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Online Safety: Cyberbullying


Cyberbullying, or online bullying, can be defined as using the internet or technologies to deliberately and repeatedly upset someone else; it is often an extension of face-to-face bullying, where the internet provides an additional route to communicate and harass.

Cyberbullying, like other forms of bullying, affects self-esteem and self-confidence and can affect mental health and wellbeing. Addressing all forms of bullying and discrimination is vital to support the health and wellbeing of all members of education settings communities.

Cyberbullying can/may involve:

  • Defamation, taunting and humiliation
  • Exclusion or peer-rejection
  • Harassment and cyberstalking
  • Impersonation, identity theft or hacking
  • Intimidation or threats of violence
  • Manipulation and exploitation
  • Publication of private or personal information and images.

Cyberbullying can be characterised in several specific ways that differ from face-to-face bullying. These include the profile of the person carrying out the bullying, the location of online bullying, the potential audience, the perceived anonymity of the person cyberbullying,  motivation of the person cyberbullying and the digital evidence of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying involving children is considered to be a type of child-on-child abuse and as such educational settings should ensure that clear policies and procedures are in place so concerns are recognised and responded to appropriately.

What does the law say?

Every school must have measures in place to prevent all forms of bullying.

Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 states that every school must have measures in place to prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils, including cyberbullying. These measures should be part of the school's behaviour policy which should be communicated to pupils, staff and parents.

Where bullying outside school is reported to schools and settings, it should be investigated and acted on. The Education and Inspections Act 2006  gives headteachers a specific statutory power to discipline pupils for poor behaviour outside of the school premises and say that a school’s disciplinary powers can be used to address pupils’ conduct when they are not on school premises and are not under the lawful control or charge of a member of school staff, but only if it would be reasonable for the school to regulate pupils’ behaviour in those circumstances. This can relate to any bullying incidents occurring anywhere off the school premises, including online.

Cyberbullying is specifically identified within the definition of emotional abuse (Working Together to Safeguard Children) and under the Children Act 1989, any bullying incident should be considered to be a child protection concern when there is 'reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm'.

Although bullying in itself is not a specific criminal offence in the UK, it is important to bear in mind that some types of harassing or threatening behaviour or online communications can be a criminal offence, for example under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Malicious Communications Act 1988, the Communications Act 2003, and the Public Order Act 1986.

Responding to Concerns

If staff are concerned that a child or young person is being bullied online, they should follow their existing anti-bullying policy and child protection procedures.

Educational settings may need to draw on a range of internal approaches as well as external services (such as police and/or children's social care) to support learners who are experiencing bullying, or to tackle any underlying issues which may have contributed to a child perpetrating the bullying. A partnership approach with parents/carers and young people themselves is likely to be required.

Kent educational settings can contact the Education Safeguarding Service for advice on responding to cyberbullying concerns.

Resources and Guidance

The Department for Education provide non-statutory guidance for schools; 'Preventing and Tackling Bullying' which includes advice and information about how schools can support pupils and staff, as well as information to share with parents/carers.

School leaders should also access Childnet’s ‘Cyberbullying Understand, Prevent and Respond’ guidance and the UKCIS ‘Challenging victim blaming language and behaviours when dealing with the online experiences of children and young people’ guidance.

Additional resources and helplines include: