In this safeguarding podcast, award-winning Headteacher of Park House School Derek Peaple discusses how his school’s value-driven ethos guides them in their approach to cyberbullying, protecting victims and dealing with perpetrators. In addition he explains how Park House school uses the curriculum to raise pupils’ awareness of cyberbullying, whether Ofsted is really up to the job of assessing schools’ abilities to manage cyber-related issues and comments on Child Dignity in the Digital World’s “Declaration of Rome” to Pope Francis.
A lightly edited transcript of the podcast is provided below for those that prefer to read or for those that can’t use podcasts.
Welcome to another edition of the safeguarding podcast from the SafeToNet Foundation where we discuss all things to do with safeguarding children in the digital context.
Schools are in the forefront of safeguarding children in the offline world and increasingly so in the online world. And yet that is a task that is fraught with difficulties and according to some, one for which schools are not necessarily institutionalized to tackle as there is not enough training or budget for teachers to become subject matter experts in what can be a nuanced and complex topic.
Today’s guest is well qualified to help guide us through this. He has been shortlisted for the Times Educational Supplement’s National Headteacher of the Year Award and was the recipient of the inaugural Sir John Madejski’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Sport, and is Headteacher at Park House school in Newbury, Berkshire.
Derek Peaple, welcome to the podcast.
Thank you very much indeed Neil.
Derek, could you give us a brief resume of your career to date? How did you end up where you are?
Well, I’ve been at Park House as Headteacher now, I believe it’s for 16 years. I was a Headteacher in the London Borough of Croydon just before that. My background in education is as a History teacher. I came into teaching in 1988, I had a little bit of time between college and my teacher training, actually working in the real world and accountancy, which I think was quite interesting from the point of view of both understanding perhaps a little bit about how organizations work and tick and also very relevant, as you pointed out earlier, to some of today’s challenges in the world of education.
It’s been a huge privilege and pleasure to be involved in the world of education for the last 32 years and I think pertinently to your introduction, sort of a perspective on how things have changed in terms of the leadership and management of schools over that period.
Indeed. Now you’ve been at Parkhouse school for I think 16 years you said. What is Park House school? Tell us about Park House school. What type of school is it?
I think the thing I’m proudest about in terms of observations about the school, and I think we probably might touch on Ofsted a little bit later on, and I won’t necessarily believe in everything that they say about our school, but I think the thing I’m proudest about is that they said there’s a “values-driven” ambition for our students. And I think for me that’s what’s at the heart of Park House.
It is about building a values-driven community. Part of that went explicitly back to our hosting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games where we played quite a central role in the London 2012 education programs.
Because Park House focuses on sport?
Park House was one of the early specialist Sports Colleges when schools were able to take a specialism. Really that’s about culture and ethos rather than winning more trophies, although it’s obviously nice to do that from time to time, but it’s about taking the spirit and the nature of your specialism, in our case it was sport.
Again, to be thinking about what those values, in terms of London 2012, we were talking about were inspiration, excellence, courage, determination, respect, equality and how actually you endeavour to live those values on a day-to-day basis, how you build those into the curriculum, how you amplify those through personal development programs, how you engage with organizations that help young people to behave one hopes in value driven ways. So I’m proud that Park House is a values-driven school.
In more simplistic terms, it’s a mixed 11 to 18 school of 1100 young people in Newbury. We serve what is widely acknowledged as the most diverse catchment area in West Berkshire, we’re genuinely a Community School, there are more than 30 different Primary Schools represented in our school population, so there’s diversity there.
We have been identified as a school that adds significant value to young people, both in terms of their progress, I’m delighted that we were identified by the Ministry of State as one of the top 100 State Schools in the country for continuous improvement in young people’s progress and achievement, and also for narrowing the gap between a disadvantage and other students in terms of their progress and achievement. I think that’s part of our culture, our ethos, which is an inclusive one.
And I think possibly something we might pick up on in due course in terms of the sorts of challenges that all schools have been facing from a budgetary point of view. What’s been absolutely critical here is that we’ve invested in a number of ways in young people’s emotional wellbeing. We of course remain focused on outcomes, and we’re judged in terms of student outcomes, but I think what’s been critical to that I suppose that also fits with the values themed ethos is underpinning a young person’s personal development at the school. Both of the guidance, the care and support and the learning and encouraging young people themselves to be proactive in their decision making about what constitutes values driven and respectful behaviour.
Talking about values-driven and respectful behaviour, Martha Evans, the Director of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, says that a school with low levels of reported bullying doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no bullying. It might mean, for example, that children don’t tell anyone because they don’t see any point in telling anyone because nothing seems to get done, or because there is no route to report bullying for example. So how do you manage bullying and indeed cyberbullying at Park House school?
I think that’s unsurprisingly a very astute and significant observation. I’ll roll back the Ofsted clock slightly further, I recall in 2003, which was my first Ofsted here, it referenced an almost complete absence of bullying to which I challenged back because sadly I believe in all organizations, bullying exists.
What this is about is how schools or organizations respond and ensure that there is an open culture of communication so that issues are addressed. And I suppose what’s absolutely critical is that if you don’t listen, you don’t provide those channels, you don’t encourage young people to express their views, it’s unlikely that culture will change. And I think what’s critical about a school being a safe place and when we talk to our young people about this, it’s about ensuring that there are relationships and cultures and then mechanisms which enable them to talk about their experiences, whether that’s to their teachers, or whether it’s to other adults. And I think that’s significant as well in terms of the sorts of structures that one puts in place.
And that I think that’s probably amplifying the point that I made earlier around the sort of investment that we have around our support staff who are available perhaps slightly more regularly than teachers might be in their hour by hour silos. It’s important that staff are available at all times, but also, you know, encouraging young people talk to each other about those issues. For example, our senior student team, that those are our elected representatives on the sixth form, have been very proactive in creating student workshops where young people feel comfortable about talking in open climate and then knowing that any issues that they might have will be fed through formally to us. So I think first and foremost it is about relationship and culture.
Clearly you have to have then systems in place so that reporting is clear and responses are clear, whether those are about how you build greater awareness through personal development programs, through cuter programs, through engaging with other organizations and agencies. And the development work that we’ve done has really deepened and enhanced our understanding, particularly of cyberbullying, which I guess it’s important to focus on here and now.
If I was to reflect back as I did earlier on those 32 years of educational experience, the first at least 10 of which were developing when there weren’t mobile devices, there wasn’t access 24/7. Bullying activity, whilst of course it could be insidious, of course it could be hidden, it was physically manifested, it was verbally manifested, it tended to occur in school hours. That doesn’t mean to say that things wouldn’t go out on outside of the school gates, but again, they tended to be more, I suppose, constrained in some respects.
What’s absolutely clear now is that this is a 24/7 issue for schools and one of the key challenges is that as we rightly harness more technology to increase learning, if I can take a mobile device out of my pocket to pull down the piece of information that I need to help me on my piece of work in the course of the day, nonetheless that can be used obviously in insidious ways, both during the course of the school day and beyond it.
And I think back to, I guess my own abuse of the available technology when I was a student, which would have been paper and pen and if I if I wanted to write a note to somebody, I probably could. And equally I guess it was about teachers then taking the lead in having responsibility. But they were probably clearly aware of what the available technology was, which was pretty basic, the paper and the pen. Now there’s an educational issue I think for staff very much as well in possibly not being fully aware of the range of technology that’s available.
Yes, that’s an interesting point because Adrienne Katz who is an award winning researcher and author on the topics of bullying and cyberbullying in particular, has completed a two year project and out of that research project, she’s suggesting that schools are not generally well geared up for educating children on bullying and cyberbullying in particular because it’s a very nuanced and complex issue.
You’ve got technological constraints and issues, you’ve got legal constraints and issues and you’ve got ethical constraints and issues. And because this is not institutionalized in the world of education, it is a difficult topic for non-subject matter experts to grapple with and deal with successfully. What’s your view on that?
I think I would agree with all of those points to start off with in terms of the challenges that schools can generically face. That’s why we’ve been so excited about understanding better how we can both be preventative but proactive about what we do in this area and ensure that we learn from experts about how best young people can be steered into behaviour change through the available technology.
So I think we have to as schools be outward looking in this respect, and be absolutely honest about the fact that the traditional expertise that might have sat inside of a school in relation to behaviour management might actually not be there. We might need to seek that elsewhere and in terms of sustainability, clearly becoming more skilled about that. I think it is also critically about investing beyond the classroom in terms of staff capacity to spend time on these complex investigations.
Yes. You said in your anti-bullying policy, for example that wherever possible and when appropriate young people’s and adult’s awareness of issues relating to bullying and harassment will be developed through the curriculum and staff training. How do you do that?
So if I was to take you through the curriculum strand of that first. There’s a personal development program, which is in turn supported by an assembly program with themes and issues that are picked up and developed. We also have an hourly session a week, which we call our character and values sessions where again, we will draw in expertise. We will pick up on what we believe to be key issues in the context of values driven behaviour. I keep going back to that. Hence the title of the particular program. But we will look beyond the expertise of our staff to bring in external expertise to help shape our thinking. We will look to engage with colleagues who’ve had a transformational approach to how this issue is addressed.
It’s not simply about punishing behaviours which appear to be antisocial. It’s about behaviour change and cultural shift, which is clearly the sustainable way that we would want to move forward. In terms of staff training there’s still not, I would feel perhaps, the sort of structured programs that one might look at. There’s plenty on how to prepare for your Ofsted inspection, there’s plenty on how to be a better Head of History department or your next steps into leadership. Those programs I think are pretty well catered for. But I do think if we were in a position where we could pull together expertise that’s been gained in schools, which is by definition I think an iterative process and one that constantly changes as the technology changes, with the sort of expertise that [external] colleagues could bring, I think we’d be in a stronger place.
Do you think that children should formally be taught online media rights and online law?
I think it’d be very helpful to develop an understanding of those issues in an age appropriate way because understanding of where legal position stands also needs to move on in the technological age. I think we would have had an understanding of where physically striking somebody would sit, whether that happens in school or whether it happens on the street and what the consequences of that would be. And the view that online behaviours can continue with impunity that is not an acceptable position.
So I think a grounding in those sorts of positions and I think schools reflecting more broadly in terms of what codes of conduct look like. We promote positively social behaviour, one hopes in every other context and yet we see antisocial, social networking. And I think anything that we can collectively do, in terms of that, in a structured educational process, has to be really positive, because if you think about young people as the future generation, as parents who will be shaping their children’s behaviours, how do we put some structure into that at this point? I think it is about working in partnership. I mentioned parents there, this is all about working together.
You mentioned antisocial social media and the Internet and social media combined has opened up a whole world of competing norms, ideology, ideas, which is actually fantastic for children to have access to. But it’s equally wonderful and terrifying, to quote a friend of mine and at the extreme, it can lead to radicalisation in a way that, for example, Shamima Begum has been. What role do you believe a school has in countering this form of online grooming this, this extremist view?
Well, clearly in the same way that codes of conduct, in the same way that anti-bullying behaviours. So, the school’s whole approach to safeguarding, it’s online vigilance has to be criticalå to this process. And I think it is an increasingly key role. Safeguarding policy is obviously something that absolutely has to be in place. But it is going back to this whole question of culture, communication, openness and ensuring that we have the… vigilant sounds like it’s a negative, it’s watching every move that young people make. It’s not that, it’s about awareness. It’s about sensitivity. It’s about understanding individuals and groups and how we pull that together.
Right. Okay. Now Ofsted recently published their Education Inspection Framework Review, which the Anti-Bullying Alliance has fed back into because they were concerned that the framework doesn’t go far enough to emphasize the barriers to learning and wellbeing that bullying represents, and neither does it really scrutinize all of the potential data and evidence in schools that could indicate there’s a problem with bullying or indeed radicalization or cyberbullying or anything else.
What do you think those barriers are and what evidence do you think can be collated? You talked about a vigilance in a positive way, not that snooping, prying, spying version of vigilance. What kind of evidence would you be looking for that something that’s taking place in the online world is manifesting in the offline world?
I think to pick up on the first part of the question in terms of how any sense of unease, discomfort, lack of security, impacts upon the young person’s learning. I go back to early training when we looked at Maslow’s basic needs and a young person who in any way, who feels any sense of discomfort, threat or concern within their learning environment isn’t going to focus. Why might be we be expecting that they would remember the terms of the Treaty of Versailles if they’re being bombarded by messaging, which is critical and undermining and challenging self-esteem and everything else. So if you’re looking at everything that underpins effective learning and young people’s individual progress at the school, it has to be those basic needs that around their safety and security, which in turn feeds feed into their wellbeing.
We track behaviours I believe closely and effectively, lesson by lesson. We would be encouraging staff to pick up on any concerns that they might have about young people’s behaviour, how that might be affecting progress. That will happen at various levels in the school, and that evidence can be collected whether it’s at tutor level, whether it’s through non-teaching staff, the various wellbeing coordinators that we have for year groups. The fact that there will be conversations going on liaising with parents, parents also tend to be very positive in terms of raising issues that they might have. And that dialogue is absolutely vital. So there is a log of evidence there.
I think it’s interesting from the point of view of where inspections might pick up on this. Ofsted might be looking at [this], because if I guess we were to echo those observations about the skillsets of staff, teaching staff, and needing to update those or keep those relevant, I think there’s clearly a piece of work that needs to be done there.
In terms of the inspection regime, some of those colleagues may still be practitioners, many may not. They may be one step beyond the current school environment and therefore I guess ensuring that their understanding of the complexity, the nuancing, the signs of distress that might be coming through the sorts of evidence that schools might be responding effectively or less effectively to, those need to be kept very live.
So school inspectors themselves may not necessarily understand what catfishing is, for example?
No, and at one level, why should they? But they need to. And I think that that is absolutely critical because otherwise there is a de-alignment between the evidence that will be generated about the effectiveness of schools in addressing these issues and in supporting young people’s wellbeing, and not. So I think that’s a critical area.
Now there’s a reference to a concept called contextual safeguarding in the guidelines that the government issued last year for safeguarding children. And contextual safeguarding is all about the people that surround children during the different real world locations during their day, but also the quality of the spaces themselves that the children find themselves in. So, a child may start the day in their bedroom, they go to the bathroom, they go downstairs to the kitchen and have breakfast, then together on the school bus and so on.
But evidence shows that the bullying is more likely to happen at times of transition. So it could be from one class to the next as they going down the corridor to the maths lesson, or it could be on the home to school transport. So now we’re outside of the physical boundaries of the school, but the school perhaps still has an issue here. It still has to take some responsibility for the safeguarding of children in that space.
Oh, I would agree with that completely, certainly at that point from home to school transition, and that’s why it’s critical I think that anti-bullying and codes of conduct and behaviour policies extend to those periods. We run quite an extensive home to school transport network ourselves, coincidentally because, I referenced the number of primary schools that’s reflected in the school population earlier, a number of those are some of our more isolated rural primaries, and what’s absolutely critical is that from the moment those… in fact it’s in some cases almost a door to door service… but those drivers are absolutely part of the safeguarding team, that they’ve been absolutely briefed as much as any colleague who would be having five hours a day contact with young people in a teaching context would have, so that they are aware of some of those issues and they’re clear on what reporting lines would be, even though they’re technical responsibility would finish at 08:35 when they dropped that young person at the school.
But that’s absolutely critical in terms of the inclusivity of safeguarding training that engages the whole of the school community. I think your point about transitions and unstructured time is one of the very significant ones. We have five minutes movement time here, it’s the size of our site it’s built in, but that’s something that we’ve made part of a specific emphasis that we want staff to pick up on those moments. So points of entry and exit from classrooms, just ensuring that we’re vigilant there as well, that we’re monitoring the nature of behaviours and picking those up.
If we look at how devices would be used in an explicitly learning context in lessons, I go back to my misuse of the available technology. I’d expect vigilant staff to know that device is being used appropriately, to pull down that piece of information on the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. But it’s in those unstructured times in breaks and lunchtimes, if that device is still available, it might be being used completely legitimately.
If I were to go back, goodness me, to my more than 50 years in education generally, I know my recreational time would’ve involved chucking a tennis ball around or kicking a football or whatever that would be. That was the nature of that social time. That leisure time will change. Maybe completely legitimately some of the young people are looking at the use of games online, on online games at this particular moment or whatever it would be. But how we going to help to ensure that that time is productive and purposeful in non-structured time. It may be completely appropriate social interaction, but it may not. And I think some of what I’ve seen developed would be absolutely critical in that context.
So if I a child, one of your pupils, is at home, and they are online, online knows no geographic or time boundaries. If one of your pupils is at home and it’s being cyberbullied or otherwise predated on, do you have a responsibility there? What would you do?
Well, we will always respond to that. We will obviously engage with other agencies and that could well include the police and unfortunately, we have examples of that where a young person is being targeted by a pupil or pupils at this school. That network might be wider because clearly that can draw in others from other “friendship groups”. We would formally investigate that to identify where we absolutely can, where the perpetrators of that activity would be, assuming that is tracked back to students at this particular school, that behaviour would be dealt with in the way in which it was manifested physically in the school.
Or to go back to the earlier point about understanding where the legal frameworks sit, we will engage with the police and we will engage obviously with other schools as well, if it is clear that we can track a student back to a particular school, whether that’s geographically close to us or hundreds of miles away.
Yes. Now, again come back to your antibullying policy, which is readily available from your website and that’s excellent to see, you have six stages of dealing with in particular the perpetrators of cyberbullying or bullying in general, resulting in the ultimate sanction of exclusion.
Earlier this year, the press estimated that some 12,000 children have asked to move school because of bullying in all its forms, which is quite an astonishing number. How does the educational world deal with that? Because there are only so many schools or only so many places, the impact on the child, the victim, if the victim is the one that moves is enormous, they’re being victimized again because they’re having to move schools. Have you received pupils from other schools that have been the victim of this and how have you dealt with them?
Yes, I would agree with you completely in the context of a young person who is thriving in all other respects in the school environment that they and their parents chose them to move, whether that’s in a primary context or is a secondary context at the standard point of entry, because of bullying activities, I think that’s tragic.
And you know, we would all wish to look at such approaches and systems and cultures that we’d have that led to that position with sometimes the subtleties and the nuances that are there. It could be, and it may be that schools have had an extended and detailed approach to addressing that issue. There could be areas of misconception on the part of a student or a parent about instigation of activities and so forth. And sadly there will be occasional points where there is a breakdown with potentially both sides having done everything they possibly could to resolve those situations.
Within the local context there are a series of mechanisms and structures that are in place. You would hope that there aren’t wholescale scenarios where young people are being moved. Where there is a parental request for a student to move schools, there is certainly, I would argue from our perspective, and I certainly wouldn’t suggest that other schools don’t engage with this open dialogue about what the context is for that move, we would always seek background from the school on what those circumstances would be.
Within the context of West Berkshire, there is something called a Fresh Start protocol, which is where there’s potential for a young person to move on a probationary period to understand whether that move would actually be advantageous or not. But all of the evidence that would suggest that in-year movement is not something that is desirable at any level at all. As you rightly pointed out I think in the lead in to the question, there isn’t necessarily free movement of students anyway, even if that was desirable because there will be certain schools where places simply aren’t available and there is no best fit. Certainly from our perspective limiting that sort of movement is absolutely essential. That runs counter to everything that I would have said about the sort of inclusivity of culture.
We are approaching the end of our time unfortunately, but to just a couple of other points. There is an organization called Child Dignity in the Digital World and they presented a “Declaration of Rome” to Pope Francis in October 2017 and in Goal 13 Objective 4, say that tech devices are keeping kids awake at night, causing them to arrive at school tired with low mood, preoccupied and anxious. If you add that to the extensive accusations of online bullying, cyberbullying and predatory behaviour, would it not simply be easier just to say no smart phones in schools, you’ve got to be 16 at least before you even have one, and really start to clamp down on access to all this stuff? Doesn’t that just make things easier?
Well, we’ve grappled with that. If I go back to 2003 when I arrived here, having a mobile device on your person was about as close to a capital offense as you could possibly imagine. [We then went to] a scenario when it was acceptable, if they were in bags and they weren’t turned on, [then we got to] a point where they were key to learning. And then without wishing to move away from the point that in a structured classroom context, mobile devices can enhance learning, the antisocial activity that we didn’t successfully manage led to a position where we said, actually, no, except for safety reasons in terms of transport between school and so forth, you’re not going to use mobiles at school.
As an educationalist, if it’s about enhancing the most appropriate use of technology as is available at any point, and preparing young people for a future where their ability to find the most efficient mechanism to gather the piece of information that they need to make the decision, or indeed to work collaboratively online as we become increasingly connected in every way and break down barriers, then I’ve got a real challenge there as an educationalist.
Where I think the future for apps in every sense lies, is in educative, progressive and proactive approaches to the appropriate use of technology in every context, because it is about getting young people to reflect upon their behaviours, to change their behaviours, which is really what education holistically is always been about. And if there’s one constant, I guess it’s that.
Derek Peaple, thank you so much for your time, it’s been a fascinating discussion. Thank you very much indeed.