"I Am Not Scared" Project
Cyberbullying - Pretending to be 'her'
The bullying started i June 2011 in the form of bullying 'on line'.
There were three main students involved although there were also 10 other students involved as well.
The bullying took the form of Cyberbullying through Facebook, derogatory pictures, derogatory messages, students pretending to be the bullied student and very unpleasant comments
There was really only one particularly bad evening of comments with trailing comments following on and this prompted the immediate complaint from the student and parents.
Information from bullied student was brought into school as evidence (screen shots) with support of parents
The Acting Head at the time was made aware of what was happening by appropriate pastoral manager in school
Other students who had also ‘seen’ but not joined in the chat made statements about what they had witnessed
The Acting Head interviewed all students involved with parents present and presented evidence of the bullying that had taken place and explained the schools stance on this type of bullying
The main perpetrators were all given fixed term exclusions from school for a number of days (differed for each student depending on their level of involvement)
The student who had been bullied refused to attend school whilst the investigation was carried out
Students who had been excluded for bullying were re integrated with parents and outcomes and way forward were very clearly explained
The victim was supported by the relevant pastoral manager and a meeting was held in school to support her return
Students who were on the fringes wewre given a very strong message in whole school assemblies that followed this event about the consequences of such bullying actions
The student returned to school although she did not find this easy. No further incidents occurred
All students given appropriate messages about citizenship in whole school assemblies delivered by the Headteacher
Students were surprised that the victim told her parents, especially as the events occurred on only one main occasion. All students agreed that if they were in that situation, and indeed some of them had been, they would always confide and discuss the incident with either friends in their peer group or a member of staff first.
Students felt that the victim may not have had friends or did not feel that there was a member of staff that they could approach.
There was no information about the background of the victim within their peer group or the school. Was the student new or a ‘loner’ who did not have any close friends in school?
Students felt that parents would not be aware of any cyber bullying issues unless they were informed by the victim as very few parents use Facebook at all. As such they have no understanding of how it works. Parents that do use Facebook use it in a different way from the students.
Students did feel, however that the victim had done the right thing to tell their parents so that the issue could be addressed as soon as possible.
Students all felt very strongly that bullying should not be allowed to continue and no one should have to put up with the sort of unhappiness that this would bring.
Students felt that it is very easy to get caught up with conversations on line that subsequently may become unpleasant as they progress and other people become involved.
Students felt that it was very easy to misunderstand a written comment when there are no other indicators to gauge what is being said, such as tone of voice and body language.
Students also felt that the way in which comments are written and the language commonly used when writing on social web sites could easily be misunderstood by the reader and would certainly be misunderstood by a parent. Terms used by students in school as everyday language could be interpreted by a parents as insulting or threatening.
Students felt that these students might feel that they had not done anything wrong and would not understand what all the fuss was about. They may not be able to empathise with the victim and feel angry that they were being picked on.
Students also felt that if there had been a deliberate intent to intimidate, threaten or upset the victim it may have been the result of something the victim had done or said during that day. The victim may not have realised that they had offended or upset someone.
Students did not have enough back ground information to form conclusions as the victim might have been a “Drama Queen” who deliberately wound other student up so that they could then enjoy all the attention of being the injured party. The victim could make a habit of this.
Students thought that if this was an unprovoked, co-ordinated planned malicious attack on another student that it was completely wrong and the bullying students should be punished. They should also be supported to understand what effect their actions have had on the victim and their family.
Students felt that the fixed exclusion of the bullying students was too severe for one main incident and was no real punishment as they could spend the days excluded at home continuing the bullying or inciting other students to get involved. They would also be able to contact the victim who was also out of school.
Students felt internal exclusion was far more of a punishment as the bullying students would be isolated from their peer group during the whole day and have to work harder with no social time.
Students felt that they would not have intervened as they would not want to become involved with the on-line “trail”. They would, however, share the information with friends and discuss what to do. Students would report bullying of another pupil to a member of staff but not parents.
Staff felt that there was not sufficient information about the victim or the bullies. Was there a history of bullying, cyber or otherwise, in or outside of school?
Staff would like to have found out if anything had occurred, either in or out of school, prior to the event which may have contributed to the incident. It is the staff’s experience that these sorts of issues are rarely one-sided.
Staff would have preferred to “unpick” the events, keeping bullying students in school with an internal exclusion and supporting the victim with peer group buddies and special provision during social times to avoid the very difficult step of returning to school after the other students had been punished.
Staff felt that the bullying students would also need support when they returned to mainstream school.
Staff would have liked to have implemented some form of restorative justice, bringing all the students together to discuss and understand the effects on both sides. Hopefully this would “draw a line” under the events and allow all parties to put the incident behind them and move on.
Staff were concerned about the timing of the events. What year were these students in? Were they all from the same year group? Did this incident happen during the examination season and could this have been a contributory factor? Was there a potential for the bullying to continue into the long summer break?
Staff were not surprised that students were reluctant to share bullying issues with parents as this is the normal experience in school. Students more usually share concerns with other students or a member of staff. In some cases other students have come to staff to report that a fellow student is being bullied.
There was no mention of the incident being recorded in a Bullying Log. All such incidents are recorded at this school in the Bullying Log. Statements and all relevant documents, e.g. screen shots, are kept for future reference.
Overall the handling of the whole bullying incident was reactive rather than proactive. By that late stage of the academic year all students should have already received guidance on bullying in assemblies and P.S.H.E. lessons.
The fixed term exclusion and involvement of the Head was too severe a response for a single incident without much further investigation. Staff would be placed in a difficult position for the future as there was “nowhere else to go” in terms of increasingly severe sanctions. This response would only leave the option of permanent exclusion for any future incidents.
Parents were initially felt that the school response was appropriate. However during the conversation with staff and students, parents felt that other more low key methods would have been a better first response with a more thorough understanding of the events leading to a more lasting resolution.
Parents were pleased that the parents of all the students in the case study were included and fully informed about the progress of the incident.
Parents were concerned that cyber bullying could happen at home without their knowledge and admitted their ignorance in the use of Facebook. Only one of the five parents involved in the study uses Facebook. Parents were also shocked that students would always confide in a friend rather than a parent.
Parents were worried that the pursuing the incident might make matters worse but felt that the victim had taken the right course of action.
Parents felt that the victim and the parents must have had confidence in the school to handle the incident sensitively. Parents felt that there must be clear messaging to both parents and the students about what to do in this situation from the school.
Parents felt that there was a need for them to be proactive about finding out how social web sites are used and how to use them safely. Parents were grateful for advisory course run for parents by this school.
Patents felt that the response of the school in the case study was good and fair. There were, however, concerns that there was little support for the victim on their return to school. Parents were also concerned that with the bullied student at home and the bullying students excluded there was an opportunity to harass the victim during the school day when parents might not have been home.
The school did react positively to the bullying being brought to their attention. It is good that the student had a positive relationship with parents and some confidence in the school to discuss the matter.
The sanction was not the best response and the Head has acknowledged this. It is interesting that a number of people comment on what else had happened implying the bullied person was in some way responsible for the bullying.
Restorative justice was mentioned which I believe might have been powerful for all involved. Care needs to be taken that the bullied person does not feel intimidated and victimised again but with careful thought it provides an opportunity for all involved to understand the impact of their actions.
Further whole school awareness raising on the difficulties with cyber bullying in which parents too had the opportunity to learn more about this subject might build an effective network of support and understanding within the school.
It appears that the school did not involve a counsellor in the support process and this is perhaps a missed opportunity to best support a positive outcome.
If I had been the counsellor:
The main task would be to support the young person to understand and process their feelings relating to what they had been through and the effect of this.
I would want to help the student identify what the repercussions might be of sharing / not sharing the incident and what she would need to be in place to feel ‘safe enough’ to proceed.
I would also want to facilitate the student exploring her relationships with these individuals prior to this. Did it come out of the blue, had there been an ongoing issue between them? Understanding the wider context can sometimes be very illuminating.
Assigning buddy mentors might have assisted her re-integration to the school. It sounded a very scary thing for her to have to do alone.
It’s not easy to assess any long –term outcome but the student did talk to her parents and the school did respond. These actions confirm that she is listened to and believed. This is likely to have a positive effect.
The actions taken by the school are reactive rather than proactive. The school is obviously keen to be seen to be intolerant of the behaviour through fixed term exclusions but this leaves little room for further actions to be taken should there be any repetition.
Lectures from the Headteacher in Assembly gives a clear message about school’s approach but should also be supported by a range of other measures including more subtle strategies such as posters around school, stickers in toilet cubicles, messages on screen savers about where and how to report abuse, information on school website and in school brochure so that parents also know how to get information and support. Participation in Internet Safety Day and Anti Bullying Week activities.
If we were involved with this school we would offer support in the form of:
• Staff training on E-safety to consider appropriate teaching strategies and reliable resources available to use across the curriculum from CEOP
• Provide case studies about inappropriate use of Facebook etc. by school staff to highlight the possible consequences and alert staff to amend personal privacy settings and procedures for using school equipment.
• Policy Guidance to ensure E-safety is specifically included and to that sanctions are appropriate.
• Review of the PSHEE Curriculum to ensure appropriate coverage of E-safety and Anti Bullying messages
• Recommendations for activities to deliver E-safety lessons across the key stages stressing use of personal privacy settings and where and how to report abuse.
• Parents Awareness events to raise awareness and inform parents about potential hazards
• Offer to facilitate consultation work with school council and wider pupil community to ensure pupils views are being listened to and integrated into policy decisions.
This Case Study deals with an area of increasing concern. Students are always way ahead of parents and teachers in the use of social media and there is a strong case for much greater training to be provided to ensure that the kind of events described do not take place un-noticed.
The fact that the incident focuses on one particular evening indicates that the school was trying to play “catch up” and, in its desire to be seen to be “doing something”, may well have been a little heavy handed. The incident in itself could have been effectively handled by someone in Middle Management leaving much more head-room for future incidents. This school has clearly set a precedent for itself and may well have difficulties in the future as a result. Having said that, the school was very active and far reaching in the way it responded. The message that this kind of behaviour would not be tolerated was clearly delivered.
This Case Study raises the question of whether this is an incidence of bullying or would we be more accurate if we referred to the bullies as “individuals who displayed bullying behaviour” and the victim as the target of that behaviour. We do not know what kind of language the school used but I would suggest that this is an important consideration when we are looking to define our understanding of bullying. How a student is perceived is very important and giving them a label does not solve any problems that they may have.
It is good to see that all parents were involved in the investigation but I would be concerned that, by excluding, the parents are also being inconvenienced as they have to make arrangements to have their child at home. The school also cannot guarantee that the child will not spend most of their exclusion on line. The final irony that with modern communication devises they can be electronically in the classroom with their friends. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate to devise the punishment alongside the parents.
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