Respect for All: national approach to anti-bullying

The approach aims to build capacity, resilience and skills in children and young people to prevent and deal with bullying.

Section 1: Respect for All: The National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland's Children and Young People


Bullying behaviour impacts on children's and young people's wellbeing and can affect their participation, attainment and inclusion.

Respect for All aims to ensure that all sectors and communities, at a national and local level, are consistently and coherently contributing to a holistic approach to anti-bullying; regardless of the type of bullying. This includes an explicit commitment to addressing prejudice-based bullying.

Central to this, Respect for All is underpinned by the values of:

  • Fairness
  • Respect
  • Equality
  • Inclusion.

This will help ensure that children and young people feel safe and secure and are able to build up strong and positive relationships with peers and with adults. Effective leadership is key to developing a positive ethos and culture and ensuring the highest possible standards and expectations are shared across the organisation in order to ensure excellence and equity for all.

Throughout this document the term parent(s) will be used to apply to anyone with parental responsibility, including carer, those providing a foster or residential placement, or the local authority where full parental responsibility rests with them.

A shared vision

Bullying of any kind is unacceptable and must be addressed quickly. Bullying should never be seen as a typical part of growing up.

The challenge that faces Scotland is to prevent bullying. Our vision is that:

  • every child and young person in Scotland will grow up free from bullying and will develop respectful, responsible and confident relationships with other children, young people and adults;
  • children and young people and their parent(s), will have the skills and resilience to prevent and/or respond to bullying appropriately;
  • every child and young person who requires help will know who can help them and what support is available; and
  • adults working with children and young people will follow a consistent and coherent approach in dealing with and preventing bullying from Early Learning and Childcare onwards.

Who is this document for?

This document is for everyone involved in children's and young people's lives in Scotland.

We have the potential to make a positive impact on the emotional health and wellbeing of children and young people now and in their adult lives through effective anti-bullying approaches. Many professionals who play a role in the lives of children and young people will be governed by a set of professional standards. These include the Common Core of Skills, Knowledge and Understanding and Values for the 'Children's Workforce' in Scotland, The General Teaching Council for Scotland - Standards for Registration and Code of Professionalism and Conduct ( CoPAC) and The Scottish Social Services Council Codes of Practice and the Overarching Principals for the National Care Standards. The values and principles set out by the Standards Council for Community Learning and Development for Scotland are in step with this revised National Approach.

This diagram illustrates the range of roles that people can have in a child or young person's life:

diagram illustrates the range of roles that people can have in a child or young person's life

What does Respect for All aim to do?

Respect for All aims to provide an overarching framework and context for all anti-bullying work that is undertaken in Scotland. The approach aims to build capacity, resilience and skills in children and young people, and all those who play a role in their lives, to prevent and deal with bullying.

It is expected that local authorities and oganisations will develop their own anti-bullying policy and guidance, within the wider context of relationships and behaviour, based on Respect for All. It is expected that all individual schools, services or clubs should develop policies that reflect their organisational policy in consultation with children and young people and their parent(s) and teachers and coaches. The document equips all adults working with children and young people to develop environments where bullying cannot thrive. It aims to support the implementation of a consistent and cohesive approach to anti-bullying in Scotland and describes how we define bullying and how we approach effective anti-bullying work.

Respect for All aims to encourage a proactive and inclusive approach to anti-bullying policy and guidance development. This should involve children and young people and their parent(s) in the process.


Based on the legal and policy frameworks in Scotland, the principles of Respect for All are:

  • We will promote positive relationships and behaviours amongst all children and young people and adults around them
  • We respect the rights of children and young people as paramount
  • We will work together to develop a culture of mutual respect and responsibility amongst all children and young people and adults around them
  • We will seek to prevent and address bullying, through the development and implementation of effective anti-bullying policies and practices
  • We will address all aspects of prejudice in order to make sure all types of prejudice based bullying are treated with equal importance (including bullying based on the protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act 2010, for more information on the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty see Appendix 1)
  • We will support effective communication, including sharing relevant and proportionate information, where appropriate, in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and Human Rights Act 1998
  • We will seek to understand the experiences, and address the needs of children and young people, who are bullied as well as those who bully within a framework of respect, responsibility, resolution and support
  • We will share information where appropriate and work jointly to make sure we are co‑ordinated and cohesive in all that we do
  • We recognise bullying can have an adverse/detrimental effect on childhood development and we will try to ensure that every child and young person living in Scotland will have the same opportunities and an equal chance to succeed.

What do we mean by bullying?

Bullying is both behaviour and impact; the impact is on a person's capacity to feel in control of themselves. This is what we term as their sense of 'agency'. Bullying takes place in the context of relationships; it is behaviour that can make people feel hurt, threatened, frightened and left out. This behaviour happens face to face and online.

This behaviour can harm people physically or emotionally and, although the actual behaviour may not be repeated, the threat may be sustained over time, typically by actions, looks, messages, confrontations, physical interventions, or the fear of these.

This behaviour can include:

  • Being called names, teased, put down or threatened face to face/online
  • Being hit, tripped, pushed or kicked
  • Having belongings taken or damaged
  • Being ignored, left out or having rumours spread about you (face-to-face and/or online)
  • Sending abusive messages, pictures or images on social media, online gaming platforms or phone
  • Behaviour which makes people feel like they are not in control of themselves or their lives (face-to-face and/or online)
  • Being targeted because of who you are or who you are perceived to be (face to face and/or online).

Prejudice-based bullying

Bullying behaviour may be a result of prejudice that relates to perceived or actual differences. This can lead to behaviour and language that could manifest into racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia or transphobia or prejudice and discrimination towards disability or faith.

Prejudice-based bullying is when bullying behaviour is motivated by prejudice based on an individual's actual or perceived identity; it can be based on characteristics unique to a child or young person's identity or circumstance. For example, prejudice arising from socio-economic background or a child or young person's appearance. When developing national and local policy and practice, we must reflect this broader range of prejudices some of which are listed in Appendix 2. There is a need to address the root cause of prejudice as well as effectively respond to incidents as they arise in all settings.


Research [1] recommends that only by explicitly embedding consideration of all protected characteristics across learning will children, young people and the adults who work with them, have the language, understanding and confidence to respond to prejudice-based bullying effectively.

The Equality Act

The Equality Act 2010 supports progress on equality, particularly in relation to nine protected characteristics, which are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and civil partnership
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation.

Although the harassment provisions of the Equality Act 2010 do not protect pupils from harassment by other pupils, the Act creates a duty on public bodies to have due regard to the need to: eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation; advance equality of opportunity; and, to foster good relations between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and those who do not (known as the public sector equality duty). Bodies that are listed in the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012, which includes local and education authorities, have additional duties, including the requirement to: publish equality outcomes; assess policies; and, to publish relevant information in an accessible way. In practical terms this means that schools and other public authorities have an obligation to ensure that bullying by pupils that is related to a protected characteristic is treated with the same level of seriousness as any other form of bullying and that anti‑bullying and other relevant policies are assessed against the public sector equality duty.

" People have a right to be themselves and no one should deny them of that."
(Age 15, North Ayrshire)

Online bullying

Online bullying shouldn't be treated differently from face-to-face bullying. Online bullying, or 'cyberbullying' as it is often referred to on social networking sites and online gaming platforms. A person can be called names, threatened or have rumours spread about them and this can (like other behaviours) happen in person and online. We address online bullying effectively when we address it as part of our whole anti-bullying approach, not as a separate area of work or policy.

All policies and practice should therefore include advice on online bullying. Schools may wish to use the Guidance on Developing Policies to Promote the Safe and Responsible use of Mobile Technology in Schools [2] or the 360 Degree Safe e-safety self-review tool. [3]

In March 2017, Education Scotland published a revised set of Experiences & Outcomes and Benchmarks within the technologies area of Curriculum for Excellence. As a result, the curriculum framework now includes an explicit strand related to digital literacy which incorporates cyber resilience and internet safety. This provides an opportunity for all practitioners to incorporate learning around these issues into their lessons in all curricular areas.

When is it not bullying behaviour?

It is important for children and young people to discuss how they feel and help them develop resilience to manage their relationships. We know that children and young people will fall out and disagree with each other as they form and build relationships. This is a normal part of growing up and most children and young people have the ability to bounce back from this type of behaviour.

Early intervention and prevention are key elements of an approach focused on ensuring we get it right for all of our children and young people.

Responding to attempted bullying behaviour

Sometimes, attempts to bully can have no obvious or immediate effect. A person can attempt to bully someone using a range of behaviours but it may have no impact - in this case the person has not been bullied but the behaviour needs challenged and recorded appropriately and should not be ignored.

For example, the use of homophobic or other derogatory language, which may have no impact on the person it is aimed at, must still be challenged as the language itself is unacceptable and could impact on other people.

Some behaviour can be perceived as or assumed to be bullying. However, certain incidents can often be more serious and, in fact, criminal in nature. Understanding the individual circumstances is important to ensure that there is a clear distinction between bullying and criminal offences such as hate crime, child sexual exploitation and gender-based violence such as domestic abuse and sexual assault. For instance, when someone is coerced or pressurised to do something sexual or is touched inappropriately, this is not bullying, this is sexual assault or abuse and a form of gender-based violence. There are laws to protect children and young people from this very serious type of behaviour.

Bullying or Criminal Behaviour?

Some online behaviour may be illegal, and children and young people need to be made aware of the far-reaching consequences of posting inappropriate or harmful content online. In cases of sexual imagery, the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 [4] , criminalises the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. Similarly, hate crime is defined through the law as a crime motivated by malice or ill-will towards individuals because of their actual or perceived disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

There is no legal definition of bullying in Scotland and, as such, bullying is not a crime. Bullying can be motivated by prejudice similar to hate crime; the distinction is when a crime has taken place, such as assault, graffiti or a breach of the peace that has been motivated by prejudice. The Lord Advocate has issued guidelines about which category of offence will be reported to the Procurator Fiscal for consideration of prosecution. Children who do not come within these guidelines may be referred to the Children's Reporter or made subject to Police direct measures, depending on the circumstances. The Procurator Fiscal and the Children's Reporter discuss cases which are subject to joint referral and the Procurator Fiscal will decide where the case is best dealt with.

The presumption should be against criminalising children and young people wherever possible unless it is in the public interest.

Promoting the principles of inclusion amongst children and young people is key to preventing hate crime. Adults and children and young people can seek appropriate advice and guidance from Police Scotland if they feel a crime may have taken place.

Impact and outcomes of bullying

Bullying can have both long and short-term effects on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. There can be no doubt that being bullied is traumatic for the individual and is, therefore, likely to lead to a range of coping mechanisms and reactive behaviours.

" Every child should feel secure where they are and shouldn't be scared about being bullied."
(Age 12, West Lothian)

The impact of bullying behaviour can extend far beyond the individuals involved.

Bullying impacts on a person's capacity for self-management, their internal feelings of control, and their ability to take action. Their ability to take effective action is affected by someone else's behaviour. This is called a person's 'agency' ( Bullying affects individuals, families and relationships as well as a child's education and participation. A child that is bullied will not feel safe, included or respected and their wellbeing will be affected. A child that is bullied and those causing bullying, may have wellbeing needs and these needs should be assessed and supported using the eight indicators of wellbeing - Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected and Responsible, Included.

Children and young people living in Scotland will have the same opportunities and an equal chance to succeed. Bullying directly and indirectly affects childhood development and future potential.

Failure to prevent and address bullying can lead to poorer mental health and wellbeing in adolescence and also into adulthood (L Bowes 2015 [5] ). Good anti-bullying practices and policies impact positively on a school's or children's service's ethos and help children and young people feel more included and safe. They can also improve attendance and participation, build agency and promote resilience (Donnelly 2014 [6] , Kowalski et al. 2012 [7] ). More information around prevention can be found in Approaches to preventing bullying.

Is bullying an issue? The evidence base

In 2014, respect me, Scotland's Anti-bullying Service carried out research, Bullying in Scotland 2014 to obtain a picture of how children and young people were experiencing bullying in Scotland. This was the largest research on bullying carried out in Scotland. It gathered the views and experiences of around 8,000 children and young people aged between eight and 19 from all local authorities across Scotland. The findings from this research have been reflected throughout this guidance. Bullying in Scotland 2014 can be found at

The research indicated a large number of children and young people had been affected by bullying; 30% of children and young people had experienced bullying in 2013/14 and we know that the most prevalent type of bullying was face-to-face.

" Children have the right to live and grow without harm."
(Age 10, West Lothian)

Young people highlighted parent(s), friends and teachers as a source of support. In addition, the survey showed that the most successful ways to address bullying are those that create a positive school ethos and culture rather than only ever focusing on individual incidents as they occur.

Children and young people value having choices to make when they are experiencing bullying and they want adults to help them explore these choices, recognising there is no 'one size fits all' response. The info graphic below illustrates the key findings of the research:

  • A number of children & young people had more than one experience of bullying. Of these experiences
    • 60% took place in person
    • 21% took place both in person & online
    • 19% took place online only
  • Almost half (48%) of children and young people who are bullied tell their parent(s) 37% chose to tell friends
  • 91% of children bullied online knew who the person bullying them was
  • Children & young people tell us they use different strategies when being bullied at different times - not always the same response - they want choice
  • 81% of children and young people consider their online friends to be all or mostly the same friends they have in 'real' life
  • Name calling & hurtful comments are the two most common types of bullying for face-to-face & online bullying
  • Over 8,000 children & young people aged 8-19 from all 32 local authorities took part
  • 30% of children surveyed reported that they have experienced some sort of bullying between the start of school in August 2013 and June 2014
  • Children say the most successful anti-bullying interventions are embedded within a positive ethos and culture rather than focusing on individual incidents


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