the victim or any other person.  This definition is not a conclusion of what will come from any investigation, but it will ensure that such dimensions are properly recorded, investigated and responded to. Staff will need training to understand how to apply such a definition in practice and what it requires of them as professionals in recognising the different forms of prejudice.

Developing a Prevention Strategy

Important steps in a prevention strategy will be:

  • responding to any and all derogatory language
  • recording any and all derogatory language to inform monitoring of trends
  • a taught curriculum that expands young people’s understanding of and value for diversity, including
    • embedded representation of diverse groups across the curriculum
    • teaching about and against prejudice
    • identifying and challenging stereotypes
    • broadening the range of what is deemed ‘normal’
    • development of young people’s capacity for empathy

It is helpful to note that some language is inherently and always hurtful.  Responding to such language is straightforward.  Other words are perfectly acceptable if used positively and correctly, e.g. black, lesbian, gay, transsexual, woman and girl.  Misuse of these words to be negative is always unacceptable and young people need to learn that this is prejudice.  Words that individuals choose to describe their identity should be respected and never used to be negative or hurtful.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Individuals with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities are in the group that is most vulnerable to prejudice based hurtful behaviour and bullying across their whole lifetime.  Unlike other groups, their vulnerability does not reduce with age.
It is therefore very important to ensure that

  • individuals with learning difficulties and disabilities are taught strategies to protect themselves and remain resilient as part of a life strategy
  • the school curriculum is inclusive and represents people of diverse abilities, and those with physical and mental conditions as part of the natural diversity of our society. Pupils benefit from understanding the needs and difficulties of others. Aspects covered might include those with ADHD, Down’s syndrome, cancer, physical disfigurement, autism, aspergers and tourettes

Sexuality (Homophobia)

Stonewall data (The School Report 2012) emphasises the vulnerability of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) young people.

  • Homophobic bullying continues to be widespread in Britain’s schools.  More than half (55%) of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying
  • The use of homophobia language is endemic.  Almost all (99%) gay young people hear phrases like ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’ in school and 96% of gay pupils hear homophobic language such as ‘poof’ or ‘lezza’
  • Only half of gay pupils who experience homophobic bullying report that their schools say homophobic bullying is wrong and three in five say that teachers who witness the bullying never intervene

Such experiences lead young people who are LGB to change their future educational plans and to have increased their risk of suicide, self-harm and depression.
 
It is important to remember that anyone can be called ‘gay’, ‘lezza’ or one of the other myriad insults based on sexual orientation that young people are currently prone to using. Data from Hertfordshire’s schools in 2011 showed that 40% of junior aged and 85% of secondary aged pupils had themselves used ‘gay’ either to be hurtful or to say that something is rubbish.

Studies show that pupils are less likely to report both homophobic and sexualised bullying. This is partly about embarrassment and with homophobia partly about the fear of either being assumed to be or being ‘outed’ as LGB.  Responses to incidents should emphasise that all homophobia is unacceptable and that there is nothing wrong with being lesbian, gay or bisexual.  It is also vital to challenge the assumption that everyone is heterosexual unless otherwise stated and to establish a broader range of normal diversity.

A primary curriculum to prevent homophobia and promote LGB equality will include representation of different kinds of families during PSHE and Circle time sessions and in texts and resources across the curriculum (including families with same sex parents, other LGB family members and children who do not fit gender stereotypes).

Gender Identity and Reassignment (Transphobia)

Individuals who experience gender dysphoria – discomfort with their gender – find it very difficult to explore and express who they want to be. Hurtful use of language like ‘trannie’ is increasingly heard among young people.

The stereotyping of expectations of boys and girls and men and women feeds into the prejudice against transgender people.  It is not new, it is pervasive and it is strongly reinforced by the toy industry, the music industry, celebrity culture and the media. 

The ridiculing of boys who show any interest in what are seen as stereotypical girl activities, and vice versa, feeds this prejudice.  It is important that schools intervene to broaden young people’s understanding of gender identity, presenting it not as a binary but as a continuum.

Gender /Sex (Sexism)

Gender equality has been the focus of schools’ planning for many years and yet stereotypical assumptions about the interests and talents of boys and girls remain hard to move and double standards about expectations of boys’ and girls’ behaviour continue to be pervasive.

There is no evidence to show that hurtful sexualised language about girls, e.g. slag, slut and ‘ho’, is decreasing.  It is now sometimes presented as a norm in films, television programmes and in some forms of pop music. This gender prejudice is also very commonly perpetrated by girls themselves as well as by boys. The ridiculing of boys through gender and sexuality based name-calling is also commonplace (see Gender Identiy and Sexuality above). 

It is essential that schools address and prevent these forms of abuse as a key part of their PSHE, SRE and anti-bullying curriculum.  Sexist attitudes feeds into the perpetration of sexualised bullying and exploitative teenage relationships and should therefore be strongly and consistently challenged.

Race and Religion

There are many expressions of racial and religious prejudice ranging from a negative focus on physical differences through to disparagement of heritage and ethnicity and ridicule and hatred based on different culture and belief systems. Stereotyping of ethnic and religious groups supports racism and should always be challenged.

The following are examples of particular forms of racial and religious prejudice and the list is not exhaustive:


Anti-refugee prejudice
– The role of schools in supporting children whose families are seeking asylum or who are refugees is rendered more difficult by the negative coverage of these issues in sections of the media and by the refrain that all such people are a threat or are scroungers.

Anti-semitism – Europe’s oldest hatred continues to be influential and can be exacerbated by events elsewhere in the world.

Anti-Traveller prejudice – Such prejudice continues to be ‘respectable’ in many quarters and it is not assisted by media representations that focus on representing cultural difference rather than similarity and focus on presenting the ‘bizarre’.

Islamophobia – Anti-Muslim prejudice is strongly driven by misrepresentations of Islam as undifferentiated, static and intolerant.  The mistaken assumption that all Muslims are extremists is not uncommon among young people.

The curriculum can challenge racism and religious prejudice by presenting the diversity of all ethnic and religious groups, emphasising cultural similarities and teaching respect for difference.  An understanding both human rights and citizen’s responsibilities underpins this agenda.