Article in todays Irish Examiner
Vocational schools are to be told they must act on cyberbullying by students even if it happens outside school hours.
Under new rules on cyberbullying being finalised by the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA), every school’s policies should state clearly that all bullying comes under its authority if it is done by a member of the school community and impinges on a student’s work or happiness. Crucially, it says, this would apply even where the bullying is done outside the school.
The 250 vocational schools and community colleges run by the vocational education committees, for which the IVEA is an umbrella body, should also have the right to discipline students who bully other members of the school community, even when not at school. In addition, the proposed rules would require schools to:
*Survey students regularly to find out levels of bullying and, as much as possible, those most affected;
*Organise safe internet awareness days or similar events;
*Oblige students or staff to notify the school if they come across cyberbullying on, for example, Facebook or other sites;
*Remind teachers about keeping their Facebook, Twitter, or other social media accounts private and avoiding direct connection with students online;
*Provide information for parents to help them understand cyberbullying, but also seek parents’ views on bullying in the school;
*Address cyberbullying in social, personal and health education (SPHE) and in relationships and sexuality education (RSE);
*Include specific reference to cyberbullying in acceptable use policies for school internet use.
The final guidance will be issued by IVEA soon, and comes as Ruairi Quinn, the education minister, prepares to publish a major action plan on bullying tomorrow. It will have a major focus on cyberbullying, with a website being set up to inform parents about the issues and schools expected to keep better records of all bullying incidents.
The IVEA is to recommend that schools set aside at least one staff session a year to updating their capacity to deal with the evolving issues.
VEC schools will be asked to have specific rules for dealing with complaints. Students should be reminded of the possible consequences, including the possibility of conviction under law covering harassment.
As well as recommending sanctions proportionate to the seriousness of the offence, including an assessment of the impact on the victim, VEC schools will be told to ensure victims get appropriate support even if the cyberbullying is done by non-students of the school.
Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue told Mr Quinn yesterday that the ability of schools to deal with issues affecting young people has been inhibited by staffing cuts that have seen one-to-one work by guidance counsellors halved.