Safeguarding data insight into violent language being used by pupils

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

A disturbing insight into the increasingly violent bullying language being used by school children has been revealed by new online safeguarding data.

Terms used by children online and captured by school safeguarding software reveal a trend toward violence in bullying language, including threats and encouragement toward suicide.

Some of the common language being used includes “GKS”, which stands for “go kill yourself”, and several variations on this theme, including: “Just kill yourself.” This language is often used by pupils – of both primary and secondary age – in personal attacks.

The terms have been revealed by safeguarding software provider Impero and are included in the latest update to its keyword library index.

Other common key words from the library include references to rape – "r8pe" – insults of a sexual nature, abusive terms including “abortion gone wrong” and “melt”, and appearance-related bullying including a number of insults about weight.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that around one in five children and young people have experienced online bullying, and yet 26% do not report it.

It is feared that after two years of Covid-19 and the shift to children spending much more time online, the situation regarding a whole host of online safety issues, including cyber-bullying will have worsened.

Charlotte Aynsley, online safety expert and safeguarding advisor at Impero, said: “Often, the abstraction of having an interaction online – such as the lack of non-verbal cues and the asynchrony – leads young people to say more extreme things than they would in person. It’s easy to forget that there’s a real person on the other end, and they may not understand the serious implications of what they are saying in the online context.

“Online bullying poses a significant threat to young people, especially as many are still feeling vulnerable and isolated in the wake of pandemic-era school closures.”

Online filtering systems are a common safeguarding approach used by schools and in a recent article, Headteacher Update’s resident safeguarding expert, Elizabeth Rose, offered the following advice for their deployment to support online safety and safeguarding work:

  • Check that any alerts are sent to relevant, trained people (e.g. the safeguarding team) who can respond to them quickly and appropriately.
  • Think about monitoring of IT equipment when it is offsite – is this covered by your systems and have staff been trained in what they can and cannot do?
  • Consider remote learning and how concerns will be responded to if an online safety concern is flagged when a child is at home.
  • Ensure that you have a clear dialogue with your provider so that you know monitoring is up-to-date and picking up the latest risks.

But Ms Rose adds: “We have monitoring software in place to support in intervening and the training to respond to disclosures, but the vast majority of our work should be to keep children safe before they encounter harmful material. However, it is an ever-changing picture, with new trends, websites, crazes, and risks emerging all the time. It is important, therefore, to review (online safeguarding provision) regularly and at least annually to check that you are working along the right lines.”

Ms Rose also appeared in a recent episode of the Headteacher Update Podcast focused on effective safeguarding practice in schools (Headteacher Update, 2022).

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