Person using smartphone and laptop in a dark room

Cyberbullying in independent schools – How can you spot pupils harming or being harmed? 

Social media, chatrooms, emails, anonymous websites, bait-out pages, even messages typed into word documents and deleted quickly in class; there are endless ways for cyberbullying to occur in school. 

The speed in which technology has been introduced to independent schools has been rapid. It is after all, crucial for schools to show that they are providing an innovative and interesting curriculum which improves learning outcomes and equips students for the future working environment. But how can you protect students from the varied platforms that can facilitate cyberbullying? 

Ping, beepbuzz.. there is no escape for a student that has been identified as the next victim. This exploitation of online space even allows for anonymous bullying to occur in which a victim is not able to identify who the perpetrator is. The UK seems to have a particular challenge with online bullying. A recent report published by the OECD found, 14% faced problems each week caused by “hurtful” material posted about pupils, compared with an international average of 2%” and 27% faced problems each week caused by pupils receiving “unwanted contact” online – in the form of cyber-bullying, compared with an international average of 3%”.

It’s important for Independent schools to ensure they do enough to tackle this growing problem, to reduce the impact it can have welfare and academic performance. 

Anti-bullying strategy

Independent schools must, by law, have an anti-bullying strategy in place and should consider how online bullying is incorporated within this strategy. Failure to do so could resort in a warning from the DfE or even school closure if action is not taken. A private school was warned by ISI inspectors this summer that: 

it does not identify the different responses required for behavioural concerns and safeguarding concerns, particularly with reference to bullying and peer-on-peer abuse and the potential danger stemming from the misuse of internet messaging”. 

This part of the report suggests the expectations of ISI inspectors that independent schools must tackle online issues within their anti-bullying strategy.  

The school were advised that they do not meet the Education Regulations 2014 (Independent School Standards) or National Minimum Standards for Boarding Schools 2015 and should take immediate action. 

Cyber-bullying 

Key factors you should consider when incorporating cyberbullying into your anti-bullying strategy are: 

  • It can be easily hidden. 
  • It can be anonymous. 
  • It can be wrongfully perceived.
  • It can be shared amongst large groups of peers very quickly. 
  • It can be very isolating for a victim. 
  • There is no time of day it switches off. 
  • It can be drawn out of context and inflated by other peers.
Spotting the signs 

It can be very difficult for teachers to spot the signs of online bullyingStudents can be very subtle and can perpetrate an act of online bullying in seconds. Research gathered by Smoothwall found that 98% of teachers rely on students to tell them if online bullying is taking place but only 5% of pupils questioned said that they would be able to tell a teacher. With many independent schools operating in long hours or boarding 24/7, students can find it particularly challenging to confide in anyone if they are being bullied. 

Digital Monitoring Software 

Digital monitoring can aid schools in tackling online bullying by identifying any student’s at risk or any student’s perpetrating harm. It works by analysing digital behaviour, both online and offline, including screen views or keywords typed. For example, if a student uses online chat, writes something in a word document, or sends a message across social mediaif the activity shows risk, it will capture and send an alert to the school’s Designated Safeguarding Lead. This alert will allow them to view the full context of why it was triggeredDigital monitoring does not capture all individual online activity. It only captures information that has identified risk, so as not to invade on student privacy. 

Risks to student welfare 

For some bullying victims, the impact it can have on them and their future can be life changing. Many students that are bullied may be affected by these adverse childhood experiences and develop secondary symptoms such as mental health problems including self-harm or suicidal thoughts further down the line. The journal of medical internet research released a study in April 2018 identifying a clear correlation between cybervictimization and self-harm or suicidal behaviors or between perpetrating cyberbullying and suicidal behaviors”. 

As parents pay vast fees for their children to attend private education, there’s a high expectation for schools to be equipped with the best possible solutions and methods for identifying and tackling cyberbullying effectively. By implementing an effective digital monitoring solution, schools can put parents minds at rest and express their confidence that should cyber-bullying occur, they can act and intervene before the issue escalates. 

To check that your online safety policies and implementation include best practice around online bullyingread our recent whitepaper, Achieving online safety excellence in the independent school environment. A best practice guide for school leaders and DSLs. 

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