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Supporting teachers to help students being bullied online

16th November 2020

Bullying in school is unfortunately an issue for most educators, and nowadays, that bullying takes place online too. As a result, teachers have to handle reports of bullying happening both in and out of the classroom. And, as we’re all spending more time online than ever before, online harms loom even larger.

At Impero, we talk a lot about safeguarding, so we’re naturally inclined to talk about bullying too. In anticipation of Anti-Bullying Week, we decided to conduct some initial research with our friends at Education Quizzes to ask children if they have ever been bullied on social media. Bearing in mind the age limit to have a social media account is 13, we were shocked to see that 16% of children aged 5-7 years old have indeed been bullied on such a platform.

Upon receiving this data, we investigated further. First, we spoke to 1,000 children aged 9-18, currently in education. One in five (20 percent) said they had been bullied online, and most of them (44 percent) said it happened between May and November 2020, during the lockdown. When asked where the bullying took place, Facebook ranked first (30 percent), although TikTok was the most cited platform for ten-year-olds (32 percent). Unsurprisingly, online bullying left them feeling depressed (52 percent), humiliated (46 percent), scared (42 percent), lonely (42 percent), and with some experiencing suicidal thoughts (12 percent). The research also explored other dangers that children are exposed to online – a third (30 percent) have witnessed cruelty to humans and animals online, followed by violence and distressing content (21 percent), explicit content (21 percent), and hate sites (17 percent).

Then, we spoke to 500 primary and secondary school teachers in the UK, and we were shocked to see the results. One in five (20 percent) teachers said they too had been bullied online, with younger teachers aged 21-24 being disproportionately targeted (44 percent). Nearly two-thirds (64%) said their students have been victims, and a fifth (20%) agreed there has been an increase in the volume of online bullying incidents reported to them since returning to school. When asked if they noticed any changes in the targeted student’s behaviour, teachers said they were quieter (59%), more withdrawn (53%) and even depressed (28%). Facebook was, once again, the most common platform that students told teachers bullying took place on.

To know that one in every five children and teachers have been subject to bullying and harassment online, especially during a time when we are all online more than ever before, is deeply worrying. Everyone in the education industry must come together to tackle this issue. You may have heard about the Online Harms bill, a proposed law based on a government white paper which outlines measures “to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.” It proposes measures to protect children from age-inappropriate content, make services more accountable and prevent children from signing up to services that are age-inappropriate for them. In short, it will help all of us feel safer online, with more stringent measures put in place.

Despite lobbying from the NSPCC and IWF, the minister for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has said she could not commit to bringing a draft of the bill to parliament until the end of 2021. The Chair of the Lord’s Democracy and Digital Committee, Lord Puttnam, has warned that it may not come into effect until 2023 or 2024.

There are over half a million full-time teachers in the UK, working alongside many others in the industry. If we come together, we could be a powerful force in persuading the government to push the Online Harms Bill through sooner. For that reason, we are urging everyone in the industry to sign petitions to help push the bill through. It is also worth highlighting the Stop, Speak, Support campaign from the NSPCCAnti-Bullying Alliance, and Diana Award, a resource for teachers that encourages children to think critically about what they see online and to speak out when necessary.

At Impero, we’ve been working hard to create the solutions teachers need to deliver safe and productive digital lessons. This week, we launched cloud-based classroom management software, Impero class:room, and keyword detection software, Impero well:being to support our safeguarding software, Impero back:drop. But we know that not all schools have the funds or resources to purchase new tools at the moment. That’s why we are launching the £1 million Hybrid Learning Support Grant, open to all schools and MATs across the UK. This fund will ensure the continuity of education and safeguarding for all children, helping teachers deliver high-quality lessons to those in the classroom and at home while protecting students online, no matter where they are learning. If your think your school could benefit from the fund, learn more about it here.

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