Smartphones and apps new bullying risk for schools

Tilden Watson says Anti-Bullying Week provided a good opportunity for schools to review their approach to tackling bullying

Whilst most schools have strategies in place to prevent bullying in and around school property, the rise of smartphones and apps poses new challenges.

According to Ofcom, four in ten five to 15-year-olds own a mobile phone and 27% of them use their phones to go online. It’s therefore no surprise that cyber bullying is on the rise. According to the latest Department for Education statistics on bullying, as many as one in ten pupils have experienced bullying online.

Rather than something discrete and distinct from schoolyard bullying, so-called ‘cyber-bullying’ can often be a precursor to, or an extension of, schoolyard bullying. As such, it’s just as important that schools include cyber-bullying in their anti-bullying policies and that leaders make it clear that bullying is unacceptable – whatever form it takes.

The most effective and sustainable way to prevent bullying in schools is to develop a shared set of values, beliefs and attitudes that do not just discourage bullying but also promote understanding between everyone at the school. 

A bullying prevention strategy can’t just be limited to pupils and teachers, and schools need to ensure that parents, non-teaching staff and governors are aware and supportive of any anti-bullying activities. An excellent way to engage everybody at a school on cyber-bullying is to set up an awareness campaign to improve understanding of what cyber-bullying is, and what steps pupils and teachers can take if they are affected. In addition to this, a school safety committee or task force led by a governor could be set up to implement and evaluate the school’s bullying prevention strategy and ensure that it stays relevant and effective. 

Moreover, a robust and confidential reporting system must be in place in all schools to encourage pupils affected by bullying to come forward. Teachers, non-teaching staff governors and parents should receive regular training on how to recognise and deal with incidents, including those of cyber-bullying, in accordance with the school’s anti-bullying policy. With this in mind, schools should keep track of young people’s continually evolving use of new technologies, and there should be an active effort to promote e-safety and digital literacy among pupils and teachers.

Cyber-bullying may be relatively unfamiliar territory for some schools, but it’s crucial that they learn to recognise it and take it seriously when it occurs, as an embedded part of their anti-bullying strategy. With the ongoing rise of smart phones, tablets and even smart watches, cyber-bullying isn’t going away anytime soon.

Tilden Watson is Head of Education, Zurich Municipal