Online bullying still primary safety concern

To mark Anti-Bullying Week, Ken Corish discusses why teachers still consider cyberbullying as the most important factor in e-safety

Bullying of any kind should be a whole-school issue, with the involvement of pupils, teachers and the wider community developing a productive and supportive network to deal with issues as they arise. With the increased use of technology, not only on personal devices outside of school but across the board within lessons, it is becoming increasingly important for teachers to take a leading role in educating children about the implications of their actions online. The prevalence of online communications has recently prompted Ofsted to include guidelines that focused specifically on the subject of online behaviour and appropriate teaching provision.

Online bullying is most frequently seen through social media sites, but can also be found on sharing websites or message boards. Behaviour can include malicious and insulting posts made anonymously or otherwise, sharing upsetting content directed at a particular individual, or posting unwanted photos to a wider network of peers.

Dealing with online bullying should be an integral part of teachers’ CPD, examining the multitude of technologies, applications and social media sites used by students. Understanding the ways in which students communicate online is vital, and as this is ever-changing (for example, raise your hand if you’ve ever encountered KiK YikYak or ooVoo), training should be conducted frequently to ensure that staff are not in the dark about how to interpret situations when they arise. This is less about understanding the technology; more about the behaviours and the resultant impact on well-being they engender. Staff must have a consistent and informed response to bullying issues that arise online and that the response is congruent with interventions already in place for physical behaviours.

‘Dealing with online bullying should be an integral part of teachers’ CPD, examining the multitude of technologies, applications and social media sites used by students’

A school should communicate its expectations of behaviour through clear and effective policy, with key messages being drip fed into the school culture. This should be bolstered by a code of good practice, written in a way to ensure pupil understanding to which, when they are old enough to appreciate its significance, they should commit.

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Safeguarding requires intelligence. It’s hard to keep children safe if we are not aware of issues when they arise. Having clear and effective reporting processes can help to keep on top of incidents and allow for classroom discussions to be tailored the individual issues of the school. This can take two forms: the first being active reporting, in which pupils, teachers and the school community can anonymously inform senior leaders or safety officers of incidents of bullying witnessed online. Passive reporting systems can also be established to monitor for mentions of the school or particular pupils online, flagging up issues to be addressed as and when they happen.

It’s important to remember that those who engage in bullying, whether online or offline, may have experienced the same treatment themselves. The London School of Economics’ EU Kids Online project found that around 60 per cent of bullies have been bullied themselves. When dealing with incidents, it’s crucial to consider the wellbeing of all the students involved, ensuring that any deeper issues are addressed in the process.

All of this feeds into a culture of digital literacy, in which students and teachers alike are well-versed in using technology and interacting online. Most experiences on the internet are enjoyable ones and students can benefit greatly from them, both socially and academically. The European Network ENABLE Project is an excellent example of enhancing young people’s awareness online, at the same time aiding their socio-emotional development. To keep the internet a space for positive interaction, it takes the effort of everyone involved and the best place to initiate these ideas is within schools.

Ken Corish is Online Safety Manager for SWGfL.

SWGfL BOOST is an award-winning online safety service for schools, providing an all-in-one service for monitoring, reporting and professional development. For more information visit: https://boost.swgfl.org.uk/   

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