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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Will my child be bullied? Things to consider when your child moves to high school

One of the things I hear from parents whose children are moving from primary to high school is the concern that their child will be bullied. This often has to do with the physical and social difference between the two environments as highlighted in a previous post. This includes fewer teachers to the number of students – which means less supervision, more freedom and responsibility.

What can we do?

Parents and schools can help protect children, and teach them to protect themselves, by knowing and/or developing appropriate policies and procedures, understanding bullying and helping children develop protective social networks.

Anti-bullying Standards and Policies

It is important that you explore these as they will
- define what is classified as bullying or harassment
- clarify how you and your child can report incidents of bullying
- clarify what actions can be taken in response to bullying

The Disability Standards for Education 2005

The Disability Standards for Education 2005 apply to all people with a disability involved in learning in the whole range of educational institutions Australia-wide. That is, they apply to children in pre-schools right up to University students. Part 8 of these Standards address harassment and victimisation.

It defines harassment as “an action taken in relation to the person’s disability that is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress the person” (p22). It states that the Standards of Part 8 are not just about ensuring students with a disability are not harassed, but also their “associates” – such as friends, family, teachers etc.

Under Part 8, all schools are required to have well publicised policies and codes of conduct that identify and prohibit harassment, as well as outlining procedures for reporting bullying and responding to it in a “fair, transparent and accountable” (p23) way.

The Standards also state that schools should be implementing programs and strategies to help prevent harassment.

The NSW Department of Education Anti-Bullying Plan for Schools

This document is relevant to all children in NSW Department of Education Schools, whether they have a disability or not. Similar guidelines should be available from all State and Territory Education Department Websites.

On pages 5 and 6 it defines bullying. This includes the statement that bullying is “intentional, repeated behaviour by an individual or group of individuals that causes distress, hurt or undue pressure” and involves “abuse of power.”

It is important to recognise that your child will have conflicts with peers that may cause them some distress, but may not be classified as bullying. These conflicts will require a different approach than bullying. If you are unsure about this, talk your child and to a school representative such as the Year Advisor or Head teacher for Welfare – or even a teacher who your child knows well. They can help you get all sides of the story – which is very important to any effective conflict management or bullying situation.

Another section of particular interest in this Plan is the responsibilities outlined for students, families, schools and teachers on pages 7 and 8. For students, it includes the responsibility to “behave appropriately, respecting individual differences and diversity.” This is important for two reasons. Firstly, because children who behave inappropriately have been shown to be at increased risk of bullying (Carter, 2006) – so we need to help them learn social skills that will help them avoid this. Secondly, if our children are behaving without respect, it is very hard to ask others to respect them. Thus it is much more difficult to protect them from bullying.

The Plan suggests that the responsibilities of parents and caregivers is to “be aware of the school Anti-bullying Plan and assist their children in understanding bullying behaviour” and “support their children in developing positive responses to incidents of bullying consistent with the school Anti-bullying Plan.

This means that there is one more policy you should be aware of – the school’s discipline or anti-bullying policy. As the Plan states, each school has a responsibility to “develop and Anti-bullying Plan through consultation with parents, caregivers, students and the community, which clearly identified both the behaviours that are unacceptable and the strategies for dealing with bullying in the classroom and playground. I will discuss an example below.

The Plan states the responsibility of teachers is to “respect and support students”, “model appropriate behaviour” and “respond in an appropriate and timely manner to incidents of bullying.”

For more information on all these things, visit and

It is also important to recognise that serious harassment outside the school jurisdiction will need to be dealt with by the police or other relevant authorities. You might want to visit

Cyber-bullying is another issue that can be difficult for a school to monitor. For advice and tips on how to help your child be safe, visit and

School Anti-bullying and/or Discipline policies: Some Examples

While there will be similarities between school policies, each will be unique to the setting and culture of the school. So make sure that you get a copy of your child’s chosen high school’s policy and keep it on hand throughout their school career.

Here are some school policies you can browse.

Set up protective networks

While children going to high school are usually expected to make their own friends, we can do things to help them establish protective social networks – especially if they have disabilities.

The first thing you might be able to do is get your child involved in a club or social activity they really enjoy outside school hours. This could be anything from a swimming club, dancing lessons, chess club, footy team, Scouts, Guides… anywhere they may meet children who share similar interests and who will be attending the same high school. Your local paper or neighbourhood centre might be able to help if you need ideas.

The second thing is that the school and parents can work together during the orientation process to set up a buddy system. Connecting your child with an older, responsible student will mean they have someone to go to if they don’t want to talk to adults but can’t deal with an issue on their own. Make sure these buddies keep in contact and re-contact over the long break before school starts. You might want to set up a pen-pal or email connection.

Another effective resource is siblings, or family friends, or older children your child knows outside of school. They can also become a protective factor for your child.

Observe and Communicate

Having open communication lines with family and at least one teacher will help to ensure any distressing incidents can be dealt with effectively. Families and schools also need to be communicating effectively, with a focus on the child, in order to maintain a safe environment for the child.

Because at high school a child no longer has one primary teacher, schools usually have a representative teacher responsible for supporting each grade. These are usually called Year Advisors. Make sure you know this person, and help your child get to know them as well.

Another person to look for in your school is the Head Teacher for Welfare or Special Education. This staff member will also be responsible for the social and emotional wellbeing of the school’s students.

But just a little note – it is important to first help children try to solve their own conflicts before getting involved.

What to teach your child:

Measor and Fleetham (2005) have written a great book on the transition to high school. It is well worth the read. However, I want to focus on discussing the 5 key steps they suggest your child learn to help them “beat the bullies” – see page 77.

Step 1 – Avoid confrontation and places where you would not be supervised by a teacher. Identify where is it safe to work and play.

Step 2 - Make friends and stay with them and others with whom you feel safe. Go and find them if you are feeling worried or anxious.

Step 3 – Have strategies to deal with bullying. Parents and teachers can use the Mind Matters program or the ideas on Bullying – No Way! to help children with this. But some basic strategies to teach your child might be:
- Walk away… if that doesn’t work
- Ask them, firmly but calmly, to stop … if that doesn’t work
- Find your friends, tell them what is happening so they can help you tell the person to stop… if that doesn’t work
- Tell a teacher, and identify a safe place where you can play until the issue is resolved.

Step 4 – Make sure you recognize when you must speak to an adult. Also, don’t be a bystander. If a friend is being bullied, walk away and tell a teacher.


Carter, B.B, Spencer, V.G. (2006). The Fear Factor: Bullying and Students with Disabilities. International Journal of Special Education, 21(1), p11-24.

Measor, L and Fleetham, M. (2006) Moving to Secondary School: Advice and activities to support transition. Hawker Brownlow: Victoria

I have also written a range of posts on bullying which you can find here or by searching for bullying on my blog.



Adelaide Dupont November 5, 2009 at 7:04 PM  

Thank you.

It is especially good to know that Australia has a Disability law that affects all students.

It is good about older students and the conflict strategies that you are outlining.

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