Spotting the bully, online and off

It is often unhelpful to see online and offline bullying as different, says Mark Bentley

Do you think most teachers are aware of and can recognise cyber bullying threats? 

To start off, do teachers always know about and spot ‘non-cyber’ bullying? 

The tell-tale signs are the same, so it is often unhelpful to see online and offline bullying as different. HMI David Brown often stressed that he would like to see the term cyberbullying eradicated. He says that bullying is bullying and should be treated in the same way.

In 2015, we carried out the LGfL Online Safety Survey, and of the 14,000 responses, one in five young people reported that they had been bullied online; one in ten admitted to bullying others!

Whilst it is impossible to spot 100% of cases in our young people, it is crucial that we are prepared to do so, with proactive and reactive strategies and policies in place.

How can schools ensure that all staff receive appropriate online safety training?

Clear policies and processes need to be in place in each school, with annual refresher sessions held each year. The LGfL online-safety portal includes template policies and agreements based on the latest best-practice from the field; these can give schools a starter for ten when developing key documents.

If a school takes online-safety seriously, the lead member of staff (be that the Safeguarding Officer or dedicated Online-Safety Coordinator) will take part in external training each year (one example we offer is at and have the opportunities to cascade this knowledge to colleagues. But everyone needs to take responsibility for their own development in this area, and that is where all the materials to support teachers, school leaders and parents on come in handy.

Would you say that most children are now aware of potential online dangers? What can we do to highlight them further?

There are various suggestions that awareness of many issues is now at healthy highs The harder question to measure is to what extent do young people put ‘the rules’ into action.

There are no handy statistics for this, but returning to the LGfL Online Safety Survey: of those reporting they had been bullied through messages or pictures, 60 per cent had told someone about it (and of that number, 76% told a parent or carer). That is something that we must capitalise upon, ensuring that all adults working or living with young people are prepared for discussions.

How can we get children more involved in anti-bullying campaigns online and offline? 

Childnet’s excellent Digital Leaders’ Programme is a fantastic example of a pupil-led online safety programme that equips young people to be the drivers and shapers of the digital citizenship and online-safety training our young people need. I cannot recommend this scheme enough as a way for them to take ownership of their own education.

Can parents now also recognise the potential dangers? How can we educate and support parents with online safety?

Online-safety parent sessions have been the traditional approach to educating parents and carers.  However, we know it’s often the same few parents who attend these sessions. Given the prominence and rapid change of technology in our lives, online safety definitely requires a drip-feed approach to education, with regular and creative ideas to communicate to even those hard to reach families. That is where the ‘parental engagement’ section of is an invaluable source of materials to help equip parents.

Can teachers and parents realistically keep up with tech-savvy children, and therefore, protect them from cyberbullying threats? 

It is great and important that we know about what our young people are doing online, so it is good to keep up to speed with the latest app (when did you last send a Yo! or a Kik or open Yik Yak?).

But knowing that every day brings a new hit app to our children’s phones, it is a good job that actually, digital citizenship on any platform is based upon the same issues that underpin all social interactions:, and have done for hundreds of years: What is a friend? Who is my friend? What should I do if someone asks me to do something that makes me uncomfortable? Where can I go for help?

Mark Bentley is a member of the LGfL Safeguarding Board