Cyber bullying is a serious risk to children – and their teachers

  • Cyber bullying affects thousands of children, and increasingly teachers are also being harassed
  • Too many headteachers are failing to take the risk to staff seriously
  • Poor risk management could lead to schools being held liable

Recent research for BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat, suggests that more than one in 10 teenagers in the UK – half a million children – have been bullied on mobiles or online.

Last year 12 children a day called the NSPCC Childline helpline with stories of cyber bullying – but it’s not just students that are being targeted.

Teaching staff are also being harassed by online attacks from students – and by parents.

A 2014 study by teaching union National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), found that 21% of teachers have received abuse on social media and online forums, with 64% of those questioned saying the abuse came from students, 27% from parents, and 9% from both students and parents.

The impact for both groups can be deeply traumatic and the NASUWT research revealed many worrying stories, including one teacher who was told by a parent just as she embarked on maternity leave: ‘My son will fail now because of you.’

Another found that a student had set up a Facebook page claiming the teacher wanted to kill him.

Facebook was the most commonly used medium for online abuse, along with the Rate My Teacher website and Twitter, although YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram have also been used.

“[Cyber bullying] follows you home, it follows you over the weekend, it doesn’t leave you alone,” says John Grounds, a director at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

Spreading rumours

Of course, head teachers cannot afford to allow this situation to continue, but evidence suggests that too many are failing to take firm action.

According to the NASUWT, 40% of teachers who reported online abuse to school management said that no action was taken against students, and 55% said no action was taken against parents.

Where abuse was reported to the police, more than three-quarters of teachers said no action was taken against either students or parents.

Head teachers need to understand that they face more than just a moral obligation to protect staff. Schools can be held vicariously liable – when a blameless employer is liable in law for the acts of the blameworthy employee or student – if a sufficient link to either student or teacher cyber bullying can be made to the workplace.

For example, the fact that abuse took place on school ICT facilities, during school time, on a school network, may be enough to bring a case.

For this reason it is essential that school leaders do all they can both to prevent abuse and to respond promptly and correctly to all allegations.

Dealing with the problem

Schools can do a great deal to demonstrate their commitment to stamping out cyber bulling, and improve their risk management – with good insurers able to offer essential help and advice on this ongoing defence.

Zurich Municipal advises its customers to take a whole-school approach that demonstrates clear leadership on the issue. Make sure students and staff know that bullying isn’t acceptable, how to identify it, and that there is a straightforward and effective way to report and log all incidents.

Above all, staff and students need to feel they will be listened to.

“Teachers are often traumatised by the attacks made on them through social media,” said Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT. “Schools need policies which prevent abuse and identify sanctions which will be taken against parents and pupils who abuse staff in this way.

“Schools should also be supporting staff in securing the removal of the offensive material from social media sites and encouraging the staff concerned to go to the police.”

Head teachers should also keep all relevant policies up to date, promote the positive use of technology and maintain a dynamic approach, re-evaluating progress through regular reviews.

With so much at stake there is no room for ambiguity. Everyone needs to know that bullying will not be tolerated – on or offline – and that our schools are safe places for staff and students.