Dealing with online bullying incidents in schools

Dealing with online bullying incidents in schools

The latest parent’s edition of our online safety newsletter gives advice to parents and carers about what actions they should take if they are concerned their child is being bullied.

Bullying is the second most common issue that Dorset Safer Schools Communities Team (SSCT) are contacted about by schools and parents, and online bullying is an increasingly large part of this work.

For schools the main reference document is Preventing and tackling bullying: Advice for headteachers, staff and governing bodies, which was last updated in July 2017.  The document is clear that every school must have measures in place to prevent all forms of bullying. It indicates school responsibilities and when incidents should be reported to the police. It is also clear that schools should discipline pupils for bullying outside schools, including for online bullying rather than telling parents to contact police. If the school is aware of an incident that needs to be reported to the police, then the school should report this. There is also guidance in the document about preventing bullying happening. 

The school behaviour policy needs to clearly state what actions school will take if online bullying incidents occur. This should include in school and out of school sanctions and the use of restorative processes. The policy should also state clearly that the head teacher has the right to search and confiscate phones and other devices under certain circumstances without student or parental consent. 

Schools are expected to work together if a child at one school is being bullied online by children at another school. If a name and school are provided by the child or parents, then the other school should be contacted and asked to progress, ideally with screenshots or other evidence. Online bullying and face-to-face bullying often occur together. Where a school is dealing with face-to-face bullying, consideration of any online issues needs to be made.

Dorset Police receive many contacts from parents stating that their child is being bullied, that school have been informed but are not taking action. In most cases, it appears that one of two things has occurred. Firstly, the school has investigated but do not believe the incident is bullying but more akin to friendship issues. In this case, the results of the investigation need to be clearly communicated to parents to ensure they understand the actions that are taken in relation to their own child. Secondly, school have found the incident to be bullying and have taken appropriate actions but have not communicated this to the parents or carers of the victim. We who will not discuss the sanctions that have been put in place for one child with parents of another; however, if the sanctions for certain types of behaviour are clearly set out in the school policy, this can be useful to explain to the parents of the victim. 

Where a bullying report is made to the police by a parent, the SSCT will usually contact the parent to get further details of the incident, and ascertain their expectations. Parents and carers will usually be advised about following the schools complaints procedure. SSCT will then contact the school to find out what they know about the incident and what actions have been taken. If it is established that school have taken the appropriate action, this will be fed back to the person who has reported to the police. SSCT can provide the school with advice, offer to speak with young people or parents where this is appropriate. It would usually be deemed appropriate a uniformed officer for the SSCT to speak with a young person and/or parents where school have attempted to deal with the incident via sanctions or restorative processes, but this has not been successful and the behaviour is continuing. SSCT require parental permission to be granted in order to speak to a young person. If the bullying is of a serious nature (for example, serious threats to kill or harm, or harassment over a period of time, including where the perpetrator of the offence(s) is unknown), or where parents get involved in sending abusive messages to a young person or to school staff, school should report this to 101 or online for police officers to investigate and not to SSCT.

If you are reporting an incident either via 101 or directly to the SSCT, please ensure you give details as follows:

  • Name, DoB, contact details of victim(s), perpetrator(s) and others affected
  • School details
  • Name, contact details of reporter
  • Circumstances of incident including when it happened and media/devices used
  • Action already taken by parents/carers or organisation reporting