ACTION on bullying in schools is to be reviewed and updated to take account of cyberbullying, Clare’s Fianna Fáil TD has been told. In response to a parliamentary question from Deputy Cathal Crowe, the Minister for Children outlined a number of responses being undertaken to make the online sphere safer, including a review of school policies that date back to 2013.
Responding to Deputy Crowe’s question, Minister Roderic O’Gorman said the Department of Education is soon to update its interventions in relation to bullying. He noted that Minister Norma Foley’s Department has already published a strategy document for schools.
“My colleague the Minister for Education has also brought forward significant policy initiatives in this area this year including the publication of the new Digital Strategy for Schools in April, which focusses on further embedding the use of digital technologies in all teaching, learning and assessment activities and includes building awareness and knowledge around online safety,” Minister O’Gorman said.
“The Department of Education is also currently reviewing the Action Plan on Bullying and the Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools. The review will take account of the significant developments and relevant research since the Action Plan and Anti-Bullying Procedures were first published in 2013 and it will specifically consider cyberbullying, among other areas. My Department is represented on the Steering Committee established to carry out the review and to develop a new Action Plan.”
Minister O’Gorman also pointed to the forthcoming legislation on online safety and regulation, the Online Safety and Media Regulation (OSMR) Bill.
He noted that this provides for the appointment of an Online Safety Commissioner, as part of a wider Media Commission, to oversee a new regulatory framework for online safety.
“The Commissioner will govern this new framework through binding online safety codes and robust compliance, enforcement and sanction powers,” he said.
“The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media published the OSMR Bill 2022 in January 2022 and it was initiated in the Seanad later that month. The OSMR Bill sets out defined categories of harmful online content (e.g. cyberbullying material and material promoting eating disorders), a definition of ‘age-inappropriate online content’ and the process by which additional categories of harmful online content may be specified.
“The Online Safety Commissioner will also have a role in promoting positive digital citizenship among children and young people, in conjunction with Webwise and other educational partners, schools as well as the Ombudsman for Children.
“The Webwise programme, funded by the Department of Education, is a key educational resource in the promotion of online safety, providing information and advice to children and young people, teachers and parents.”
Minister O’Gorman also referred to the Children First legislation and guidance, which is under the remit of his Department, and operates on the premise that it is the responsibility of everyone in society to keep children and young people safe from harm.
“This responsibility includes keeping children safe from harm online,” he said. “As part of the Action Plan for Online Safety, in January 2019, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs published an addendum to the Children First National Guidance to include a specific reference to the need to consider online safety in the preparation of statutory risk assessments and Child Safeguarding Statements. In addition, Tusla revised its template for the completion of Child Safeguarding Statements to refer to the need to consider online risks to children if a service provides access to the internet.”
Minister O’Gorman also noted his Department’s support for online safety initiatives from The National Youth Council, SpunOut and Foróige.