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Cyberbullying: Online campaign used to help schools and families
Articles / Central Government Sep 24, 2007

Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), today launched an online cyberbullying campaign, new guidance and a short film to help schools tackle bullies who use the internet or mobile phones to bully other children or abuse their teachers.

Mr Balls also published new guidance to teachers about how homophobic bullying can be addressed in schools and a summary of the Government's overall approach to bullying.

Ed Balls said:
"The vast majority of schools are safe environments to learn in. However, we know that behaviour, particularly bullying, is a key concern for parents and bullying of any kind is unacceptable."

Estimates vary but a recent study by the DCSF showed that up to 34% of 12-15 year olds had experienced some form of cyberbullying. There is also growing concern from teaching unions that school staff are increasingly becoming the victims of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying can include posting upsetting or defamatory remarks about an individual online and name-calling or harassment using mobile phones. These may be general insults or include prejudice-based bullying.

Cyberbullies use their mobile phones or emails to send sexist, homophobic and racist messages, or they attack other kinds of difference such as a physical or mental disability, cultural or religious background, appearance, or socio-economic position. In other cases bullies physically assault other children and post images of fights online or send recordings via text messages to other people.

The guidance includes practical tips on preventing cyberbullying such as: not responding to malicious texts or emails; saving evidence of cyberbullying; reporting the incidents; keeping passwords safe; and not giving out personal details such as mobile phone numbers over the internet.

The online campaign, 'Laugh at it and you're a part of it', will feature on websites and social networking sites used by teenagers such as Bebo, MySpace, Yahoo and MSN and aims to challenge young people's views and feelings about passing on cruel videos or messages by highlighting the consequences of these actions. The campaign aims to make it a social taboo to take part in cyberbullying by encouraging teenagers to think how they would feel if they were the victim.

The campaign was tested with focus groups of teenagers to assess its effectiveness. It will cost #200,000 and will run for six weeks across popular websites using five different creative images to keep the campaign fresh. A short film has also been produced for schools developed in partnership with the charity Childnet International to show how cyberbullying starts, what its impact can be on the victim and how schools, parents and pupils can take active steps to prevent it. The film will be available online.

The social networking websites and mobile phone companies, already part of the Government's cyberbullying taskforce, were consulted on the guidance and MySpace, Yahoo, MSN and Bebo are supporting the online campaign with free advertising space.

Ed Balls added:
"Cyberbullying is a particularly insidious type of bullying as it can follow young people wherever they go, with no refuge, and the anonymity that it seemingly affords to the perpetrator can make it even more stressful for the victim. Cyberbullying takes different forms: threats; intimidation; harassment or 'cyber-stalking'; unauthorised publication of private information or images; impersonation; and 'happy slapping'.

"Bullying evolves as society and technology changes, so schools need to get to grips with newer forms of bullying and the different impact these have on the victim. One message that I want to get across to young people is that bystanders can inadvertently become perpetrators - simply by passing on videos or images, they are playing a part in bullying. It is important that pupils are aware that their actions have severe and distressing consequences and that participating in such activity will not be tolerated.

"We now have an advanced approach to cyberbullying, thanks in no small part to the cooperation of the industry, teaching unions and charities. This guidance gives teachers and parents all the knowledge they need to tackle the problem effectively in schools."

The advice to schools also includes the first ever guidance on tackling homophobic bullying which has been developed in partnership with Stonewall and Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH). This guidance follows advice from both Ofsted and a report from the Practitioners' Group on School Behaviour and Discipline chaired by Sir Alan Steer, which identified a need for advice for schools on how to tackle homophobic bullying. Many teachers reported feeling ill-equipped to address the issue.

Research suggests bullied pupils often feel uncomfortable about reporting homophobic attacks to their teachers. There are also concerns that casual homophobic language in school playgrounds isolates many pupils, leaving them exposed to more serious forms of bullying.

The homophobic bullying guidance, which forms part of the Government's Safe to Learn guidance, responds to all of these issues, giving practical advice on how teachers can address instances of homophobic bullying sensitively and effectively, while developing a culture of respect, tolerance and understanding to prevent it from happening at all.

Ed Balls said:
"Homophobic insults should be viewed as seriously as racism. We must uphold every child's basic right to learn in a safe and secure environment, free from bullying.

"Bullying of all kinds is a scourge on young people's lives and the human cost can be devastating. It can leave young people feeling helpless and isolated and can have a damaging effect on their learning and school achievement.

"This new package will give school staff the knowledge and skills to intervene effectively in all cases of bullying, as well as helping to develop a zero tolerance culture towards bullying.

"I reject any notion that addressing homophobic bullying is political correctness for its own sake. Even casual use of homophobic language in schools can create an atmosphere that isolates young people and can be the forerunner of more serious forms of bullying."

Commenting on the publication of the homophobic bullying guidance, Women's Minister Responsible for Equalities Harriet Harman said:

"Children cannot learn, let alone enjoy school, if they are frightened of bullying. Homophobic bullying creates an ugly climate of intimidation and makes it harder for young people to come out. Teachers and schools can tackle homophobic bullying and this guidance will help them."

In addition to the package of announcements, Ed Balls also agreed to pilot a number of "peer mentoring" schemes to assess which work best in reducing bullying. In peer mentoring schemes, pupils are elected to become pupil representatives with responsibility to maintain good behaviour, prevent bullying and keep other pupils safe. These schemes have a good track record of improving pupils' behaviour, and encouraging them to listen and be respectful of their peers. Further details of these schemes will be announced soon.

The full package includes:
> Updated anti-bullying guidance including new separate sections on cyberbullying and homophobic bullying. It also includes previously released guidance on racist bullying. (Further guidance will follow shortly on bullying of children with disabilities and special educational needs);
> A high-tech online cyberbullying campaign carried by popular websites;
> A new cyberbullying film for use by school staff to aid discussions with pupils and parents on the issue of cyberbullying; and
> New pilots for peer mentoring to assess how the programme can be best implemented in different types of schools.

The complete set of guidance 'Safe to Learn' now includes:
> Advice on developing and strengthening school anti-bullying policies;
> Advice on both preventative and reactive strategies for tackling bullying, including common sense practical tips on preventing cyberbullying;
> Information on ways that bullying can be addressed through the curriculum;
> Information on suitable disciplinary sanctions for bullies;
> Helplines and websites young people can turn to for confidential advice;
> Contacts for websites and phone companies to report misuse and to request material is taken down;
> Advice on saving malicious texts and emails and help with ways of tracing the perpetrator; and

* Information on whole school polices on acceptable behaviour - including contracts between parents, pupils and the school.

The package is supported by the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning programme which aims to prevent poor behaviour from occurring in the first place by teaching pupils about the consequences of their actions and how to resolve conflict peacefully.

Efforts to clamp down on bullying are backed by tough behaviour powers for schools introduced in April and September. These include:
> a clear statutory power to discipline for all teachers, removing any ambiguity and stopping the 'you can't tell me' culture;
> a new legal power to discipline pupils for poor behaviour, including bullying, on the way to and from school;
> parenting orders for parents who won't tackle their child's poor behaviour - these can be given for bullying and are enforceable by a #1000 fine;
> powers to confiscate mobile phones used in cyberbullying attacks; and
> a legal power to use force to break up fights and attacks by bullies.

Related links to this article:
Information about preventing and tackling cyberbullying is at this link
The full guidance is at this link
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