Schools must be vigilant to ensure that the digital domain is not a safe haven for bullies
Cyber-bullying is any form of bullying that involves the use of mobile phones or the internet. According to the NSPCC, 38 per cent of young people have been affected by cyber-bullying, with abusive emails (26 per cent) and text messages (24 per cent) being the most common methods (Tarapdar and Kellett, 2011 – cited on NSPCC website at June 2013).
People get bullied for a variety of reasons, but those perceived as being different are often targeted. Students with a learning difficulty, for example, are significantly more likely to be bullied. They may also have more difficulty in communicating what has happened.
Schools have a responsibility to ensure that they provide all students with a means to communicate their concerns, ideally early on before the situation has escalated. In order to respond swiftly and appropriately, it is also important that staff are presented with the full picture, including who was involved, what action was taken and if the parents have been informed.
The most important thing that schools can do to prevent cyber-bullying is to constantly reiterate to students in assemblies and class discussions how they can report it. Many children are too embarrassed to report instances of bullying, so it is vital that they have a variety of ways to let the school know, so that something can be done.
If a student does experience cyber-bullying, he must speak to a teacher or adult and report it in the way he feels most comfortable. The student should remember to keep a copy of any abusive texts, emails, comments or messages that he receives and record the date and time they were sent.
Where does cyber-bullying happen?
Simply banning technology from school will not prevent cyber-bullying. Most cases take place out of school, yet they can impact very strongly on the school life of the pupils involved. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 (EIA 2006) gives headteachers the power “to such extent as is reasonable” to regulate the conduct of pupils when they are off-site or not under the control or charge of a member of staff. Schools should ensure that their anti-bullying policy is clear – that cyber-bullying will not go unpunished and that disciplinary action will be taken.
Once an incident has been reported, the school can activate its anti-bullying policy and, if necessary, contact the communications’ service provider to remove the messages or restrict an account. Facebook, for example has anti-bullying policies and will remove bullying content when made aware; it may even disable the account of anyone who bullies or attacks another.
Local authorities can also help support schools in their jurisdiction. Leicester City Council (LCC), for example, is very proactive in giving advice and support to schools to encourage young people to report incidents. It runs a number of awareness campaigns, including its anti-bullying awards to recognise schools that have policies for dealing with this issue.
Schools know that cyber-bullying happens and that students with SEN are more likely to be affected. Creating an atmosphere of openness and making it easy for students to report concerns about cyber-bullying, as well as emphasising that the school will take these reports seriously, will all help to reduce incidences.
Stephen Clarke is Managing Director of Contact Group, which provides mobile school to home and anti-bullying communication solutions: