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Online Safety Commissioner and updated Department action plan are vital measures in combatting bullying in schools – Kehoe

23rd August 2021 - Paul Kehoe

The appointment of an Online Safety Commissioner and an updated action plan on bullying in our primary and secondary schools are key measures in combatting the scourge of bullying and cyberbullying of young people, a Fine Gael TD has said.

Wexford TD Deputy Paul Kehoe was speaking as the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science today published its report on school bullying and the mental health impact on our young people.

Deputy Kehoe, Chair of the Committee, said the issue of school bullying and mental health go hand in hand and must be treated as a matter of urgency by the Department of Education.

Deputy Kehoe said: “Our young people must be given the best start in life, which includes benefitting from having an education that is free from behaviour that impacts adversely on their mental health and causes distress, anxiety, fear and trauma that may be carried into their adult lives.

“The Joint Committee met academics from the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre in Dublin City University (DCU) in November to discuss the impact of school bullying, including cyberbullying, during the pandemic. Department of Education officials also briefed the Committee on measures in place and plans to tackle the issue of school bullying and support mental health.

“We know that young people have endured great distress because of school bullying, with short-term and long-term consequences of a very serious nature.

“The Committee also recognises that cyberbullying is now a major problem as an unintended consequence of advances in digital technology. Research also shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated this insidious form of bullying.

“The Committee has made several recommendations that should be implemented without delay and we hope will have a positive effect on the entire school community. We believe the Department of Education’s Action Plan on Bullying and related Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post Primary need to be urgently audited and updated in line with current policies on child protection, wellbeing, and Relationships and Sexuality Education.

Over the last eight years, there have been significant developments in research and international best practice relating to bullying prevention and dealing with bullying behaviour. However, the Department’s action plan has not been updated since 2013 and this must change.

“A national system for the reporting of data on individual bullying cases, their causes, and the steps taken to address them must also be established by the Department of Education. This should include the outcomes of these interventions that are currently being collected by schools and reported to their Boards of Management.

“We also believe that the appointment of an Online Safety Commissioner which has the power to investigate complaints from individuals will play a key role in tackling incidents of online bullying, and should also have powers of compellability over social media companies.

“The Committee have also requested that the issues raised in the report be debated in both Houses of the Oireachtas at the earliest opportunity, particularly as schools return for the new academic year in the coming weeks,” concluded Deputy Kehoe.

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