Are schools doing enough to tackle physical bullying in digital age?
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Have efforts by schools and other organisations to deal with the growing cyber bullying threat diverted attention away from physical bullying? Bethany Whymark reports.
Bullying is still a major problem for children in Norfolk’s school – but dealing with “old-fashioned” bullying is taking a backseat as online abuse becomes more common, according to youth workers in the county.
The focus has been trained on cyber bullying in recent years with traumatic stories hitting the headlines of how abuse on social media led children to harm, or considering harming, themselves.
But a spokeswoman for charity Map (Mancroft Advice Project), which supports young people around Norfolk, says some schools are not dealing with face-to-face bullying effectively as stretched resources are pumped into tackling bullying online and on social media.
One teenager helped by the charity has told this newspaper he experienced suicidal thoughts due to persistent verbal and physical bullying.
A survey of 11,000 11 to 18-year-olds by Norfolk County Council, published in October 2017, found that more than a third (36pc) had experienced bullying in the previous 12 months while 10pc had experienced cyber bullying.
Almost one in four (22pc) of those surveyed thought their school or college handled bullying ineffectively and only one in 10 agreed with the statement that bullying was “not a problem” in their school or college.
Youth advisory boards (YABs) across Norfolk, set up by Map, have identified that bullying is still a major problem – in a survey of 10,000 young people across the county in 2018, just over 50pc said it was an issue for them, and this year’s survey is expected to show similar results.
Michelle Bibby, senior youth worker at Breckland YAB, said there had been a “massive increase” in the number of young people reporting bullying as a concern since local authority resources to tackle it were reduced.
She said the academy model for schools, taking them out of local authority control, had led to more variation in anti-bullying policies and training.
“We run focus groups with young people and they say schools are putting a lot of emphasis on cyber bullying, but a lot of schools are not dealing with face-to-face bullying adequately anymore,” she said.
“We are encouraging schools to assess their anti-bullying policies and get young people involved so the policies are in language they can understand.
“We will never stop bullying but we can give young people the tools to stand up to the bullies and find the confidence to make a difference within their schools.
“We know a lot of parents are just taking their kids out of school to home educate them because of bullying. This can lead to mental health problems – another top issue for young people in our consultation.”
After enquiries by Breckland YAB, youth charity The Diana Award will be delivering its anti-bullying ambassador training in the district in May. High schools will be able to train 10 young people and two staff members at the training session.
Alex Holmes, deputy chief executive of The Diana Award, said: “We are still finding that face-to-face bullying is the number one type of bullying affecting young people. This behaviour transcends online. It’s vital to engage with schools where young people spend much of their time.”
Nick O’Brien, safeguarding lead in the pastoral team at Dereham Neatherd High School, said while the school had not seen any notable increases in the frequency of bullying, the landscape was shifting.
“We have definitely seen a move away from the old-school forms of bullying – what happens nowadays tends to be more online,” he said.
“It tends to be over new technology – Instagram can often spark a falling-out.
“There are issues there around educating both staff and parents about what the dangers are. We have sent information home to parents about what some of the new apps are and educating ourselves as well about them and offering e-safety training to the children.”
Mr O’Brien believes the decision to remove PCSOs (police community support officers) from the county has had an impact on bullying. “They used to do good work around bullying and internet safety so that has put more pressure on the safeguarding teams and pastoral teams.”
He said schools could use key word recognition to monitor which children were searching for, accessing and sending to each other on the internet while in school, so teachers can then speak to students directly.
He also mentioned “problematic” apps – such as messaging boards where students can post anonymously – which “should be shut down”.
He added: “We need to be open and encourage the students to talk about issues, and schools need to make time for kids to talk about these things in classes.”
‘I feel quite alone’
One Norfolk teenager said verbal and physical bullying drove him to have suicidal thoughts.
The 14-year-old from west Norfolk said he had experienced bullying throughout primary school which had got worse as he progressed through secondary school.
“There is a lot of verbal abuse and sometimes it can be physical abuse,” he said.
“It makes me feel really down and recently I have been having suicidal thoughts.
“I feel quite alone a lot of the time, I don’t have anywhere to go to be happy.”
He said appeals to his school about the bullying had met with mixed responses – but that his local youth advisory board (YAB) had provided valuable support to help him cope.
“It was nice to get a break from the abuse I was getting at school. It has helped me because I have been able to make some friends. YAB has helped me to interact with more people,” he said.
What are schools doing?
Aylsham High School has long been recognised for its pioneering anti-bullying scheme, Friendly Faces.
The Friendly Faces have worked hard to eradicate homophobic bullying from their school, have provided anti-bullying training to others and held Friendly Face Roadshows to advertise their support to new year seven students.
The Ormiston Academies Trust has also been proactive in its approach, providing anti-bullying training to its schools in Norfolk. These include the City of Norwich School, which has recently received an award for excellence in challenging bullying from Bullying Intervention Group (BIG), a national award for outstanding anti-bullying practice in organisations.
Principal Jo Philpott said the school had particularly worked to educate pupils on cyber bullying and safe use of social media.
She said: “Children are living in a world where this technology is part of their lives so it is important that they learn how to use it.”
The national picture
For some children the consequences of bullying can be fatal: a link has long been made between bullying and suicide attempts.
The Annual Bullying Survey 2017 by charity Ditch The Label, which surveyed 10,000 young people aged 12 to 20, found one in two had experienced bullying.
More than a third (36pc) said being bullied had made them feel depressed or socially anxious, one in four (23pc) turned to self harm as a coping mechanism, and 60pc said it had had a moderate to high impact on their self-esteem.
Only two thirds (63pc) of those who were bullied had told someone about the abuse.
Around half of those who were bullied thought it was because of their physical appearance, 40pc said it was due to attitudes towards their hobbies or interests and 19pc said it was down to their high grades.
Some 17pc had experienced cyber bullying, most commonly through nasty comments posted on photos or social media profiles or rumours being spread about them online.
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