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Cyberbullying– How can your academies spot pupils harming others or being harmed?

No switch-off

Social media, chatrooms, emails, anonymous websites, bait-out pages, even secret messages typed and deleted quickly in class documents; there are endless ways for cyberbullying to occur in academies. It is imperative that students are protected from exposure to bullying.

Ping, click, pop-up, there is no escape for a student that has been identified as the next victim. This exploitation of the online space even allows for anonymous bullying to occur in which a victim is unable to identify who the perpetrator is.

The UK seems to have a particular challenge in 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 is essential that MATs make sure they do enough to tackle this issue so that student welfare, absence and academic performance is not affected.

Anti-bullying strategy

Ofsted inspectors will expect to see evidence of academies putting all measures in place to ensure students are protected from bullying.

Ofsted inspection guidance advises: “Leaders oversee the safe use of technology when children and learners are in their care and take action immediately if they are concerned about bullying or children’s well-being.”


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 as just banter.
  • It can be shared amongst large groups of peers very quickly.
  • Even if the original is deleted, overall it is very hard to undo.
  • 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 is very difficult for teachers to spot online bullying in schools. Students 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 want to confide in a teacher. That’s an alarming disconnect.

Digital Monitoring Software

Digital monitoring software can aid your academies in tackling online bullying effectively. It is a discrete system that has no impact on the operation of your MAT network. It can identify a student at risk or a student perpetrating harm. It operates by analysing digital behaviour including any words typed or any activity such as an internet search that suggests risk. It will cover any actions on a device so that if a student is messaging using online chat, writing something in a text document, or sending a social media message, if the content of the activity shows risk, it will record that moment and create an alert for a DSL. This will allow them to see the full context of an alert and what triggered the concern. It only records information that shows risk, any other activity is not recorded and so does not impinge on privacy.

Designed for MATS

Some digital monitoring solutions such as Smoothwall Monitor allows Trust leadership to see an overview of digital monitoring across all their academies. This secure log in can be accessed anytime, anywhere, and can be useful in identifying trends in behaviour so that MAT wide and academy issues can be uncovered.

Risks to student welfare

There is good reason for academies to tackle bullying effectively. The impact it can have on the future of a bullying victim can be life changing. Many students who 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. 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”.

To check that your MAT online safety policies and procedures include best practice in online bullying, download our. new white paper – ‘How to achieve Digital Safety excellence across a Multi-Academy Trust’.

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