Cyberbullying Guidance for Schools

Cyberbullying: Understand, Prevent, Respond

I’ve been privileged to work with Childnet International leading on national cyberbullying guidance under two very different governments in the UK. The original guidance blazed a trail as the first government supported work of its kind produced anywhere in the world. Cyberbullying, Safe To Learn was released in 2007, and followed by Cyberbullying: Supporting School Staff in 2009 – the first national cyberbullying guidance for school employees.

Co-funded by the European Union’s Connecting Europe Facility and the UK’s Government Equalities Office the new guidance, Cyberbullying: Understand, Prevent, Respond builds on the success and lessons learnt of the original work, and responds to changes in online abuse and young peoples experience of mobile, internet and gaming technologies.

The guidance is also critically informed by those working in schools (145 schools and organisations supporting schools took part in the research and consultation) and by the voices of young people. Five groups of young people from secondary schools in London, Manchester, and from the First Out group for young people, Leicester Lesbian Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre gave us their time and opinions. We learnt some very important lessons, and these were included the guidance, including a section on What Young People Have Told Us (& if you work with or know any young people, you should read this.).

Several people have asked me recently about the difference between the new guidance, and the guidance produced in 2007. There are several, not least that the new guidance is considerably shorter.

A key change, and one I am very proud of, is that discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes are addressed from the outset. The guidance opens:

Cyberbullying, or online bullying, can be defined as the use of technologies by an individual or by a group of people to deliberately and repeatedly upset someone else.

Cyberbullying is often linked to discrimination, including on the basis of gender, race, faith, sexual orientation, gender identity or special educational needs and disabilities. For example, girls report experiencing a higher incidence of cyberbullying than boys, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are more likely to experience bullying, including cyberbullying.

The guidance is also clear in terms of the responsibility for education providers to ensure learning communities are places that welcome and support all children and young people:

Bullying may also be, or felt to be, supported institutionally and culturally. Young people may be bullying within environments where respect for others, and treating others well, is not seen as important – or where disrespect and poor treatment is tolerated or encouraged. Individuals who do not conform to social norms may face discrimination within intolerant communities.

The guidance can be downloaded from Childnet, along with a range of practical resources including lesson plans and short films.

e-Safety: The Critical Agenda

I'm delighted to be curating the Digital Safety strand at Learning Without Frontiers, an international festival of learning and technology, taking place in London January 9th-11th. I very much hope to see some of you there, but if you can make it in person or not I hope you'll join in the discussions.

The first session, running from 9.45am – 10.45am on the 11th, is titled e-Safety: The Critical Agenda. The session gives some of the UK's foremost practitioners in the field of e-Safety an opportunity to propose and defend what they think are the most important issues facing e-safety research, policy and practice today.

Chaired by David White (senior manager, TALL, University of Oxford), the panel includes Will Gardner (CEO Childnet International), Sonia Livingstone (Head, Department of Media and Communications LSE) Annika Small, Director Nominet Trust. Each speaker will propose the two issues or topic areas they believe to be amongst the most important current e-safety concerns and defend their priorities. 

Everyone is welcome to join in and contribute to the debate. We'll be taking questions and discussion from 10.15, with comments and questions welcome via Twitter – the conference tag is #lwf11.

We'd also like you to vote! Please let us know what your top three e-safety priorities are – you can also submit your own e-safety priority area.

Voting will close at 11am on the 11th of January so that the results can be announced/posted at the start of the second session.

Here are the panels selections. You can vote from this post under the descriptions, or open the vote selections in a new window by clicking here.

Josie Fraser:

  • Address geolocation services

Geolocation services offer many interesting opportunities for learning and interacting.  However, they also raise some serious issues – about personal safety, about privacy, and about just how well we understand and manage service settings. Geolocation services can currently be considered emblematic of the lag between new and emerging technological practices and tools and public and educational policy and practice. Because of the seriousness of their potential misuse, we must prioritise ensuring both independent and service provider information about effectively managing risks is available to children, young people, parents and educators.

  • Network responsibility not just personal responsibility

e-Safety is often regarded as an issue of personal responsibility. However, unlike other safety issues, many areas of digital safety and cyberbullying characteristically take place within networks. We should focus on supporting the skills to operate successfully within networks – including taking responsibility for looking out for all members within those networks. This approach requires reviewing how we respect others digital identities and privacy, and how we negotiate issues of consent.

Will Gardner:

  • Parents and carers remain a priority 

There has been a lot of work aimed at parents particularly in the UK, including with the UK Council's Zip it, Block it, Flag it campaign, Childnet’s Know IT All for Parents, as well as a range of other initiatives and information, including from service providers. Yet this need is a continual one as parents and carers continue to have a key role.

  • Increase the trust and transparency in reporting to service providers.

Research shows that reporting to service providers by young people is currently not high. In the social networking world, where moderation provided by service providers is limited and a reliance is put on the user community to self-moderate, it is vital that the reporting process becomes as transparent as possible.

Sonia Livingstone

  • Reaching younger children

The age at which children first go online, and use social media sites and services, is decreasing. This raises new challengers for educators and parents to find appropriate ways to discuss issues such as sexuality, pornography, violence and drugs that, previously we’ve hoped to leave until post-primary school. My research suggests that, although few young children encounter online risks, when they do it is particularly upsetting for them. Additionally, parents and carers will not necessarily be aware when children have encountered upsetting material.  Addressing safety advice to young children therefore raises new and pressing challenges.

  • Engaging with already vulnerable children and young people

Research shows that children and young people who are vulnerable or at risk offline are also likely to be more at risk online. While many children will encounter something online that bothers or upsets them, most are reasonably well able to deal with it. However, those who are vulnerable, lacking in social support or facing other difficulties may lack resilience, or even seek to engage in high risk activities.  Already vulnerable children and young people may well be particularly in need of safety advice to address online risks, and may also be one of the hardest to engage groups.

Anikka Small:

  • Integrating e-Safety into Digital Literacy

Nationally, we need a greater emphasis on digital literacy and e-safety should be a key part of this – and not considered as a stand alone issue. The digital landscape is changing all the time and young people need to be equipped to cope with – and contribute to – this dynamic environment.

  • Engaging young people in e-safety discussions

In order for e-Safety advice to be relevant and remain up-to-date, it is  critical that we ensure young people are involved in the identification, co-design and sharing of digital safety resources and practices.

Many thanks to everyone who took the time to vote and to come along to the session! The vote results are below:
eSafety the critical agenda - vote results

Should you friend your students? The short answer is no

Earlier this year I delivered a further cyberbullying guidance document on behalf of Childnet International for the UK Government's Department for Children, Schools and Families. The Guidance follows up (and designed to compliment) cyberbullying guidance, a comprehensive document  that formed part of the Safe To Learn: Embedding anti-bullying work in schools suite of advice. While the initial document was really well received both within the UK & internationally, teachers unions and associations were increasingly being asked to deal with school employee cyberbullying cases – in which the staff member was the person being victimised. I welcomed the opportunity to produce further guidance which would both support employees in term of basic digital literacy information and encourage employers to meet their statutory obligations. The document set out, ambitiously, to encourage policy and procedure be put in place for preventing and dealing with cyberbullying as a whole school community issue – which includes meeting and recognising the specific needs, rights and responsibilities of employees. In no other area of harassment would it be acceptable for an employee to be expected to deal with cases that rose within the work place on their own – yet the reports from school staff included cases where cyberbullying was not taken seriously or understood, and where they had been expected to sort out situations for themselves.

Cyberbullying: Supporting School Staff (PDF) was released in April this year (Google doc version here).  I've been talking about the document a lot recently, and I want to just explore in a little more detail the thinking behind the advice given to school employees regarding friending students in social networking services. The actual text is (with my emphasis):

‘Friending’ refers to the act of giving contacts permission to view information or contact you within web-based services. The terminology will vary from service to service – ‘Friends’ may be called contacts or connections, for example. Most social sites enable you to give different levels of access and set privacy levels on your own content and activity. These functions will vary from service to service but typically include:
•     Information that is only available to the account holder
•     Information that is accessible by contacts on the account
holder’s approved list, and
•     Information that is made publicly available, either within
the service or across the whole of the internet.

‘Friends’ does not necessarily refer in this case to people who are your actual friends, although you may choose to restrict your connections to that. ’Friends’ in this context may also be work colleagues, family members, and people that you have met online.

If you have a social networking account, do not friend pupils or add them to your contact lists. You may be giving them access to personal information and allowing them to contact you inappropriately. They may also be giving you access to their personal information and activities

So the text above outlines three basic levels of permissions granularity that can be found on most sites, gives a definition of friending, and very explicitly says don't friend pupils. This is explicitly prescriptive advice, based on the case studies reviewed during the document negotiations, and an implicit understanding that the school staff accounts referred to are either personal, or contain elements of personal activity (I previously posted on a definition of three basic online identities, characterised as personal, professional, and organisational).

The approach taken then – don't friend pupils – reflects the kind of boundaries between staff and learners that we'd expect to see in offline behavior. You wouldn't expect a teacher to give a school aged pupil their home phone number, show them pictures of their friends or regale them with the weekends social exploits. Obviously friending isn't the only issue here – managing publicly available information so that you are comfortable with what co-workers, learners and employers can access about you is also addressed in the document. The research and anecdotal evidence indicates that we operate within social network services as if we were in a closed, private world. This isn't naive – I think it's a necessary fiction which makes social networking services human spaces. The do not friend advice is there to reinforce the message that private online is typically back of a post-card private, especially if we are within environments where we're not entirely sure who has permission to see what (*cough*Facebook*cough). It also reflects the leakiness of our online identities, the way in which the personal is often hand in hand with the professional.

What the advice isn't trying to do is to put anyone off evaluating social networking services to see if they could support learning & teaching effectively. The advice goes on to state:

If you want to use web-based social networking sites for a class or for the whole school, use a service that doesn’t give contacts access to personal information and updates, or allows collaboration without requiring permissions.

Alternatively ask pupils to create new, work-focused accounts for themselves, and run them as they would an online portfolio or CV.

You can find more information and advice about Social Network Services at