Warning that bullying is moving out of the playground and onto the internet

Neatherd High School assistant headteacher Nick O'Brien. Picture: Ian Burt

Neatherd High School assistant headteacher Nick O'Brien. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

Like homework and hormones, bullying is often seen as part and parcel of childhood and adolescence.

Co-ordinator Angela Hewett at the Red Balloon Learner Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Co-ordinator Angela Hewett at the Red Balloon Learner Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

From playground teasing to physical abuse and cyber-bullying, it varies in degree, nature and impact - but it is seen almost everywhere.

Studies say as many as one in two children have experienced bullying, with roughly 10pc having done so in the last week.

And in the Mancroft Advice Project's survey of more than 9,500 young people across Norfolk, 55pc identified bullying as a key issue, with it being listed in the top five issues for children and teenagers in every district across Norfolk.

In Broadland, 37pc of respondents identified it as an issue, while in Norwich 56pc did and in Breckland and west Norfolk the figure was 65pc.

This year's Friendly Faces team at Aylsham High School. Picture: Kirsty Connor

This year's Friendly Faces team at Aylsham High School. Picture: Kirsty Connor - Credit: Archant

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Government research has suggested that playground bullying is on the decline, replaced instead by online bullying and the power of social media and anonymous apps.

Nick O'Brien, assistant headteacher Neatherd High School in Dereham, said: 'Anybody who says there isn't bullying is wrong - schools are part of society and bullying is a societal issue, so there will always be bullying in schools, as there is in the workplace.'

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He said they hadn't seen an increase in bullying overall, but that much of it had moved out of school and onto the internet - with the prevalence of apps and websites allowing users to create anonymous profiles, bolstering bullies' confidence.

'Traditional bullying has changed - the days of the bully flushing a child's head down a toilet have, largely, gone,' he said.

'But with those sorts of cases, everybody understood what had happened - there was a bully, there was a victim. It's much less clear today.

'And it's particularly hard with older generations - it's easy for people to say that children shouldn't be on social media, but it is just the way it is. 'It's sad that so much of young people's self-esteem is tied into likes and retweets, but unfortunately that's where we are.'

He said the school prioritised communication with parents on online bullying, including having an induction at the start of the school year and newsletters with information on apps and websites.

Praising Sir John Leman High School, in Beccles, and Toftowod Infant in particular, he said many schools were coming up with ways to include parents in the conversation.

But he said ensuring schools had inclusive approaches and clear reporting systems - Neatherd has an online reporting system for bullying - was key.

In December, the Red Balloon Learner Centre in Norwich, which educates children unable to attend mainstream school after serious bullying, said it had seen demand for its 20 places soar.

At the time, coordinator Angela Hewett said they already had a waiting list for this September, with many children who arrived suffering from mental health conditions, unable to make eye contact or talk to adults.

Katy Cole, schools service coordinator for the NSPCC in the east of England, said cyber-bullying made it difficult for children to find a reprieve.

She said: 'Modern technology can make it seem even harder for children to escape being bullied – years ago a child could get some respite when they left the playground for the safety of their home.

'Now, the 24/7 nature of the internet means a child can be targeted around the clock.

'But whether bullying is done online or in person, it can have a devastating impact on a young person, destroying their confidence, leaving them isolated and vulnerable, and even making them feel life is not worth living.'

She said bullying was the third biggest concern among children who contacted helpline Childline in 2016/17, with more than 24,500 counselling sessions organised.

According to Norfolk County Council papers, 65 children who were taken off school rolls to be home educated in 2016/17 were because of bullying, making up 6.6pc of total registrations.

To contact Childline's helpline, call 0800 1111.

A successful scheme

Plenty of schools and colleges run anti-bullying schemes, but one in north Norfolk has found particular success.

Aylsham High School has been running its anti-bullying and peer support Friendly Faces initiative for 12 years, with dozens of students now involved every year.

The project has won the national Diana Award, which recognises achievements by young people and was set up in memory of the Princess of Wales, for a remarkable 10 years.

The project sees students run a classroom at break and lunch times, where others can go and talk about problems they are having.

The team organises patrols at lunch time, runs activities across the school and spreads anti-bullying messages.

They also hold a Friendly Face Roadshow, which sees them visit feeder primary schools to talk about what high school is like.

Kirsty Connor, who heads it up, said in December that roughly 120 students apply to be involved each year.

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