School boy looking sad on mobile phone at the bus stop

Self-harm in Independent Schools – How to spot the signs of risk

Current statistics

Self-harm has become a considerable problem with rates among children at a worrying high. The Children’s Society found 1 in 6 children self-harmed last year, with figures rising to 22% of 14-year-old girls compared to 9% of boys the same ageThese statistics only emphasise the importance for school leaders and teaching staff know to know how to spot the signs of self-harm, so that the issue can be identified at the earliest stage possible.

Causes of self-harm

There are many reasons for the rise in self-harm but pressures of academic achievement, bullying, stress, socialmedia and the recent glamorisation of suicide have all been cited as common factors.

Students are likely to feel more pressure to achieve in private schools. They are placed in an environment of high-quality facilities and expert teachers and expectations tend to be high. School fees have risen 65% in the last 10 years and many more parents have had to make sacrifices in order to fund their child’s education. This can lead to high expectations of academic achievement and long-term success placed on students. With strong emphasis also put on exam grades through league tables, schools also feel the pressure to ensure their students reach the maximum grades possibleThe reality is students can only reach the best of their ability and for some this may lead to feelings of inadequacy.

A study found that almost 1 in 3 suicides that take place in children under the age of 20 occur around exam time. This same study found that over 1 in 4 students had indicated thoughts of suicide leading up to their death.

Spotting the risks

It’s important for independent schools to be aware of any indications that a student may be at risk of self-harmHowever, spotting the signs in a busy classroom can be challenging. Some key signs to look out for include:

  • Unexplained injuries
  • Wearing excessive clothing even in the summer months
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Changes to weight
  • Eating small or excessive amounts at meal times
Digital monitoring

Another way in which independent schools can pick up signs a child may be at risk of self-harm is by monitoring their digital behaviour. Students may start to show signs that they might be developing a problem through digital activity including: 

  • Internet searches about self-harm and suicide
  • Discussions on online chat
  • Placing anonymous comments on websites
  • Looking at social media sites that glamorise self-harm and suicide
  • Expressing self-hate language in text documents

An effective digital monitoring set-up will send alerts to the school’s Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) if a student has shown any alarming signs of risk. Sometimes these alerts may even appear from concerned peers writing to each other or looking at ways to help a friend. When a DSL is alerted, they are able to intervene and place support measures in placeSometimes, alerts may be time-critical. An intelligent digital monitoring solution will work in real-time so that a DSL is informed immediately, allowing them to act fast.

With many DSL’s time-pressed, some may have concerns that if a child shows signs of being at immediate risk, they will not necessarily see the information in time. Digital monitoring solutions with a managed service allow DSLs to have peace of mind that they have added support, with safety experts constantly monitoring their system so that no risk concerns are missed, and they are informed in real-time when needed. Having a managed service option also saves the school’s DSL valuable time trawling through reports, as human and AI moderation removes any instances of false positives.

To review whether your online safety strategy meets best practice, read our white paper Achieving online excellence in the independent school environment. A best practice guide for School Leaders and DSLs.

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