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Dealing with cyberbullying

To support educational settings  develop effective strategies to understand, prevent and respond to cyberbullying Childnet (as part of the UK Safer Internet Center) have provided in depth guidance: Cyberbullying: Understand, Prevent and Respond Guidance for schools (November 2016). The guidance is designed to support schools in preventing and responding to cyberbullying and comprises of four main sections:

  • Understanding cyberbullying
  • Preventing cyberbullying
  • Responding to cyberbullying
  • Cyberbullying - supporting school staff.

The guidance can be viewed or downloaded as a complete document or in sections. The creation of the guidance been assisted by a range of experts in this area who formed part of an Advisory Board, as well as the voice of young people on this subject area. Childnet also included examples of good practice from schools regarding how they are preventing and responding to cyberbullying.

Other guidance which settings may find helpful when considering managing cyberbullying as a whole-school issue can be accessed below:

Older Guidance

Useful Links
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How should educational settings respond to cyberbullying concerns involving learners?
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1. Reassure
The first response should be to support the target and reassure them that they have done the right thing by reporting the bullying. Staff should advise them how to deal with bullying appropriately, for example how to block bullies or report the users. They should be instructed to keep evidence of cyberbullying by taking screen prints (including times, dates, names and locations if possible) or keeping messages. They should be made aware of the importance of not retaliating, and ensure they know how to access support (such as in school or via places such as Childline) if required.
The setting should  use existing pastoral systems and procedures to support the child(ren) involved and take action as identified in the anti-bullying policy; this may involve speaking with the child's parents/carers, or supporting them to do so themselves.

2. Respond
If possible, the setting should identify the bully; in many cases it will be someone known to the learner. If so, the setting should discuss the concern with them directly (with appropriate evidence if possible). The setting should take action and instigate sanctions, in accordance with the relevant policies (for example anti-bullying and behaviour); this is likely to include speaking directly with their parents and carers, and discussing appropriate sanctions or action to be taken both at home and in the setting.
The setting should also consider how to change the behaviour/attitude of the bully with the use of sanctions, education, restorative justice and support etc. as appropriate.  The incident (including action taken) should be logged and recorded in the anti-bullying and/or child protection records.

3. Remove/Report
The setting should take action to try and remove the content, and contact service providers/ Local Authority/Police where relevant. It should be noted that some cases the quickest way to have content removed is for the person who posted it to remove it; some service providers will only remove content which breaches the sites terms and conditions.
If an criminal offence has been committed, the setting should seek assistance from the police via 101. If it is an emergency (if someone is injured, in danger or there is a risk to someone's life) contact 999.

4. Re-evaluate
Following any cyberbullying concerns, settings should revisit and revisit their policies,  procedures and education approaches to identify if alternative action could be taken or implemented to prevent a future occurrence.

Following a specific cyberbullying concern, settings will need to consider if there is a wider systemic issue for a cohort. Whilst implementing  lessons and assemblies in response to a cyberbullying concern can demonstrate a clear message to learners that the setting will not tolerate bullying behaviour, it may not always result in a long term behaviour change, no matter how “hard hitting” it is. Additionally if there is a focus on shock or scare tactics, rather than practical and realistic advice, this approach can frighten learners and this may prevent them reporting concerns in the future.

If an incident only involves a small number of learners, settings may may find that an approach with 1:1 or small group work (such as restorative justice) may be a more successful option. Often there will be underlying issues regarding online bullying, such as helping children manage peer relationships and developing resilience. In some cases, online safety specific advice isn’t always required, and indeed is unlikely to be successful in the long run unless underlying relationship issues are explored and, where possible, resolved.

If felt to be appropriate by the setting, potentially useful resources to use with learners can be found on the classroom materials page.

What should educational settings do to prevent cyberbullying?
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Educational settings should ensure there is a coordinated approach to bullying, including online bullying, so that all incidents are seen to be taken seriously.

Recommended approaches for preventing and tackling cyberbullying are:

  • Explicitly include cyberbullying in the setting behaviour and anti-bullying policies and ensure that appropriate sanctions are put in place and communicated to the whole community.
  • Ensure that the setting has an up-to-date online safety policy in place and that the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL)  works alongside other key members of staff.
  • Have clear Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) which state the rules and expectations for all members of the community regarding online behaviour and ensure that they are understood and respected by staff, children and parents/carers.
  • Ensure that all members of staff understand what cyberbullying means, the different methods in which it can take place, the impact on those targeted and the settings policies and procedures.
  • Ensuring that staff are actively engaged in the online world and are role modelling positive online behaviour and communication.
  • Leadership staffs should ensure that they are aware of and managing the settings online reputation and consider ways in which to prevent concerns.
  • Leaders and managers should be aware of how to respond to online bullying issues, including where staff are the victims of online harassment.
  • All staff should encourage children, young people, staff and families to be aware of their responsibilities in ensuring they use technology safely and responsibly.
  • All staff should educate children how to keep themselves safe online, including responding to cyberbullying, by establishing an embedded and progressive online safety curriculum, which is supported with a range of approaches such as through displays, assemblies, peer support and the school/student council.
  • Engage with parents/carers about how they can help protect their children online.
  • Use a variety of techniques to resolve the issues between those who bully and those who have been bullied.
  • Regularly canvas children and young people's views on the extent and nature of online bullying.
  • Have clear internal reporting procedures to support those targeted and publicise the details of helplines and support websites/services.
  • Challenge any behaviour or practice which does not uphold the values of tolerance, non-discrimination and respect towards others online.
  • Proactively gather and record concerns and intelligence about bullying incidents and issues so as to effectively develop strategies to prevent bullying from occurring.
  • Ensure that the complaints procedure is shared with all members of the community regularly and implement a range of routes to encourage children and their parents to raise concerns directly with the setting, for example, ensuring a senior member of staff is available on the gate at morning / afternoon pick up time, using dedicated email accounts for reporting issues.

Key advice for children and young people on how to deal with cyberbullying
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  • Always respect others on and offline - think about what you say online and what images you send/post; be aware that online messages can easily be misunderstood.
  • Remember that anything you publish online can be made public very quickly and you will never be sure who may have seen it. Once something is posted, you can lose control of who sees it and where it may end up.
  • Treat your password like a toothbrush; never share it with anyone and only give your personal information like mobile phone number or email address to trusted friends. Be careful to log out of sites and apps if you share your device with others.
  • Learn how to block or report online bullies or anyone behaving badly and don't retaliate or reply to nasty messages! This is usually what the bullies are trying to get you to do. Remember that if you reply with a nasty or unkind comment then it could get you into trouble too.
  • Always make sure that you save evidence of cyberbullying by saving or printing out text messages, online conversation and pictures. Try and include as much information as possible, such as web addresses (URLs), contact numbers, user names, times, dates, locations.
  • Always make sure you tell someone if you are being bullied online:
    • an adult you trust or contact someone like Childline
    • The website, app or mobile phone provider  where the bullying is taking place
    • If a crime has been committed or someone is at risk of harm, contact the police
  • If you see cyberbullying going on, then support the victim and REPORT it to the website or your school. Don't be a bystander and say nothing, otherwise you become part of the problem.

Key advice for parents and carers on how to deal with cyberbullying
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  • Talk to your child and understand how they are using the internet and their phone.
  • Use safety tools and parental controls - if you're not sure how, contact your service provider but please note that these tools are not always 100% effective.
  • Be alert to your child being upset after using the internet/phones - they may be secretive, change relationships with friends. But be aware that your child is just as likely to be a bully as to be a target.
  • Role model positive online behaviour for your child. It's important that they know how to act safely and responsibly online and are aware of what content is acceptable and unacceptable to post or share.
  • If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, remember, it's not their fault so removing the technology or banning them from websites could make them less likely to speak to you in the future if they experience a problem.
  • Remind your child not to retaliate to any cyberbullying.
  • Work with the school to resolve the issue if other pupils are involved.
  • Keep any evidence of cyberbullying e.g. emails, online conversations, texts, screen prints of sites/chat messages - try and include time/dates and even locations etc. where possible.
  • Report cyberbullying immediately:
    • Contact the service provider (e.g. the website, gaming site or mobile phone company) to report the user and if possible to remove the content
    • If the bullying is being perpetrated by other pupils then contact the school so they can take action in accordance with their anti-bullying and behaviour policies.
    • If the bullying is serious and a potential criminal offence has been committed then consider contacting the police.

How should educational settings respond to cyberbullying concerns involving staff?
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Childnet and the DfE have guidance relating to these concerns.

KCC has produced specific guidance for schools, nurseries and settings to help them when dealing with complaints or issues raised on social networking sites .This guidance has been written to enable education setting leaders to respond to an often difficult and complex issue with a clear understanding of potential implications, supported by realistic expectations of outcomes and to develop a consistent and appropriate response to try to ensure that positive relationships are maintained.

Kent education settings leadership staff may also wish to contact the following places for advice regarding specific concerns relating to complaints or issues on social media sites:

Key advice to share with staff to help protect them from cyberbullying
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  • Keep all passwords and login details secret from pupils, friends, family and colleagues and make sure you understand how to secure any websites or social networking services.
  • Always think carefully before you post - don't post any information (photos, videos and comments) online that you wouldn't want employers, colleagues, pupils or parents to see.
  • Keep any personal devices such as mobile phones secure (possibly switched off) whilst on school premises. Make sure you understand how your device works and which features could make you vulnerable (e.g. keep your Bluetooth switched off or hidden).
    • Be aware that just because your profile is set to "private" or "friends only", it doesn't mean that someone else can't copy or share it without your knowledge.
  • Manage your digital reputation. Always consider if content posted online could bring you, your school or someone else's reputation into disrepute.
    • The teachers standards is clear in the expectation that teachers will not bring the profession or institution into disrepute and this includes online behaviour. Posting something unsafe, inappropriate, obscene or threatening online could lead to criminal, civil and/or disciplinary action.
  • All members of staff are strongly recommended not to add or friend pupils (past or present) or their parents/carers on any personal social networking accounts. Discuss any issues or exceptions with this (for example any pre-existing relationships) with the DSL or the headteacher/manager.
    • Keep all personal information (phone numbers, email addresses, locations) private.
    • Do not use your own personal devices or personal social networking profiles to contact pupils or parents/carers. Communication with pupils/families and colleagues should always be professional and be transparent and open to scrutiny and should therefore take place via official school communication channels or using official school equipment.
  • Ensure that the school's rules and policies regarding the use of technologies by pupils and staff are enforced. Make sure you read and understand the schools online safety policy and procedures.
  • Always report any incidents of online bullying witnessed, either of yourself or other staff members, to the designated member of staff and/or website/service provider where bullying took place if appropriate, in a timely manner.
    • Do not personally retaliate to any incidents which involve yourself or other members of staff.
    • Make sure you save and keep any evidence of bullying e.g. screen prints to show to your line manager and/or the police. Where possible record times, dates and user names.
    • Check with your union to see if they offer any guidance or support about online bullying and professional behaviour online.

Staff and leaders working in Kent schools and settings can access specific support and advice regarding online bullying via the Education Safeguarding Service or via the Professional Online Safety Helpline