As our pupils have come to communicate with each other more and more online when they’re at home, we’ve needed to develop a reliable system of reporting the issues those interactions can cause.
Previously, we’d ask parents to take screenshots and give us printouts to use as evidence. We now use a system called Tootoot, which lets pupils and parents report any concerns they have in an easy and confidential way. Pupils can attach screenshots and photos themselves, and submit them to us through the app anonymously, which helps us to quickly and effectively resolve issues around online arguments and cyberbullying.
When problems arise, the sanctions we use depend on the nature of the issue and the ages of the pupils involved. There was one incident several years ago involving racist comments that one pupil made online against another. In that case, the pupil at fault was in Year 6, able to tell right from wrong, and was suspended for three days.
With cameras now a standard feature of mobile phones we don’t allow any in school, with only rare exceptions. Where a pupil’s phone must be available on site, the parent can bring it in and leave it in the school safe. We’ll sometimes revise that policy as technology changes, as we did after Christmas last year when pupils began bringing smartwatches into school. We sent a message to parents explaining that because these devices have a ‘photograph’ function, they weren’t allowed on school property.
We also use a service called ParentZone to give our parents information on which internet services and games are suitable for children and which aren’t. Some services and games already have clear age restrictions, but we’ve still seen pupils acting out scenes from games such as Grand Theft Auto and Bad Neighbours in the playground, having played them the night before, which can cause the children’s play to be rough and potentially cause injuries.
We can also help parents set up and configure their children’s phones and iPads. Parents often won’t know how a mobile device works and what can be put on it, so they’ll bring them in and we’ll talk them through it all. We also have pupils volunteer as ‘eCadets’ and ‘Mentors’ who other pupils can approach and talk to about any problems they’ve been having with other children online or in the playground.
Our parents are generally on board with our policies. Occasionally I’ll contact a parent about an incident that’s occurred when pupils have been playing a game, and they may feel that as it happened at home, it’s not the school’s problem. But when a child is worried about something that’s happened online, and knows they’ll see the pupil who’s been mean to them in school the next day, it becomes a safeguarding issue. All children need to feel safe coming into school, which makes it a school issue that we can help to resolve.
Hayley Grier is pastoral care manager and deputy safeguarding lead at St Matthew’s Catholic Primary School, Liverpool.