Snip away at cyber bullying

16th May 2008 at 01:00
Pupils have been scratching comments about their teachers on to desks or scrawling them on walls for decades
Pupils have been scratching comments about their teachers on to desks or scrawling them on walls for decades. Today they have a bigger and more lethal outlet - the internet. Many teachers may have had their wilder moments before settling into the quiet respectability of their profession: it's just that no one had the capacity to stick them on YouTube back then, allowing all and sundry to enjoy them.

And although it has been the inalienable right of all pupils to moan and gripe about the various shortfalls of their teachers, such conversations were limited to themselves and a few mates and soon forgotten - not committed to a social networking site open to a much wider range of listeners.

I first knew the world was changing a few years ago when I had to represent a teacher whose ICT-aware Year 10 group had established a website that, for the sake of argument, we will call www.mrjonesisafool.com - although unfortunately it wasn't quite as mild as that. Since then we've been treated to the more stringent ratemyteacher and other similar sites.

In the majority of these sort of cases, it's probably worth remembering that insulting, abusive behaviour from pupils to teachers should be dealt with as a routine matter of school discipline. Although this modern form of graffiti may be on a computer screen rather than on the bike shed wall, headteachers should pursue such behaviour thoroughly and vigorously - and this may extend to their own monitoring of the ratemyteacher type sites.

If you're the victim of abusive comments on the internet, your first recourse should be to your headteacher. Beyond this, all social networking sites have facilities to report abusive comments and most pursue offenders.

Of course, should such comments infringe the law then there is a possibility of police intervention. In a recent development, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has announced its intention to establish a task force to investigate such incidents.

A further area that causes teachers problems in this digital age is the use of emails and texts to communicate with pupils and parents. Although there are obvious advantages to this, it is an area fraught with problems - as anyone caught in a blazing email argument will recognise.

The inability to capture tone in a quick-fire email and the ambiguity that is so typical of many texts, could leave all parties vulnerable. The strongest possible advice here is to follow your school's established protocols and advice for the use of such communications. If no such guidelines exist, then you should completely avoid this particular means of establishing contact.

Jon Berry is a senior lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire's School of Education.

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