The recent death of 14-year-old Hannah Smith, who took her own life after apparently enduring months of online bullying, has raised questions about the online safety of children and young people. – the question-and-answer website at the centre of the controversy – has promised new measures to protect users. But what role should schools play? Esafety is already a part of the curriculum in both England and Wales, but are schools taking the issue seriously enough? And do teachers know enough about the social networking platforms their pupils are using?

Amy James, 15, student at Easten high school, Cardiff

Schools don’t do enough to help people who are being bullied, even when it’s happening in real life. I know a lot of people who are bullied online and keep quiet about it. They think that there’s no point in telling teachers because nothing will be done. And lots of people are also scared to use the “report” buttons on Facebook because they worry that it’ll get out that they’ve reported someone. We don’t have proper lessons looking at social media at school but if we did, it might help people who are experiencing bullying. People need to be taught about the effect that cyberbullying can have.

Carol Phillips, student support officer and child protection at Crickhowell high school in Powys, Wales

Schools only have students for five hours a day, so there’s limited time for classes on internet safety. Parents have them for much longer and it’s parents who are buying them the phones and software, often without understanding how it all works.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of a parent or a sibling, with parental knowledge, putting a child on Facebook when they are below the age of 13. Of course you can’t monitor your children all the time, but there are steps you can take, including controls and filters, or looking at the PEGI age rating that appears on games.

Reem Jaafar, 15, mentor for Bullies Out charity

I experienced online bullying – it was part of a wider pattern of bullying that spilled over onto Facebook. I was receiving messages with nasty comments or rumours that weren’t true. We’ve had some lessons about it at school: one this year about, and last year we had talks about Facebook and Twitter where they said that you should tell a teacher if you’re being bullied online. But it’s really difficult to speak out when it’s actually happening to you. It took me a long time – a year – to finally say something. When I did, my teachers were helpful though.

Nadimur Rahman, assistant head and IT teacher at a secondary school in Sutton

We have so many issues with kids putting stuff on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – you name it. Often when we call parents in and explain what has happened, they have no idea what their son or daughter has been doing.

It’s not their fault – parents aren’t to blame, it’s up to the government to make sure the right information is imparted to parents. Social media is taught as part of the IT curriculum – the problem is that the government is moving away from IT and pushing computer science instead, which focuses far more on technical things like programming.

Kim Thomas, mother of 14-year-old Beth, Hertfordshire
It’s hard to monitor what kids are doing online now they all have iPhones and iPads. I’m Facebook friends with my daughter, so I can see what’s she doing on there, but I only found out yesterday that she has an profile. I don’t know what she does on Twitter because she has three or four different accounts.

My daughter has experienced some nastiness on Facebook in the past – not a huge amount, but a continuation of some bullying that was happening at her old school.

She is given classes on social media at school, but the problem is that the kids are ahead of the teachers. The one thing schools could do is make sure that young people are aware that if they do bully others online, there will be repercussions.

Paul Luxmoore, Dane Court grammar school, Broadstairs, Kent
The new forms of media are fantastic and can be of huge benefit to young people. But it is quite shocking to see how they can be abused – and that’s something all schools need to take seriously. The type of bullying that takes place on new media can be different. Girls, for example, might be persuaded by a boy to take photos of themselves naked. This then gets shared around a friendship group, which is hugely upsetting for the victim. We have a policy of excluding – though not permanently – students who do this type of thing.

Schools need to have very strict rules, and they need to make it clear to pupils that there will be repercussions. You could take the view that if it’s happening outside school then it’s not a matter for teachers, but I believe that if it affects children’s behaviour and attainment in school, it needs to be dealt with.

Liz Watson, head of Beat Bullying
Esafety has been a part of recent curriculum changes, which means schools are already doing more. But as well as educating students about how to use social media, they also need to deal effectively with cyberbullying when it does occur. While many schools do have anti-bullying policies, these tend to focus on face-to-face abuse. Schools need to update these and work with governors, parents and students to raise awareness.

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