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6 key questions on school bullying swerved by Police Scotland

a hand using a mobile phone
Physical assaults and hate crimes can be reported to Police Scotland on 101.

Police Scotland have shared insight into how they work with schools to tackle bullying – but failed to directly answer six key questions we put to them on how the force deals with reports of bullying and physical assaults.

Our investigation has unearthed a culture of bullying in schools and communities across Tayside and Fife.

Local parents have shared harrowing tales of how their children have attempted suicide or developed eating disorders as a result of the ordeals they have experienced.

And parents told us they are unhappy with how bullying is tackled in schools, communities and online.

We have heard from the Scottish Government and local authorities on tackling bullying, particularly in a school setting.

To gain an insight into when these issues become a matter for the police rather than schools, we asked Police Scotland for advice on reporting bullying – especially when the bullying results in physical violence.

6 key questions on bullying

In the hope of speaking with a local officer tasked with combating bullying or cyber issues, we asked:

  • When would police get involved with a bullying incident that occurred at school – for example, if a parent called to report their teenager being physically attacked at school, would police respond to this or would it be a school issue despite being violent?
  • How would this change if it was a primary aged school child who was physically attacked?
  • Would police be able to help if the bullying is verbal rather than physical or online – how so? (i.e. hate crimes such as racial or LGBT bullying)
  • What advice is there for parents who are looking for support from Police Scotland when their child is being bullied?
  • What guidance is there for parents with children under the age of 12 who are being bullied but feel they can’t involve the police because the children are too young?
  • When bullying takes place in the community or online (outside of school) what would Police Scotland do?

We first asked for their response on the issue of bullying on January 26; however, we were told it was a matter for local authorities.

shadow of older pupil threatening younger pupil
Physical bullying is one of the most common forms in local schools. Photo by Shutterstock.

On the third attempt – almost two months later – when we posed the questions above Police Scotland responded on March 15 detailing how the force works with schools and other organisations however said police deal with situations on a case-by-case basis.

That includes working with schools on the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) programme which enables young people – including those at Beath High School – to safety challenge violent behaviour.

What have Police Scotland said?

Chief Inspector Ross Fitzgerald, local area commander in Tayside, said: “There are strong and supportive links between Police Scotland and a range of partners, including our local schools, which work effectively to keep children safe both in and out of school.

“These partnership arrangements seek to prioritise the most harmful issues facing local children in a collaborative way, and span across a wide variety of difficult issues.

“We understand that a collective preventative approach is best and we routinely work with local schools in the delivery of inputs designed for children of different ages, which most recently have focused on online safety, consent, drugs and alcohol, hate crime, violence and anti-social behaviour.

pupil pins younger pupil against wall while bullying
We asked Police Scotland to advise parents on how to report bullying as part of our six key questions. Photo by Shutterstock.

“Nationally, this approach is reflected in work such as the Mentors in Violence Prevention Programme, which is a mentoring run by Education Scotland in conjunction with our Scottish Violence Prevention Unit.

“This is a mentoring programme designed to increase the awareness of gender stereotypes, gender based violence, men’s violence and domestic abuse.

“The programme is being delivered in secondary schools across Tayside.

“Police Scotland will always robustly investigate reported crimes, ensuring vulnerable victims receive the most appropriate support from across our local partnerships.”

Anyone who witnesses bullying should report the incidents to a relevant authority, such as teachers, police or parents.

Scotland’s anti-bullying service RespectMe offers guidance for young people who are experiencing bullying and their parents and teachers.

If you feel like the bullying you witnessed at school or online was a hate crime, you can also report it to Police Scotland via 101.

Childline support young people with any worries they may experience, including mental health and bullying.

They can be contacted confidentially on 0800 11 11 or use their free 1-2-1 counselling service.

Read more from our bullying series

How pupils in schools like Beath High are challenging attitudes which underpin violence against women