We've been aware for the past few years that bullies can use mobile phones and emails to send offensive messages to other children, but incidents have thankfully been few and far between, probably because we have a strong anti-bullying policy. When there have been problems, they've tended to be abusive phone calls, rather than text messages. There's no doubt that it's a nasty form of bullying because it's invasive and often anonymous, but whatever kind you are dealing with, the same principles apply. The most important thing is for the victim to tell someone, rather than keep quiet.
We say to our pupils that they must always inform a teacher if they are bullied. We don't say, "you can tell a teacher if you want" or "you should think about telling a teacher"; we make it clear that they absolutely must report it, that it's their duty.
And when a child does report an incident, it's vital that the person confided in takes action. Our pupils are never told to ignore bullying, however minor it may seem. They are never told to do nothing and see if it goes away. If you tackle the low-level bullying, the name-calling and suchlike, you will be more likely to prevent more serious problems. Pupils are told that if the teacher they go to first does nothing, or doesn't take them seriously, they can go to a member of the senior management team. They can even knock on the headteacher's door.
We have a written policy on bullying, of course, which parents and staff can refer to, but that must be reinforced in lessons and assemblies. We're aware, for example, that Year 7s are likely to feel vulnerable, and we make sure older pupils are aware that behaviour they might think is normal can be intimidating to younger children.
The mobile phone is an extremely powerful social tool. Girls bully by manipulating social situations and by excluding people from groups, and it's easy to use phones to do that. But we would never ban pupils from bringing their mobiles to school; parents like the idea of their children being able to contact them if there's a problem. Of course, it's sensible to be careful about who you give your number to. Most children don't even know their own number; they get each other's by texting, then storing the details on their phone. If someone is bothering you with calls or texts, the chances are that it's someone you know, even if the person is trying to remain anonymous.
One child who reported receiving unpleasant calls had a strong idea who was responsible. I called the suspected culprit into my office and said someone had overheard him making the calls. His reaction gave the game away. I then called the child who had been on the receiving end into my office and gave him a telling-off too, in front of the bully, for not having reported the incidents. This was pre-arranged with the the child who had received and reported the calls, but it convinced the bully that it wasn't him who had gone telling tales, so there wouldn't be any follow-up. It seems a lot of effort, but you are dealing with delicate social situations and you have to make sure you are drawing a line under matters, not storing up future problems. With threatening phone calls or messages it helps to point out to the bully that he or she is breaking the law and could be prosecuted. That always has an impact.
It's important not to separate new forms of bullying from more long-standing ones. The insults tend to be the same, it's just the means of conveying them that differs. Insults about people's mothers are the ones that are guaranteed to get a reaction, especially among boys. The nature of bullying hasn't changed, but bullies now have more tools at their disposal.
Patricia Carney is associate headteacher of Plant Hill high school in Manchester.
* Anti-Bullying Alliance (part of the National Children's Bureau): www.ncb.org.ukaba. Functional site aimed at professionals.
* Bullying Online (www.bullying.co.uk) has a specific section on cyber bullying.
* Kidscape (www.kidscape.org.uk). Downloadable resource packs for teachers and parents as well as children, and anti-bullying DVD available.
* BBC Schools bullying site (www.bbc.co.ukschoolsbullying) haws a chatroom for bullied kids.
* For Kids By Kids Online (www.fkbko.net) has advice on general web safety as well as bullying. Also contains instructions on tracing emails.
* ChildLine (www.childline.org.uk) is a comprehensive site on children's problems.
* Antibully (www.antibully.org.uk) is a bright, attractive site and is good for younger children.
* The DfES anti-bullying site (www.dfes.gov.ukbullying) has a downloadable schools' pack.
* Act Against Bullying (www.actagainstbullying.com) produces resources for schools.
* Details of the University of Central Lancashire research can be found at www. uclan.ac.ukfacssciencepsycholbully.