Firm hold on cyberbullies

31st August 2012 at 01:00
An award-winning company - Support Me - set up by primary pupils as part of a social enterprise initiative is leading the way in the battle against high-tech intimidation

It's an encouraging and comforting slogan: "If you ever feel you're in a deep black hole, we're the shining light at the end of the tunnel."

The tunnel in this case is a "cyber tunnel" and the shining lights are the P7 pupils of Gallowhill Primary in Paisley who set up their own social enterprise group, Support Me, to combat cyberbullying.

"We made up the slogan ourselves and we set up the company because cyberbullying is very serious in our society. It's a growing problem on mobiles and laptops. It's so widespread that one in five children suffers from it," says pupil Gemma Pickett.

Gemma is one of four Support Me workshop tutors who put together a PowerPoint presentation which they delivered to classes from P4 to P7 to demonstrate how cyberbullying can affect lives.

"We did surveys of who had been cyberbullied, what websites they had been on and which websites to be careful of and so on. We also ran lunchtime workshops on safe surfing, because we don't want pupils scared off. We want to encourage them to go on the internet," she adds.

As the founding P7 company members have just transferred to Paisley Grammar, they have already interviewed and appointed 17 new P67 pupils to take over the running of the company, which will now expand the pupil workshops to other nearby primary schools.

Gallowhill's Support Me project was one of the outstanding winners at the Social Enterprise Academy's fifth annual awards ceremony in June, which saw 27 schools from across Scotland take to the stage at The Hub, Edinburgh, to receive their awards from John Swinney, cabinet secretary for finance and sustainable growth.

To enter for these awards, social enterprises in schools must be pupil-led and aim to make a positive change to people's lives. They must be entrepreneurial and connected to the community with explicit social and environmental aims and their profits used for this purpose.

Support Me, which has also won a pound;1,400 award from Renfrewshire's Dragons' Den awards scheme, is structured with a managing director and IT, advertising, accounting and merchandising departments, alongside the workshop tutors. The IT department set up a web page on the school website but is now bringing in a professional web designer to set up a standalone site to attract more users. The web page already provides links to seven other anti-cyberbullying sites.

"We want to get someone famous to endorse our new website," says pupil Reece Bennett, part of the advertising department.

"We're thinking of someone like Fearne Cotton (pictured page 18), who was cyberbullied over her Jubilee broadcasts - even being bullied about how she was dressed," he says.

The advertising department has also visited Paisley Grammar to use its computers to design and make posters, while the merchandising department raises funds through selling Support Me wrist bands, BlackBerry stress balls and teddy bear key rings, as well as organising bouncy castle and chocolate fountain events.

"In the autumn term there will be an anti-cyberbullying day at the school," says Holly Shearer of the merchandising department.

"At the same time, there'll be a Crazy Clothes Day to show that you should wear what you want - with confidence and without fear of bullying."

Reid Kerr College is keen to form an anti-bullying partnership with the company and plans are already afoot to create a resource pack on a pen- drive, which other schools will be able to purchase through the new website.

Support Me wants to link with charities like Childline, which is to visit Gallowhill to tutor the pupils in how to support someone who is being bullied.

Profits which are not ploughed back in to support inter-school workshops and website maintenance go to Childline and other children's charities of the pupils' choosing.

Twenty-two of the 41 P7 pupils were involved in the company, and totally motivated because it was their idea and they knew they were making a difference, says P7 class teacher Melissa Webster.

"They've been gaining real-life experience in maths, IT and design and technology. The project is interdisciplinary - it's also about health and well-being - and they are learning skills in context," she adds.

Their confidence has come on, even the quiet ones, and that's "so important", she says, as they are starting out now at the "big school": "It's great seeing how well they work together, especially as the company departments they work together in are not their normal friendship groups".

Speaking with the pupils, it's apparent that their attitudes to cyberbullying are nothing if not sophisticated.

"We want to make a video for the website and the pen-drive which gives different scenarios, asking viewers whether they are cyberbullying or not," says young workshop tutor Caitlin Gray.

"Some cyberbullying isn't intentional, but once you've texted or posted something, that's it. You can't take it back. It's too late and all messages can eventually be traced. You have to be careful."

Perceptions of what may or may not be bullying in a text message are often age- and stage-related and involve subtleties of language and punctuation to which many adults are perhaps not attuned.

Younger pupils (many P4s now have mobile phones) may not see the use of "block caps" as aggressive, while older pupils may. The use of multiple exclamation marks can be taken to mean "I'm shouting at you" and the substitution of "kool" for "cool" can convey the opposite meaning in a quite sarcastic way, so "u r so kool" is actually telling you how "uncool" the sender thinks you are.

"The pupils now want to run workshops for parents about differences in websites, warning them about sites which ask for ages, addresses and bank details, for example," says Miss Webster.

"They are going to put together the resource pack for teachers too, because they can educate teachers as well as parents and they know what makes a good lesson," she adds.

"We are learning a lot through this project as well as the pupils and when you see their enthusiasm, you just want to be involved, whether that's at the interval, lunchtime or after-school activities."


Sheila Hood, headteacher Gallowhill Primary

"The Support Me social enterprise project has been so successful in allowing the pupils to take their ideas forward.

"It's about staff facilitating pupils to do all they can, though I must say I never quite envisaged the impact it would have.

"The children have an almost inbred understanding of IT and they very much lead on the project. I've always believed you can't have too high expectations for pupils, but these young people have surpassed that.

"When I interviewed each of them for their company positions, I was struck by how up to speed they were about what the job would entail and what they would bring to it.

"One pupil said: `I'm really quite a patient person, a good listener and good at explaining things and that's why I want to be a workshop leader.'

"The key is to listen to the pupils and to run with their good ideas. That feeds in other good ideas, because the children know they are being listened to. They know they're valued and that what they are doing matters to us all."


Other outstanding winners at this year's Social Enterprise in School awards included Udston Primary, South Lanarkshire and Harris Academy, Dundee.

Udston is the first school to win such an award twice. Last year, pupils won for developing their community garden, in the school grounds. They funded it through "Recycle Rampage", a clothing bank where pupils collected clothes and recycled them, using slogans to promote their enterprise, such as "Jumpers in January", as well as an annual event featuring a cafe, puppet show and quiz.

This year they set up Udston Earthly Enterprises to raise awareness of environmental issues by selling themed products such as hand-made, endangered-species bookmarks, Christmas crackers made with toilet roll tubes, and mini-earth globes made from recycled Christmas tree baubles.

The P5 pupils involved used their profits to support Childline and other children's charities. Plans are afoot now to expand their product range to include reusable shopping bags and to link up with a partner school in Africa.

At Harris Academy, the pupils set up their own photography business within the school. After securing a high-quality digital printer, they developed skills in taking and editing photographs before launching the business in which each pupil has a role, from capturing images to marketing.

They offer a service to take photos of school events such as the annual Burns Supper, talent shows and dances.

They also offer services such as passport photos, invitations and calendars. After extensive market research, they agreed on a pricing strategy which makes them cheaper than local businesses. Profits beyond reinvestment are donated to Starter Packs.


To participate in the Social Enterprise in School initiative, you will have to set up and run a sustainable social enterprise in your school.

This will involve collaboration between pupils and teachers with links to your local community or a community abroad. It helps to find the best fit with your current initiatives, themes and projects.

You will need to develop a high level of awareness within the school of your social enterprise; a strong customer base among pupils, teachers and parents or local people (where appropriate) for your social enterprise products or services; and clear benefits for a specific community or group of people connected to your social enterprise products or services.

The Social Enterprise Academy will offer support for setting up and running your enterprise and can put your school in touch with other schools running successful social enterprises. It may be able to offer mentoring at a local level.

The Academy can also help to generate ideas and have a bank of profiles of previous award winners.


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