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How should schools respond to cyberbullying?

We hear from two edtech experts on the practical steps schools can take to address incidents of cyberbullying and other online harms...

  • How should schools respond to cyberbullying?

Karl Bartlam

Computing teacher at Watling Academy in Milton Keynes and computing hub lead for the National Centre for Computing Education

The most important thing is to be upfront with young people and to not shy away from certain topics. For instance, sexting and its consequences is one of the subjects we cover in Y7. It’s a tough area to talk about, but the children need to know about it so that they don’t do it.

We run an anti-bullying campaign called ABC, which encourages pupils to email an address displayed on classroom posters with details of any issues they may be facing. These are picked up by our pastoral team, who will then support the child in question and take action against any perpetrators of bullying.

We also run e-safety lessons near the start of the year in our computing and wellbeing classes, and show videos produced by the National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command. The videos show how serious this type of abuse is and how pupils can deal with it.
I recommend to parents that they talk to their children about ways of staying safe online, perhaps consider turning the internet off at night when youngsters are going to sleep and apply parental controls to certain apps.

To me, it seems the issue of online safety has got worse over the last few years – especially around the subject of sexual harassment, which has been quite a horrible thing to see in the press. We’ve been following this up in school, ensuring our safeguarding training for all staff is up to date.

Our training emphasises that if a pupil discloses something to us, as teachers we can’t keep it to ourselves and must refer the details to our safeguarding officer. It’s important that students know there are consequences and punishments for online bullying, just as there are for any other type of bullying in the real world.

Sara Trickey

Head of faculty for computer science, business and media studies at a school in the East of England and board member of Computing at School

Cyberbullying will usually involve comments on social media and unsolicited mean or unkind words. It can become persistent and intrusive, however, and sometimes encompass the sending of unsolicited images, links to questionable files and videos of inappropriate material.

It often takes place on Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Discord and sometimes via Twitter. It can also occur on gaming platforms, such as the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live. It’s less common on Facebook these days, since the platform isn’t as popular among young people.

My advice for fellow teachers and parents is to try and keep up to date as best you can with the latest platforms that young people are using, and how and what they’re using them for – ideally while showing them how to use said services’ account settings in order to stay safe.

We organise regular PSHE lessons and talk to our students about online safety often. It’s built into the computer science curriculum and frequently discussed during tutor time. If a child discloses to us that something’s happened, then we’ll promptly make sure that a note is entered into the school’s reporting system, which in turn goes into a wider bank to help build a picture of what’s going on in the young person’s life.

We’ll monitor both perpetrators and victims, since quite often the bullies will have been bullied themselves.

Spotting cyberbullying is mostly a case of keeping your ear to the ground. We have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bullying; if and when it occurs, students will be spoken to about the severity of their actions and have the implications of their behaviour very clearly explained to them.

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