Tech to stop bullying


Stephen Willoughby speaks from experience.

Bullying in any setting is hard to deal with. As someone who is both neurodivergent and left full-time education at the age of thirteen because of bullying, I am passionate about the wellbeing and mental health of young people. It can be more complex in a SEND setting. Disabled children and those with SEN are significantly more likely to experience bullying. Bullied children are also more likely to be excluded.

Some students have needs that require specialist approaches, especially if they struggle with social settings, warning signs and bullying reporting methods, and many instances  of bullying go unreported. There are issues with some of the traditional ways of handling safeguarding, which are particularly relevant to SEND students. We need to make it easier for young people to report a threat to their wellbeing, without fear of repercussions or a dismissive response. A safe, private space to report an issue, be it mental health, sexual harassment, bullying, home life or online safety, can help overcome fear of peers or mistrust of adults.

As well as anonymity, a reporting system should be easy to use, including by those with SEND. Many neurodivergent students are visual, literal thinkers, able to retain and present information more effectively with graphic images. Autistic children are often particularly attracted to screen-based technology, so we deploy technology to help them communicate something that may be complex and difficult to verbalise. Many young people are digital natives anyway, using technology for everything—payments, tickets, socialising, research, homework, dating. A tech approach means our anti-bullying approaches are relevant and familiar to them, giving them control and confidence in reporting issues.

■ Students at Bilton School, shortlisted for best use of tech.

A safeguarding platform which has a design to remove the barriers to reporting, through its comfortable user experience, and anonymous and confidential reporting options. It also means focusing on the context of why and where issues happen through interactive maps, locating areas in a young person’s life visually, so that they can report things confidently and adults can respond accordingly to prevent issues from escalating. Reporting options that include local communities, and not just the school, mean a young person can rank how safe they feel in different situations and report any issues in these contexts. Patterns can be spotted. The school, college or SEND lead can then offer the most appropriate and effective response and be more likely to intercept safeguarding issues before they escalate, helping to prevent future harm.

Dealing with bullying after the event has been the traditional approach for years. Speaking from experience, it is often ineffective—and can lead to complete withdrawal from an educational setting, as it did in my experience—or worse. By connecting the dots, mapping out all the hotspots and contexts where issues arise—in school and in the wider community—and using tech, we can give all young people the confidence to report an issue, and enable those in authority to start preventing problems before they arise.

I had to leave school early, but by using my own experiences and abilities, I have created an interactive tool that can help prevent bullying—hopefully helping children across the whole spectrum. Everyone deserves a good education and a happy, safe adolescence.

Stephen Willoughby
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Stephen Willoughby Managing Director of The Student Voice, a child-centred, preventative safeguarding solution.

X: @student_voice
Facebook: @studentvoicesafeguarding
LinkedIn: @the-student-voice


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