Bullying in schools


There are rules regarding bullying between students at primary and post-primary schools. These are set down in procedures (but not law) issued by the Department of Education. The following sets out the rules about bullying in schools and the rights of pupils and parents where bullying occurs.

In September 2013 the Department published Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools (pdf) – see below. The procedures include the requirement that all schools should have an anti-bullying policy within the framework of their overall code of behaviour. These procedures replace the 1993 Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour in Primary and Post Primary Schools (pdf) - see below.

The Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children (pdf) states that bullying in schools is a particular problem due to the fact that children spend a significant portion of their time there and are in large social groups. In the first instance, the school authorities are responsible for dealing with such bullying. In cases of serious instances of bullying where the behaviour is regarded as possibly abusive it must be reported to Tusla or the Garda.

What is bullying?

Bullying is defined by the Department of Education guidelines as unwanted negative behaviour, verbal, psychological or physical, conducted by an individual or group against another person (or persons) and which is repeated over time. Placing a once-off offensive or hurtful public message, image or statement on a social network site or other public forum where that message, image or statement can be viewed and/or repeated by other people is also regarded as bullying behaviour.

Bullying can occur at any age, in any environment, and can be long or short-term.


Cyberbullying is bullying through the internet or mobile phone, often through social networking sites used by young people. A booklet GET WITH IT! A guide to cyberbullying (pdf) has been produced as a joint initiative between the Office for Internet Safety, the National Centre for Technology in Education and Barnardos. The booklet is intended to increase awareness of all aspects of cyberbullying including how to identify it and how to prevent it.

Effects of bullying

Many children who are being bullied are afraid to speak out. They are scared of reprisals if they tell someone. Reports have shown that as young people grow older, they are less likely to tell someone. They become more and more isolated, experience depression and, in extreme cases, can harm themselves or attempt suicide.

Signs of bullying

  • Fear of going to school
  • Poor or deteriorating schoolwork, inability to concentrate
  • Withdrawn behaviour
  • Depression
  • Loss of confidence
  • Reluctance to go out
  • Shortage of money
  • Torn clothes, broken glasses, missing schoolbooks
  • Repeated signs of bruising and injuries

Why do people bully?

Very often, bullies are themselves suffering from low self-esteem and lack of confidence. They may suffer violence at home. In other cases, they may be reacting to painful changes in their lives, for example, bereavement or divorce. They may want to seek attention or to appear in control. If you think your child might be a bully it is important to recognise this and help him or her to deal with it. You should talk to the class teacher about this bullying behaviour and how it could be changed.

Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools

The Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools (pdf) published by the Department of Education require that an anti-bullying policy should be part of the written code of behaviour in all schools. Each school must follow these procedures when developing its anti-bullying policy. The main elements of the procedures include:

  • Strong emphasis on the prevention of bullying behaviour through the fostering and development of a positive school culture and climate, based on inclusivity and respect and practical tips on how to achieve this
  • A school-wide approach to preventing and tackling bullying behaviour
  • All schools must adhere to the standard template for developing their anti-bullying policy
  • Schools must publish their anti-bullying policy on the school’s website and give it to the parents’ association
  • Making clear that the definition of bullying includes cyber-bullying and identity-based bullying (such as homophobic and racist bullying)
  • Clear procedures for investigating, recording and dealing with bullying
  • Oversight arrangements that involve the school principal reporting regularly to the Board of Management and a requirement for the Board to do an annual review of the school’s anti- bullying policy and its implementation

The Department’s Circular 0045/2013 (pdf) requires all schools to have developed and formally adopted an anti-bullying policy that complies with the above procedures by the end of the second term of the 2013/14 school year.

The Department of Education has also published guidelines for teachers on child abuse and bullying: Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools (pdf). These guidelines reflect the particular circumstances of primary and post-primary schools and are based on the recommendations of the 'Children First' report.

How is bullying stopped?

Intervention from adults is usually necessary. Bullying behaviour must be challenged or it will become regular and get worse. If you think someone is being bullied, you should provide opportunities for them to talk to you. It will take time, but if you send a clear message that bullying is unacceptable and does not have to continue, in time, the young person may trust you enough to tell. If you think your child is being bullied you should talk to the class teacher or the principal. If, for whatever reason, the matter cannot be resolved by the school staff, you may report the matter to the Chairperson of the school’s Board of Management for attention. The Board of Management is legally responsible for the day to day running of the school and has a duty of care to its school's students. The school’s Board of Management in turn is responsible to the school patron for the exercise of its duties under the Education Act 1998.

The Department of Education and Skills can advise you on how to proceed with a complaint. The Department of Education and Skills itself does not have any power to investigate complaints.

If you wish to report an allegation of bullying or child abuse to the Department, please contact the Parents’ and Learners’ Section - see 'Where to apply' below.

The Tackle Bullying website is a national website to prevent, intervene and resolve bullying and cyberbullying for young people, parents and teachers.

Where to apply

Parents’ and Learners’ Section, Schools' Division

Department of Education and Skills

Co. Westmeath

Tel: (090) 648 4099
Fax: (090) 648 4058
Page edited: 16 January 2018