Research suggests that around 16,000 young people aged 11-15 are absent from school at any one time due to bullying, and experts from the Anti-Bullying Alliance talk about how this year's Anti-Bullying Week (November 19-23) is concentrating on bullying being a barrier to achievement.

By Lisa Salmon

Bullying can make children miserable and ruin their childhood, but what may not be quite as apparent is that it can also have a lifetime of repercussions.

As this year's Anti-Bullying Week (November 19-23) approaches, the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) is stressing that bullying is a barrier to achievement through its theme 'We're better without bullying'.

The ABA is highlighting the fact that bullying limits achievement in many ways, leading to children missing school, failing exams, dropping out of sport, avoiding extra-curricular activities and thus limiting their life choices.

And as research suggests that 46% of children and young people have been bullied at school at some point, bullying is clearly affecting achievement on a huge scale.

The ABA national coordinator, Lauren Seager-Smith, points out that around 16,000 young people aged 11-15 are absent from school at any one time due to bullying.

"The number of young people who are truanting from school because of bullying is shocking," she says.

"The fact that 16,000 young people are out of school because of bullying has serious consequences in terms of long-term academic achievement and outcomes."

In addition, she says young people are downplaying their academic ability because of bullying after being targeted because of their intelligence.

Government surveys have shown that young bullying victims have significantly lower Key Stage 4 results, says Seager-Smith. The difference is the equivalent of bullied pupils achieving two GCSE grades lower than those who haven't been bullied.

But as well as this being linked to bullying victims missing school, it's been shown that bullying also affects children's ability to participate and concentrate in class, possibly due to them feeling intimidated, or worried about what might happen after school.

Studies suggest that bullying doesn't have to be severe to impact on the way youngsters feel and on their life, says Seager-Smith, who also points out that verbal bullying has greater long-term negative effects on mental health than more serious one-off bullying incidents.

"From that we can see that a negative culture where there's a lot of verbal bullying can have as much of a detrimental effect on wellbeing as more serious incidents, because it's creating a culture where young people feel unsafe."

While children from over-protective homes are more likely to be bullied, most bullying stems from difference, which can be a disability, race, religion, sexuality, special educational needs (SEN), etc. Sadly, eight out of 10 children with SEN or disabilities are severely bullied at school.

"The message to parents is to be vigilant," stresses Seager-Smith, "and know how to spot the signs if your child's being bullied.

"Be available, talk to your child, and reassure them that it's not their fault.

"The role of parents is to reinforce the message that all bullying is wrong and you don't have to accept it."

The ABA gives the following tips for parents to help spot the signs of bullying. Your child could:

:: Show signs of stress - being moody, silent or crying, or bullying a younger sibling or friend.

:: Make excuses to miss school, such as stomach complaints or headaches (or your child may be skipping school altogether).

:: Seem upset after using the internet or mobile, or change their behaviour - for example, no longer wanting to look at new text messages immediately - and be secretive and unwilling to talk about their online activities and phone use.

:: Be withdrawn.

:: Have more bruises or scrapes than usual.

:: Change their eating habits.

:: Have torn clothes, school things that are broken or missing, or have 'lost' money.

:: Sleep badly.

:: Wet the bed.

There could be other reasons for these signs, so parents should consider whether anything else could be bothering their child, or if changes in family life, such as a new baby or divorce, may be affecting their behaviour.

If your child is being bullied:

:: Don't panic - try to keep an open mind, and provide a quiet, calm place where they can talk about it.

:: Listen and reassure them that coming to you was the right thing to do, and try to find out how they're feeling, what's happened, when and where, though your primary aim should be to encourage, talk and listen.

:: Assure them that the bullying isn't their fault and that you and other family and friends are there to support them.

:: Find out what your child wants to happen: help them identify the choices available to them, the potential next steps, and the skills they may have to help solve the problems.

:: Discuss the situation with your child's school: the law requires all schools to have a behaviour policy which sets out the measures that will be taken to encourage good behaviour and respect for others and to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils.

:: For more information about bullying, visit Parents can get further advice and support through the Family Lives charity on 0808 800 2222.

Ask the expert

Q: "All the mums I know seem to be such good parents that I lie to them about how I look after my kids, just so I don'' seem useless. They seem so efficient compared to me - or could it be that I'm not the only one who lies about parenting?"

A: Sasha Miller, international managing editor of, says: "You're definitely not alone in feeling like this. We surveyed our community members recently, and found that more than half of mums said they felt the need to lie to other parents.

"And it's not just other parents that mums feel they have to bend the truth with - of the mums we spoke to, a third also admitted to lying to their midwife or health visitor in a bid to appear more virtuous than they really are. This is a particular shame - mums should feel they can trust healthcare professionals. If they can share their concerns and be honest, they'll get much better support and care.

"Sadly, it seems that the pressure put on new mums to be perfect means many women feel they can't be open about what being a mum's really like. We see images of celebrity mums looking glamorous, living in tidy houses or heading out with their perfectly behaved and suspiciously clean children. But for the rest of us, that's just not reality. Images like this set unrealistic expectations and create a culture where women feel they can't admit to some of the shortcuts they might take to cope.

"Our survey shows many of the mums you know are probably just as worried about this as you are. Next time you're catching up with one of your mummy friends, try speaking more openly about how you're feeling and you might be surprised at the reaction you get.

"The likelihood is they'll know exactly what you're talking about and be relieved to hear they aren't alone."

Off to bed

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