Pupil voice: Is banter ever an excuse for bullying?

During this year’s Anti-Bullying Week, VotesForSchools conducted a vote with 36,235 young people in the UK on whether banter is an excuse for bullying.

Discussion around the difference between banter and bullying is one that has been ongoing for many years. It’s a question that we at the Anti-Bullying Alliance have been asked many times: when does playful ‘banter’ turn into something that crosses the line into potential bullying?

For this VoteTopic, voters who were 11 years or older were given the question “Is banter an excuse for bullying?”, and younger voters were asked “Can joking/banter be bullying?”. The results showed that:

  • 72.19% of Primary KS1 voters said Yes;
  • 72.71% of Primary KS2 voters said Yes;
  • 75.59% of Secondary voters said No; and,
  • 76.41% of 16+ & College voters said No.

When these percentages are broken down, there was a slight split in opinions from different genders within Secondary & 16+ College voters, where boys and young people who identify as ‘gender diverse’ were around 7% more likely to say that banter is an excuse for bullying. At Primary KS2, girls were 8% more likely to say that banter can be bullying, and in KS1 boys’ and girls’ results were almost exactly the same. Young people who identify as ‘gender diverse’ were also 85% more likely to say that banter can be bullying in KS2.

Everyone needs to choose their words kindly and wisely as it can really damage one's feelings. People should take time in their day to be kind to others.

Primary School

Banter is not bullying as it depends on how the person feels and how they take the comments. Most of the time bantering can be seen as a joke but sometimes the joke could turn in to bullying. Banter could turn too personal.

Primary School

"It’s just banter" is one of the most dangerous phrases out there. A lot of the time it’s used to excuse rude behaviour and, because it uses social pressure to mark you out as an outsider, a Rainer-on-parades, a tiresome downer on a good time who can’t take a joke, it’s VERY effective at shutting you up and making you feel small.

Secondary School

Part of a friendship is having a laugh with them and making fun of them. If it goes too far, they need to communicate this, and then apologies can be made, and we can move on.

Secondary School

The quotes above show that there were clearly many productive discussions that went on during this VoteTopic and throughout Anti-Bullying Week about the difference between banter and bullying. Martha Evans, Director of the Anti-Bullying Alliance said:

We should try to make sure that when we make jokes that they aren’t hurtful to others. Ask yourself if you’d find it funny if someone said it to you. Let’s all be aware if someone isn’t enjoying your ‘banter’. If you feel like someone is taking a joke too far, calmly let them know. Your responses to these questions are really inspiring and together we can draw a line between banter and bullying!

Martha Evans

Director, Anti-Bullying Alliance

You can find out more about banter and bullying in our tools and information section here.