Page last updated at 13:16 GMT, Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Cyber bully pledge for teachers

By Angela Harrison
BBC News, at the NASUWT conference in Birmingham

boy using computer
Pupils have allegedly impersonated teachers online

The government is pledging action to protect teachers from bullying through mobile phones and the internet.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls told NASUWT delegates the "cyber bullying taskforce" for England will seek ways to stop pupils targeting teachers.

Mr Balls said he wanted cyber bullying of teachers to be regarded as a "serious disciplinary offence".

Union leaders say more teachers are being harassed and bullied online, but many schools are ignoring the problem.

They want mobile phones classed as "potentially offensive weapons" and a ban on online allegations.

Until now, the government taskforce has focused on how cyber bullying in England affects children.

Cases of cyber bullying being highlighted at the conference include:

  • mobile phone photos of teachers posted on the internet
  • students set up a page about a teacher on a social networking site and invited others to post offensive messages
  • a teacher was bombarded by calls on his mobile phone and called a pervert and a paedophile
  • pupils posed online as a female teacher and urged men in chat rooms to attack her husband, saying he was abusive.

Similar complaints have been made at other teachers' gatherings this Easter.

Parental responsibilities

The measures being suggested by the government include the setting up of a hotline on which teachers could report incidents of cyber bullying, and examining how government could work with the internet industry to combat the problem.

The law requires head teachers to take action to prevent all forms of bullying
Ed Balls, Children, Schools and Families Secretary
Generally, the suggestions for the task force appear to centre on making sure schools have discipline policies to cover such complaints and that head teachers are aware of the powers they already have to tackle cyber bullying.

Parents should be told of their responsibilities regarding the problem and be shown what their child has done, the Department for Children and Schools suggests.

Mr Balls isaid at the Birmingham conference of the NASUWT: "Bullying is never acceptable and we will do all we can to prevent it in all its forms.

"The law requires head teachers to take action to prevent all forms of bullying. It also gives school staff statutory power to punish bullying whether that occurs in or out of school.

"We already give schools advice on the practical measures they can take to tackle bullying, including guidance on dealing with cyber bullying. But I want to go further."

'Lives destroyed'

The cyber bullying taskforce includes representatives from anti-bullying and children's charities, the internet industry and teachers' groups.

The general secretary of the NASUWT, Chris Keates, said she welcomed the news that the taskforce was to look at teachers' experiences.

"I am pleased the government accepts that we need strong policies in schools which focus on teachers.

"Increasingly, teachers' lives are being destroyed by what pupils are doing."

She added: "Pupils who once had to content themselves with exhibiting poor behaviour when face to face with the teacher, now increasingly use technology to support their indiscipline.

"Relying on industry self-regulation to resolve this problem is the equivalent of waiting for hell to freeze over."

But shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said: "We have repeatedly said that head teachers must be given a general power to ban items in school that they think contribute to violence, bullying, and disruption.

"If head teachers think that children should hand in phones at the beginning of the day, they must have the power to enforce it.

"The government should make the simple change to the law we've been proposing instead of talking about more reviews and taskforces."

Teachers warn over cyber bullying
18 Mar 08 |  Education
Bullying policy 'needs shake-up'
16 Nov 07 |  Education
Children plagued by cyber bullies
18 Jan 08 |  Technology

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