Within schools, Anti-Bullying Week provides an opportunity to publicise anti-bullying resources, to ensure that teachers and students are aware of what to do if they find out someone is being bullied. Too often, young people don’t speak up for fear of embarrassing themselves, making the bullying worse, or because they feel that no one would be able to help. In an attempt to rectify this, websites like Childline and Anti-Bullying Alliance have released resources for children, parents or teachers to teach them how to minimise bullying and its effects.
Children and young adults are constantly ‘online’ with access to social media from the moment they wake to when they fall asleep, and the distinction between online and offline is becoming increasingly blurred. Schools often set work via online platforms, and students are encouraged to use online resources to further their learning. While the internet is an amazing tool for gaining information fast, children as young as six now have access to the latest devices and social media platforms, so are being exposed to the constant pressures and online bullying that can unfortunately come with it.
A 2016 survey by the Department for Education (DfE) found that 40% of young people reported that they had been bullied within the last year, and a 2017 Ofcom report suggests that one in eight young people have experienced cyber bullying. More people are being bullied online, yet “traditional” in-person bullying is still often the main focus when it comes to safeguarding and behaviour management. Online bullying is characterised by repetitive negative behaviour that is intended to make others feel upset, uncomfortable or unsafe via social media. The constant exposure to social media and instant messaging can mean that victims of online bullying are unable to “switch off”. Many will describe cyber bullying as an “invasion of privacy” as it feels as if the bully is constantly present, even within their own homes. This type of behaviour can impact various aspects of life, including educational performance and mental health.
The rise of online forums that allow pupils to post anonymously also means that people can post anti-social, targeted comments without repercussions. Mark Lehain, former CEO of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, suggests that ”phone-free school environments” can create safer and healthy learning atmospheres. Proponents of this approach believe that removing phones from a school environment can provide respite from what’s happening online, while encouraging students to communicate with each other rather than aimlessly looking at their phones. It may be through these healthy conversations that pupils feel comfortable enough to discuss what they are experiencing, share experiences and seek help.
Although there is no set way to prevent or eliminate bullying, education is a strong starting point. Generally, students who are considered to be “different” are the most likely to be the victims of bullying, due to their sexual orientation, race or academic ability. Indeed, the DfE’s latest survey on bullying in England suggests that pupils who receive extra help at school could be up to twice as likely to experience bullying. As part of the 2010 Equality Act, free schools must be able to demonstrate that pupils from different backgrounds and communities feel welcome. Educating and empowering children to embrace the differences between individuals can encourage diversity and tolerance within the school environment, preventing bullying as a result of ignorance. Odd Socks Day is an Anti-Bullying Week event for schools which celebrates everything that makes people unique, with all donations going to the Anti-Bullying Alliance.
It’s important that schools have a clear anti-bullying culture and procedures to ensure pupils’ safety, including online bullying. DfE guidance states that “by law, all state schools must have a behaviour policy in place that includes measures to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils.” A number of free schools, such as Khalsa Secondary Academy and Langley Park Primary Academy have a clear “zero tolerance policy” towards bullying. Khalsa has a tailored internet system that blocks social media, instant messaging and file sharing, creating a safer online learning environment. Langley Park has implemented a commendable behaviour management model, with safeguarding being noted as a particular strength of the school in its 2019 Ofsted report. Teachers are aware of what is going on in their students’ lives and as a result, students are well behaved and respectful of each other. Both schools have achieved happy and healthy working environments which support pupils’ mental health and academic attainment.
While there is only one week each year dedicated to anti-bullying, it’s important that healthy discussion of these issues takes place throughout the year. We must remain mindful that bullying, both online and in person, will affect a broad spectrum of children and their motivation to attend school and learn. All schools should be actively promoting healthy and safe working environments to allow children to exceed their potential.