Cyber Bullying is using any form of technology to abuse or threaten another person.
Even with all the policies and technological solutions in place, there may still be occasions when misuse of the internet and related technologies occur. Therefore, we must have appropriate strategies in place for responding to such instances.
Senior managers in schools are required to respond to a wide variety of incidents on a daily basis. Most of these incidents are minor, but some are more serious. The majority involves students, but on occasion it may be a teaching or non-teaching member of staff whose conduct is in question. Schools generally work from procedures which are based on school policy and established practice to deal with such incidents. However, responding appropriately to a breach of internet safety can cause some uncertainty, sometimes over what the nature of the offence may be, or even because of a lack of understanding of the potential seriousness of incidents involving ICT.
This section provides some examples of ICT-related incidents which schools might encounter, and suggests some strategies for dealing with them.
Minor incidents of misuse by pupils might include:
In all but the most minor of cases it would be wise for the pupil to be issued with a warning, and the incident documented. If the behaviour is repeated, or the misconduct escalates, it can then be responded to more seriously if the school has evidence of previous events. Any incident of racially motivated abuse via technology needs to be linked in with the monitoring of racial incidents in the school and reported in the necessary way.
The internet safety co-ordinator should monitor minor incidents to identify trends in pupils’ behaviour, and should react proactively to any emerging issues. This might include raising awareness on a particular internet safety topic at a school assembly or offering staff additional training. It is also wise to periodically review the school’s internet safety policies, and, in particular, acceptable use policies, to see if they should be modified in any way.
While not illegal, there will be some material that is just not appropriate within the school environment, and, in the case of staff, not in keeping with the professional standards or code of ethics of those who work with children and young people.
Examples might include soft-core pornography, hate material, drug or bomb-making recipes, or material that others may find offensive such as sexist or racist jokes, cartoons, or material which is used in low-level harassment. Specific breaches of policy and rules might include deliberately accessing, printing, showing or transmitting inappropriate (or age-restricted) material within the school’s network.
Even if such material was not deliberately accessed by the pupil, but not reported to a teacher, and was subsequently shown to other students, this should also merit a disciplinary response. Other incidents of more serious misuse by pupils might include cheating in an examination or plagiarism in coursework, which, aside from infringing school assessment policies, may have legal implications (for example, they may breach copyright law). Hacking, virus attack, chronic truancy (as a result of obsessive or excessive use of the internet and related technologies) and online gambling are all serious concerns for schools, and require a disciplinary response.
Age-restricted material is potentially more serious. Publications are classified to provide information and protect people from viewing material that might be inappropriate or damaging to their moral and physical wellbeing. It is therefore illegal to show, give or sell restricted materials to a person under a certain age. Blatant, intentional exhibiting of age-restricted materials to pupils under the specified age is a serious breach of internet safety and should invoke a strong disciplinary response from the school.
Any incident involving a member of staff is a serious, and often complex matter. There may be implications for the safety of pupils, fellow employees and the learning environment, and for the reputation of the school. We need to, therefore, ensure that all members of staff are aware of and have signed the acceptable use policy. This ensures that policies and procedures are in place should incidents occur.
Harassment of another person using ICT, or breaching their right to privacy, poses a serious threat to their physical and emotional safety, and again may have legal consequences. More serious incidents relating to internet safety in schools should be reported to the internet safety co-ordinator immediately. The internet safety co-ordinator must document the incident and decide on an appropriate course of action, which may include involving the headteacher and external agencies. It may also be necessary to involve child protection staff to provide follow-up counselling and support to both the victims and perpetrators.
The internet safety co-ordinator should review internet safety policies as soon as possible after the incident in an attempt to prevent such an incident recurring, debriefing relevant staff accordingly, and providing school-wide training as appropriate. This includes liaising with the network manager to ensure that any such sites etc are blocked.
Incidents that involve inappropriate but legal material should be dealt with by the school via the usual disciplinary system; unless a criminal offence has been committed, it is not normally necessary to involve the police. Depending on the nature of the incident there may be breaches of other school policies, such as the anti-bullying policy.
Disciplinary action may range from a warning to dismissal of a staff member or suspension of a pupil. As in all disciplinary instances of this seriousness, a school must be careful to follow disciplinary protocols, ensuring that proper documentation and recording of information occurs, and that appropriate counselling and support are given, and ensuring that parents and carers of the pupil involved are kept fully informed of the matter. If police involvement is necessary, it is advisable for the headteacher to seek legal advice, via the LEA, as soon as possible.
We have now set a precedent at Mossley Hollins that any student found to be viewing or downloading hardcore pornographic material in school will be suspended for three days and banned from using the computers for four weeks.
Any serious incidents could become the subject of media attention. We need to ensure that we have an appropriate strategy in place for dealing with media requests, and ensure that ongoing investigations and the continuing safety of the school are not compromised by media coverage.
In the school context, very serious incidents tend to involve illegal materials (particularly the viewing, possession, making and distribution of indecent images of children) or serious stalking or harassment facilitated by communication technologies. Such criminal offences may be committed by staff and pupils alike. Indecent images of children are defined under Section 7 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 (as amended by Section 84 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994). References to indecent photographs under the Act include data stored on a computer disk or by other electronic means that is capable of conversion into a photograph.
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is intended to prevent ‘stalking’ and other similar unsocial conduct. It states that a person must not pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another, and which he/she knows, or ought to know, amounts to harassment of the other. Although the term is deliberately not defined in the Act, words such as ‘alarm’, ‘distress’ or ‘torment’ fit the term most accurately, and some adverse impact on the victim is required. To constitute a ‘course of conduct’, harassment must take place on a minimum of two occasions.
Discovery of indecent material within the school’s network is a very serious situation, and must always be reported to the police. It is important that the material is not downloaded, printed or sent by email, because doing so will be an offence in itself. If at all possible, we must do absolutely nothing to the suspect computer or computers, including turning them on or off. It may be necessary to shut down the whole network, but we do not do this unless instructed by the police. We must ensure that everyone is kept away and that nothing is touched.
Under no circumstances should the internet safety co-ordinator, network manager or headteacher attempt to conduct an investigation of their own, or bring in an outside ‘expert’ to do so, as this may compromise the evidence if a legal case were to result. In some cases this may constitute a criminal offence in itself.
In cases of pupil or staff involvement with indecent materials, it would be sensible for the school to seek legal advice as soon as possible, particularly with regard to the disciplinary actions that are acceptable while the police carry out their investigations.
In the event of a very serious incident occurring within school, it is essential that a review of all internet safety policies and procedures is conducted as soon as possible. The Headteacher would have ultimate responsibility for the review process, but would probably delegate this to the internet safety co-ordinator and the school’s internet safety team. The three key components of a safe ICT learning environment (the infrastructure of whole-school awareness, designated responsibilities, policies and procedures; the effective range of technological tools; and a comprehensive internet safety education programme) should also be reviewed, ensuring that:
Students who are CLA may come to you to discuss e-contact that has been made with them by their birth families. Always report this to the child’s foster carers and social worker.
This policy was adapted from the Becta publication “E-safety, developing whole-school policies to support effective practice”
Flowchart for responding to Internet Safety incidents in School
Illegal Materials or Activity Found (or suspected)
Department for Education – Advice for Parents and Carers on Cyberbullying A Parent’s Guide to Dealing with ‘Sexting’
Childline – 0800 1111
Samaritans – 08457 909 090
NCH – Text ‘BULLY’ to 60000