By Paul Evans, Managing Director of Redstor.
A recent poll of over 2,000 children found that 35% of 11-17 year olds have experienced some form of cyber-bullying with a further 40% having witnessed others being picked on, online. Cyber-bullying has become a notorious problem for children and in early 2014, the Department for Education laid out new statutory guidelines named 'keeping children safe in education', for education institutions in England on how to keep children safer online.
However, has this been enough to protect children from cyber-bullying? The chairman of the House of Commons' Education Select Committee, Graham Stuart, recently said that schools in England are failing to tackle cyber-bullying and says that more needs to be done to teach children about online abuse on social media sites, the dangers of online abuse and internet trolling.
Perhaps more worryingly, the BBC recently reported that Ofsted found that councils aren't doing enough to protect vulnerable children from an increased risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. The report, titled 'The sexual exploitation of children: it couldn't happen here, could it?', found that local authorities weren't investigating cases close enough and were often inconsistent with how they handled them. This suggests that the problem goes far beyond the playground but it is a place to start.
Technology has drastically changed the school learning environment as schools are heavily relying on technology as an educational tool. This could, however, expose students to online risks and if they aren't monitored correctly or taught about the risks, then they could end up being a victim of cyber-bullying.
Cyber-bullying can have damaging effects on those on the receiving end as more than half of all victims admitted that they felt that it has affected their emotional and mental welfare. Cyber-bullying differs from traditional bullying as it can take many forms, ranging from threatening and abusive emails, cyber-stalking and online harassment. Many victims spend most of their time online, so feel that they can't escape from it.
In January 2012, Ofsted recognised the importance of pupils' online welfare and put e-safety at the forefront of its inspection agenda. This has resulted in continued judgement of the effectiveness of school safeguarding against online "bullying and harassment". Some schools have already taken action to make e-safety a curriculum priority through raising awareness of the dangers of being online with students and parents and through proactive staff training.
Many schools have used a lockdown approach to ensuring e-safety, blocking sites which are deemed to be unsuitable and inappropriate. However, students with a bit of initiative always seem to be able to find ways around such systems and it can also result in some educational resources becoming blocked by the protocols that are put in place.
It is essential for schools to focus on safeguarding instead of censoring content and in order to do this, they need to adopt more advanced safeguarding systems which enable staff to monitor students online activities within school grounds. This procedure for safeguarding effectively allows teachers to educate students on inappropriate internet activities and to be able to identify and manage potential online dangers. Furthermore, with more and more pupils using mobile phones which are out of the control of the schools to access the internet and to communicate with their peers, the opportunity these advanced monitoring solutions provide to teachers to discuss safe online behaviour is to be welcomed and encouraged.
As parents and teachers, we spend so much time thinking about the safety of our children in the "real" world that we sometimes forget that right under our noses, our children are just one click away from some pretty unsavoury stuff on their phones and PCs in the virtual online world. It is therefore imperative that teachers and parents alike should make it a priority to encourage responsible online activity through appropriate education and ensuring they have in place monitoring tools which enable unhealthy activity to be spotted and addressed appropriately and proportionately to safeguard our children.