Safeguarding Podcast – Choose Respect with the Anti-Bullying Alliance

In this safeguarding podcast with Martha Evans, Director of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, we define bullying, discuss the link between online and offline bullying, explore the impact of this on children’s attainment at schools, reveal why a high incidence of bullying reports may not be a bad thing, suggest what parents should ask schools about bullying, identify the biggest thing schools don’t do about bullying and of course celebrate Anti-Bullying Week and showcase a fabulous Beat Poem created by young people all about “Choose Respect”.

A transcript of the podcast is below for those hard of hearing or for those that simply prefer to read.

Neil Fairbrother

Welcome to another safeguarding podcast from the SafeToNet Foundation where we focus on all things to do with safeguarding children in the digital context. A major form of cyber-abuse of children is cyberbullying and today’s guests can help guide us through this topic and is Martha Evans from the Anti-Bullying Alliance.

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

Thank you very much for having me Neil.

Neil Fairbrother

It’s a pleasure Martha it’s lovely to see you again. Can you introduce yourself and the Anti-Bullying Alliance, so that our audience has got a context for what you do, your areas of expertise.

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

So my name is Martha Evans, I’m Director of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, and we’re based at the children’s charity called the National Children’s Bureau (NCB). My role is to coordinate the work of the Anti-Bullying Alliance and to work with members and a big bulk of my work is to work on Anti-Bullying Week each year in schools.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now I guess there’s a bit of a clue in the title of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, but what is the work that you do? Why is it an Alliance and you’re part of the National Children’s Bureau. So how does that relationship work?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

We were set up in 2002 by the National Children’s Bureau and NSPCC and we have one aim and that is to unite against bullying. So it’s really about bringing together the entire anti-bullying sector to learn from each other, to work together to combat bullying.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. And that’s pulling in all forms, online and offline.

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

It’s in all forms for all children, so online and offline. A large part of our work has focused on schools, but it’s also focused on cyber-bullying as well.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now do you have a definition of what constitutes bullying?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

Absolutely. Yes, it’s my favourite subject! The ABA has a shared definition of bullying. Bullying has four elements. The first element is that it’s repetitive, so it has to happen more than once. It is also intentional, so there has to be intent behind it. So that’s where you take out the elements where people talk about the horrible word “banter”, so it has to have intent behind it.

There’s also having to have a power imbalance, which is one of the most important elements of our definition of bullying, because you could have a power imbalance in many ways. You could be taller than somebody else, you could be the majority faith in a school. You could, by definition of being anonymous online, have power over somebody else because they don’t know who you are, for example. So the power imbalance element of the definition is very important.

And finally, it has to be hurtful, so you have to hurt somebody. So the definition is that bullying is the repetitive intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group where the relationship involves in the imbalance of power. And that could be offline or online.

Neil Fairbrother

Is there a link then between online and offline bullying? Does the one lead to the other? Does one come first in a chicken and egg kind of situation or can you be cyberbullied and not be a victim of bullying per se?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

We found out quite a lot in recent years about that, and the link between traditional, sometimes we call it traditional or face-to-face bullying that happens often in school or on the way to and from school. Some research out in 2017 from Warwick University had some really interesting results and there’s other pieces of research that backs this up that actually, children that are bullied online are very likely to have experienced that face-to-face, and very often that happens first.

In the vast majority of cases when somebody has been bullied online, they have first been bullied offline and it’s also very rare for a child to be bullied online by somebody that they don’t know face-to-face. It’s often a distinction that we don’t talk about very much and we talk about cyberbullying as being very different to face-to-face bullying, but actually it’s a continuum. Children don’t see the difference between their online life and their offline life in the way that we do where we “go to the computer”. So my Dad talks about “going to the screen” and then draws a screen with his hand every time. Children don’t see that differentiation between having a conversation on Whatsapp and having a conversation face-to-face. It’s way more likely that your bullied face-to-face and then it goes online.

Neil Fairbrother

All right. Thank you. And obviously children are at school and they may be being bullied and /or cyberbullied. What is the impact on the child’s attainment at school?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

There’s lots of good quality research about the impact of bullying and cyberbullying on your mental health. This could be in the form of children who’ve been bullied are more likely to self-harm, for example, they’re more likely to experience depression, anxiety issues, eating disorders, and that’s whether they’re bullied online or offline, it’s the same.

And so they have that, but that also lasts long into adulthood. There was some research from King’s College London a few years ago that showed that the impact on their adult lives of bullying that had experienced it, particularly if it was frequent bullying and it went on for a long time, was significant. They were more likely to have depression in adulthood, more likely to be single as an adult and not to be in a relationship, more likely to not have employment, or not receive qualifications.

But in terms of attainment, that impact was very strong. So children who are experiencing bullying, whether online or offline, are more likely to not be accessing school in the same way. They’re more likely to be off school, whether that’s because they’ve been excluded or because they won’t go to school and therefore they are more likely to miss lessons, miss education. So if you’re experiencing bullying, whether online or offline, your sense of heightened fear is very high, so you’re always on alert and it’s very, very difficult to learn when you’re experiencing those emotions, when you feel like you could be attacked at any moment. Any child that experiences bullying is very likely to not be able to learn in the same way as other children.

Neil Fairbrother

So an investment in reducing bullying in all its forms, particularly in a school environment, would actually pay dividends in the long term?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

If you have schools that are really focused on attainment, those schools should be looking at the wellbeing and the levels of bullying of their children, because if they’re not very good, then they won’t be learning to their full potential.

Neil Fairbrother

So it has to be the priority because it’s creating the right conditions for the child to excel at whatever level they’re able to excel at?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

Yes. Experiencing bullying online or offline is not conducive to learning.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Talking about schools, if a school proudly proclaims that there is no bullying in that school, is that a good thing or is it a red flag?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

It’s definitely a red flag. It’s something that we hear less and less, thankfully, these days from schools because they start to see why it’s important not to say it, but it’s definitely a red flag. If schools say that they’ve got no bullying, it’s very unlikely for any school to have no bullying.

What you prefer to hear as a parent, the best thing that you could hear is that we have lots of procedures in place, that we have a really good antibullying policy that’s understood by everybody in the community; parents, all school staff, including afterschool clubs and people like that. They understand the policy and they know how to act. We [the school] are very clear that bullying is not okay and we do everything that we can to prevent it. But when it does happen and it will happen sometimes, we act quickly. We know how to respond to it. So that’s what you want to hear from schools. We don’t want to hear there’s no bullying at all, because it’s just not accurate. It’s not how life works.

Neil Fairbrother

One of the issues that was highlighted in a previous podcast with Adrian Katz, who had just finished some research into this area, was that schools seem to be unprepared professionally to deal with bullying and cyberbullying. They just don’t have the dedicated staff, the resources, is this something that you’re finding or is this something that is being addressed?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

Well, I think some schools deal with bullying very well. It’s so difficult to summarize, every school is very different. However, there are definitely clear gaps in training for school staff. There’s different ways that schools manage bullying. So yes, I think I would agree with that. There’s a lack of understanding sometimes in schools about how to tackle bullying. Bullying is often seen as a problem between two individuals or two groups of people. So here’s a bad person, here’s a good person, and we need to sort them out, when actually it’s very much more complicated than that. It involves a wider group, there are things that influence it such as people laughing along and doing things like that. It’s actually very complicated. The best way of dealing with bullying is not to kind of have a sort of black and white approach to it that it’s really simple to address.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay so if a school then says, well, we’ve created an environment where bullying is not accepted. They’ve admitted that bullying is an issue. They recognize that bullying is an issue, and they’ve saying that they’ve taken steps to create an environment where bullying is not accepted. That sounds very reassuring and gives the impression that the school has got bullying and cyberbullying under control. But is that necessarily the case, if you just create an environment where it’s not accepted. Does that really answer the question?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

I think it’s good to say that bullying isn’t accepted in school. However, just by saying that, doesn’t make it so, so you’d have to have a wide lot of evidence to be able to show that so that children know for example what bullying is, understanding what the difference is between “banter” and bullying. So whilst it’s a good thing to say bullying is not accepted in school and we don’t allow it to happen, it’s also worth going in and really understanding what that bullying policy is.

So if you’re a parent and, and you’re looking at a particular prospective school, getting that antibullying policy is really important. Talking about levels of bullying, are particular children more likely to be bullied that others? Do they monitor that for example? There’s quite a lack of evidence in schools at the moment, so it’s very hard to know what those levels are bullying are.

Neil Fairbrother

Do you think parents have sufficient knowledge to ask those kinds of questions?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

Some do and some don’t I think, and I think there’s probably more that we need to do as an anti-bullying sector to get those questions out and to be able to say, because I think parents look for how much bullying goes on in the school. If a school says, we don’t have any bullying, great, okay, we’ll send our child there. But actually, that’s not always what you want to see.

A school with low levels of reported bullying doesn’t necessarily mean that there was no bullying. Because it might mean that for example, children don’t tell anybody because they don’t see a point in telling anybody because nothing gets done about it. Or it could be that there’s low levels of reported bullying because there is no route to report bullying for example.

So it’s about making sure that parents understand the difference between reported levels of bullying, recorded levels of bullying, and what’s accurate. A school with high levels of reported bullying may have just undertaken some really important work to talk about bullying with children, so that they feel that can report it, and that things will happen quickly and that there’s a reason to do it.

Neil Fairbrother

Yes, so a high level may not be a bad thing?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

No. And what you’d want to see with a school that’s just started embarking on a new approach to bullying, to try and tackle bullying, what you’d probably want to see is a bell curve of levels of bullying, recorded levels of bullying. So you’d probably see an immediate kind of spike in reported levels of bullying as you try to show children that you’re really taking these things seriously. And then what you’d like to see is that taper out as your approaches get better, and as children feel like they understand how to respect each other and to treat each other.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now you’ve recently provided feedback to Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework Review, and I think you’ve got up to something like 29 points or something like, a vast amount of feedback, so well done for doing that! But one the points them stood out for me, because it directly relates to what we’re all about. In point 14, you say that Ofsted should include a requirement for schools to gather evidence about bullying on the way to and from schools and online. Now what do you mean by that? And then how might that be done, particularly in the online space?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

This is all about recording and having evidence, and it’s something that we’ve talked to a lot to Ofsted about. It’s about looking at good quality evidence. Schools have duties and powers to intervene in bullying that happens off school sites and online. We would suggest that when schools record bullying, that they look at whether or not it happened offline and online so that they can create some data around that, so they’ve got the evidence to be able to provide Ofsted. An Ofsted inspector should really know to ask for those things as well. Bullying is more likely to happen at times of transition; that could be from one class to the next class, in those five minutes that they’ve got to get to their Maths lesson, but it’s also on home-to-school transport.

Often on home-to school-transport, they’re contracted out, it could be a school bus for example, and there might just be one person driving that school bus, so there’s less supervision. Online there’s the same issue that you have access to it all the time but you don’t have as much adult supervision. So those elements are very important because we know, as we said at the start about the links between face-to-face bullying and online, and on the way to and from school. Because of those things, we need Ofsted to be thinking cleverly about the ways that they should look at schools’ levels of bullying. Schools should be able to provide that data.

Neil Fairbrother

It’s quite clear that a school has got a duty of care for a child while the child is on the school premises. They also, I think, have a duty of care in transit to and from school, but online is slightly different. If a child receives a stream of abuse on their cell phone whilst they are at school, you could argue that the school has a duty of care there because the child is at school. But what happens if the child is at home? Does the school have a responsibility there or not?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

The school has the powers to intervene, which is not particularly helpful language, but what it means is the Government has released a statement and it’s written within the guidance that they [the school] have the ability to, and that they should, intervene. And the way that we take that, is that they should have a pretty good reason why they didn’t. Particularly where the perpetrators and the targets are at the school, they go to the same school.

Neil Fairbrother

OK so if a child is at home and receives cyber-abuse at home in whatever form, they can nonetheless, legitimately and hopefully with confidence go to the school, point out that this has happened, and the school has the ability, the power, to intervene even though that particular abuse didn’t take place on school premises or in that journey to and from.

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

And that should definitely especially be the case if the perpetrators go to the same school as well.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. That’s good. Thank you. That makes perfect sense. Now recent data published in the mainstream media, in fact, last week I think, estimated that some 12,000 children have asked to move school because of bullying in all its forms, which is an astonishing number. How do we resolve that and how can that physically happen? Because there’s a finite number of schools, the child that might go from the frying pan into the fire and end up in a worse situation, particularly if the abuse is online, because of course online bullying knows no geographic boundaries at all. So the abuse can follow them wherever they go, online. So it doesn’t seem like changing schools is really a solution.

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

No. And it was really interesting to see this research and it’s something that we’ve been really worried about for a long time.

There’s no requirement to report on this, or actually even to record on this. So [the press] did a Freedom of Information request to all 150 local authorities in England and only 16 of them came back with any data. And of those 16 they then extrapolated it and worked out the numbers across the whole population, and that’s how they got to over 12,000 children applying to move school.

The impact of that on a child’s life is significant. It’s really worrying that you’ve got that number of children who are no longer able to go to school, that that relationship is breaking down with that school so much, that they don’t have faith in that child being able to live a happy life at that school.

The impact of this is significant and at no point do we feel like there is accountability there. If a child moves school, there’s no accountability in terms of asking the questions of why this happened and how do we [the school] change that. We think what should happen is that any time that that happens, that a child has requested to have school and we know the reason is because of bullying, that that triggers something with Ofsted or with the Department of Education that says, how did that happen, and how did it get this far?

Because obviously if a parent who makes that decision to move their child because of they are experiencing bullying, shows a massive problem in that school.

Neil Fairbrother

And also, the victim becomes a victim twice over, because not only have they become a victim of the bullying, but they become a victim because they’re having to change schools, which may be highly inconvenient. They may not be able to continue with the same subjects, it may be further away, they are the ones that are paying the price. And that seems profoundly unfair.

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

Absolutely. And that’s why that’s something that we bang on a lot about at the Anti-Bullying Alliance, that sometimes schools’ responses to bullying are about changing the behaviour of the child that’s bullied. So [they say] “Don’t go to that part of the playground”, “Just come and sit in with us at lunchtime”, “Don’t hang out with those children anymore”, “Don’t say that you like playing with trains”, “Don’t make that noise”… Don’t do those kinds of things.

A lot of the time it’s sending a message to a child that it’s their fault, that it’s something that they’ve done.

Neil Fairbrother

So it’s victim blaming?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

Exactly. Having a child then having to move school because they’ve been so bullied, a) we don’t definitely know that that child isn’t then going to go on to experience other bullying in school. Like you say, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the children who are bullying them are going to stop because of cyberbullying and because of the ways that you can do that these days.

It doesn’t give the protections and it also doesn’t have any accountability with it. There’s no way of saying how has this happened and how do we prevent it happening again? And that’s our recommendation to schools about responding to bullying, it has three stages.

The first stage is that you secure the safety of the child, so you make sure that the children involved are safe. The second [stage] is that you look stopping that behaviour from occurring amongst the group.

But the third stage is the stage that is often forgotten by schools, and that’s the stage of asking how did we make this happen? How did we do anything to make this more likely to happen? Is there a problem with discriminatory language for example, do we have an issue with those kinds of things? Do we have a particular part of the school that needs to be improved?

So it’s about the self-learning. And if we don’t have that self-learning in schools, it doesn’t prevent it from happening again because bullying is a group behaviour. It doesn’t happen between two people, two individuals, a good person, a bad person. It’s much more complicated than that. It’s often about how the school is set up and the people around it.

Neil Fairbrother

So asking to change schools is not really the best thing to do?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

I can see why parents get to the point where they don’t know what else to do, so I wouldn’t want to say that it wasn’t the right thing for parents to do if they don’t see any other options. However, it shouldn’t get to that point and there should be things in place sooner. If anyone’s listening who knows a parent that’s thinking those things, there are routes that they can take and support that they can get.

For example, they could get support from the Kidscape Parentline, they shouldn’t be dealing with it on their own. It shouldn’t be allowed to get to this point. Every single time that happens, all of those 12,000 children is a failure and shouldn’t have happened.

Neil Fairbrother

The most recent edition of an erstwhile online publication that I read, which is called Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, recently published an article entitled “Should Smartphone use be Banned for Children?”, particularly under 13 year-olds, and in it they cited lots of reports about the detrimental impact that smartphones can have on mental wellbeing of children, which is something that you’ve alluded to in this podcast.

So the simplistic view might be if my child is being cyberbullied or cyber-abused in any way, if they are not online, then that will stop. And famously, France I believe, has banned smartphones for use in schools. But is it really a solution or does it, does it cause other problems? Is it counterproductive?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

It’s a difficult question, but I think putting a ban on things is often a sure-fire way of getting the children to do things behind your back, so it’s not always the greatest option. I think it’s up to parents to decide when they give their children their smartphones. And we know that most children have smartphones, phones from about the age of eight.

I think a better approach would be that once you do decide to give your child that smartphone, that you have things in place to keep them safe, that they know that they should come to you if they’re worried about anything that they’ve seen.

A big reason why children don’t report bullying both online and offline is often because they’re quite embarrassed or worried about your reaction to something that they may have done. It’s actually quite rare for children to have been bullied both online and offline and to not have said something that they probably don’t want you to know about. So having that ability to say that you should always talk to me, having that open relationship saying that you might do something that I don’t like, but we’ll always sort it out and I’ll always be here to help you navigate it is, in my opinion, a much better way than banning smartphones completely.

Neil Fairbrother

OK, sounds very sensible. One of the fantastic things that the Anti-Bullying Alliance does, and I think it’s probably the thing that you’re most well-known for, because you have this national campaign once a year called Anti-Bullying Week. Why don’t you tell us about Anti-Bullying Week, what do you do, why do you do it and how successful has it been?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

Anti-Bullying Week is a chance in the school diary to focus energy on raising the issue of bullying and to talk to children about bullying, for that whole week. So it’s an opportunity to really talk about bullying, what it isn’t is a, let’s only talk about bringing in this week!

It’s highly successful. It’s in the school calendar. We did some research last year, which we were quite worried about actually because we’d spent a lot of time, when we conducted our own research, talking about, 75% of schools taking part in Anti-Bullying Week. And that was based on our own research, which means that it can be a bit skewed. And so we thought, right, we’re going to do some independent research into this and we were prepared for the numbers to go down in terms of how many schools took part. Actually, what happened was the numbers went up!

So we know roughly 80% of schools take part in Anti-Bullying Week, which reaches about seven and a half million children. So it’s a great opportunity to really reiterate, to learn from children about bullying, to talk about bullying, to learn from them about what’s happening. I think that’s the most important element of it, but it’s also an opportunity to reiterate what the school’s approaches to bullying. It’s a chance for us to shine a light on bullying that happens amongst adults as well, within the media.

So last year our theme was “Choose Respect” and I was really pleased with how the theme came about and we worked with a number of children to develop the theme and what they wanted to talk about a lot about was parents acting as role models, adults acting as role models.

We talked about the theme “Choose Respect” and one child in particular said to us “Sometimes we’re expected to behave better than adults”. And so we talked a lot about showing respect in the media, showing respect online and those kinds of things, it was a really useful task.

So what we tend to do is we have lesson plans, activity ideas. We work with our members to promote members’ work as well. What’s great about Anti-Bullying Week is, it’s coordinated by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, but it’s not owned by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, it’s owned by the whole sector. So we want to promote the work that everybody’s doing. We create a logo, everybody uses it. Everybody gets behind it, which is why it’s so important, and so impactful. It’s a sector wide event basically, we coordinate a theme with young people, but we send it out to everybody.

Neil Fairbrother

Yes and you provide a lot of tool kits that people can download and work into their lesson plans?

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

Yes. So they’re all set around the themes. We often create videos. Last year we had three different videos aimed at different children, different age groups, and we had cross-curricular activities. We also hold two events within the week, the first one being “Odd Socks Day”, which is supported by CEEBEEBEE’s star Andy Day, who has a band called “Andy and the Odd Socks”.

The idea of odd socks is that schools and adults, actually we had Ministers in the Department of Education taking part this year, wear odd socks to celebrate what makes us all unique and different. And because we often know that children are bullied due to perceived differences, so actually if we can celebrate everybody’s differences more, we think that would address bullying. So we work particularly with primary schools and younger children to celebrate that. It’s a nice way of positively celebrating and Anti-Bullying Week. And that’s on the first day of Anti-Bullying Week

And then on Thursday of Anti-Bullying week, we hold something called “Stop Speak Support Day”, which is one day particularly focusing on cyberbullying. And that day came about from the work from the World Cyberbullying task force, which was set up by the Duke of Cambridge a few years ago. There are charity partners that sit on it [the task force], but also big tech industry that sit on it as well. And we worked with young people to develop a code of conduct about how we should treat each other online. And through that we developed a campaign with young people. Last year they created an amazing Beat Poem, which was just lovely. They wrote it within about 10 minutes… I’d spent the day before trying to come up with some poetry that I might be able to give us an example and it was horrendous!

I didn’t end up showing anything, but they wrote this poem in 10 minutes that just got the message about how we should treat each other online so well. And that showed to me the importance of working with young people to develop all these campaigns, and that they know the message that they want to get across to other young people and to schools and to parents.

So “Stop Speak Support” was a big element, it’s got a huge amount of reach. As I say that many schools, we get media coverage and it often trends online as well.

Neil Fairbrother

Martha thank you very much, I think we’re out of time. Great to see you again, I’ll see you soon as we have the ABA member’s meeting coming up.

Martha Evans Anti-Bullying Alliance

Thank you very much for having me.

 

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