Validated local practice details

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C4EO theme: Schools and Communities

CyberMentors: online peer-to-peer mentoring

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Schools and Communities
  • General resources
  • Local area early intervention strategies

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

  • Narrowing the gap in educational achievement and improving emotional resilience
  • Strengthening family well-being and community cohesion through the role of schools and extended service

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Beatbullying

Local authority/local area:

National Project

 

The context and rationale

Background details to your example

Beatbullying (BB) is the UK’s leading bullying prevention charity, working to create a world wherein bullying, violence, and harassment are unacceptable. The charity has gained significant recognition for its anti-bullying work in schools and communities across the UK since its launch in 1999. Beatbullying aims to empower people to understand, recognise, and say no to bullying, violence and harassment, by giving them the tools to transform their lives and the lives of their peers. We work with families, schools, and communities to understand the problem, campaign for change, and provide a sustainable and evidence-based solution.

CyberMentors is a new service for the digital age. It represents a shift in our reach as a charity through placing our existing schools based peer-to-peer mentoring model online. It responds to Dr Tanya Byron’s call to ‘empower [children] to manage risks and make the digital world safer.’ (Byron 2008) Extending Beatbullying’s proven mentoring model , young people aged 11-25 are trained as CyberMentors so that they can offer support to their peers, both in schools and online. Underpinned by cutting-edge technology, which in itself acts as an engagement tool, it is a safe and appealing website where young people can turn to other young people for help and advice. CyberMentors are also supported by trained counsellors, available online if the severity of the issues makes it necessary.

CyberMentors, as the UK’s first and only early intervention practice-based peer mentoring model that exists off and on line, responding to the needs of young people who increasingly use new technology. CyberMentors supports those who are being bullied and cyber bullied, helps educate young people about safe and responsible use of new technology, and reduces the number of incidences that may end up as child protection issues.
CyberBulling has been identified in, but is not limited to, the following categories: bullying via mobile phone (text messages; pictures and video clips; abusive or silent calls), and abuse, threats and insults via e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, websites, weblogs and polling sites (Erwon- Jones 2008). Other forms are “outing” – publishing or disseminating others’ confidential information via mobile phone or the internet; “masquerading” – stealing a target’s online identity in order to cause trouble in that person’s name; deliberately targeted social exclusion online (Bauman 2007); setting up hate groups or sites against individuals; uploading compromising, humiliating or offensively altered images; and targeting through online gaming.

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that children and young people are using the internet more frequently in their everyday lives despite the danger of cyberbullying. Young people enjoy using digital technology and are keen to interact with their peers in cyberspace. According to Ofcom, half of 8-17-year-olds now have a profile on a social networking site (Ofcom 2008). Moreover, an Ofcom survey reported that 84 per cent of 12 to 15 year olds now access the internet outside of school and do so, on average, for 14 hours per week.

Figures with respect to the prevalence of cyberbullying vary widely, from one in ten children reporting an experience of cyberbullying (Smith et al. 2008) in the last twelve months, to one in three reporting an experience of mobile or internet bullying (Cross et al. 2009). Contradictory findings may partly be attributed to the increase in new technologies available, in addition to the increase in understanding of the issue.

Adding to the steadily growing evidence base of research and evaluation for intervention, there is recognition that a multi-level or ‘whole-school’ approach is required to prevent bullying, involving the individual pupils, staff, the school and the wider community (Smith et al. 2004). One area of intervention which has gained significant recognition is the impact and effectiveness of peer-to-peer support strategies. The DCSF (2007) guidance specifically highlights the importance of pupil engagement and voice at all stages of anti-bullying work, and refers in particular to the use of strategies, such as peer mentoring, within schools.

There is a growing recognition of the value of peer support strategies in the case of bullying, not just for those who ‘use’ the service, but for those who act as mentors and the wider school itself. Considering the potential impact of peer support within school settings, and the increase in the use of the internet and new or digital technology, CyberMentors is an innovative example of how we should engage children and young people in response to issues that affect their own lives, thus adding to the provision of support to frontline practice and preventing and managing child protection issues.

The service is essentially an online peer mentoring programme for children and young people aged 11-16 who are experiencing problems relating to bullying and well-being. Young people aged 11-25 are trained to support their peers in an online environment via social networking technology. It has been implemented nationally in over 48 local authorites and in Wales.

CyberMentors has been funded by successive governments to protect children and support families, and we are proud to have secured a further two years’ funding from the DfE.

Further detail on the impact of bullying can be found here. Full references mentioned above and further reading can be found here.

 

The practice

Further details about the practice

In March 2009, Beatbullying placed its schools-andcommunities-based peer mentoring model online with CyberMentors – a traditional peer mentoring model delivered via social networking technology. The result is a peer-to-peer website in which young people experiencing bullying, on or offline, can be assisted by people their own age. By allowing children to talk to someone who understands what they are going through, CyberMentors reduces the stigma of ‘speaking out’ about bullying and empowers young people to put an end to bullying in all its forms. Only by educating children in an engaging manner and in their peer groups, can they properly recognise their role in bullying and its negative impacts.

CyberMentors involves intense training in mentoring, communication, and creative activism. Typically, we work with a group of around 25 children and young people, all holding contrasting experiences with respect to bullying (victims, perpetrators and bystanders). Pupils are generally selected through schools or elect themselves to become CyberMentors (volunteering). Regarding selection of schools, this is generally done on the basis that an anti-bullying workshop will be of value to them. We work closely with the nominated contact in the school (e.g., learning mentor), who has extensive contact with the children selected.

The training is a six-stage, schools-andcommunities-based programme, enhancing Beatbullying’s highly successful and evaluated off-line mentoring model. It is delivered by a team of Development Officers, youth workers, ex-teachers, BACP- accredited counsellors and a clinical child psychologist, all of whom have extensive experience in visiting schools and talking to children about bullying. The young people progress through a 30 hour programme which is accredited by V Inspired and Asdan. The CyberMentors scheme is also working towards accreditation provided by the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation’s ‘Approved Provider Standards’.

Moreover, the CyberMentors training covers all aspects of bullying and cyberbullying (definitions, why it happens, the effects and consequences) and mentoring, including role play and safety planning. It enables young people to understand the issue and understand what they can do to help themselves and others, to stop it and then prevent it from happening. The workshops also cover communication and listening skills, boundaries, confidentiality and child protection, as well as how to mentor online.

One-to-one and group supervision are offered to the CyberMentors. This is an ongoing process undertaken by BB Counsellors. The counsellors provide onsite clinical supervision to CyberMentors, giving them the opportunity to discuss issues that affect them in their role as a CyberMentor.

The CyberMentors model focuses on tiered support, with strict child protection protocols embedded. CyberMentors are trained to refer cases to BACP-accredited counsellors, who are available on the site if the severity of the issue makes that necessary. If this need is identified, contracted counselling sessions are offered. We have found this model particularly successful in helping young people overcome the trauma of being bullied.

The online benefits are immediate reach and access, unbound by geographical or time restrictions. In other words, CyberMentors allows children to access help and support in the middle of the night, anywhere in the UK. As it stands, we have funding to provide counselling support until 2am in the morning, including weekends. Beatbullying currently has 35 trained and accredited counsellors available on cybermentors.org.uk.

A detailed and robust referral route is in place for any indentified child protection issues, through Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards (LSCBs), the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), social services emergency teams, and the Police/Emergency Services.
(The Escalation Process can be viewed here).

Expert counsellors are available to provide real-time one-to-one support, specific to an individual, as well as more universal support where needed. This frees up more time for professionals to work with those who need more specific face-to-face interventions. It should be noted that online service provision is not intended to replace the critical role of off-line intervention, but rather to offer a consistent, and accessible support service that complements existing strategies to protect children.

 

Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

Evidencing your practice has made a difference to children, young people and families

We adopt a combination of research methodologies to evaluate the effectiveness of our interventions. The schools-andcommunities-based mentoring model has seven levels of questionnaires introduced to the young people and the professionals working with the young people over a twelve-month period. Additional strategies are employed including:
• in-depth semi-structured interviews
• focus groups
• self-reporting questionnaires and survey assessment tools
• documenting
• video/audio evaluation (both on and offline).

This core strategy enables us to collect baseline and follow-up data, with respect to any measurable changes in the feelings and experiences reported by young people over two time points. These questionnaires collect monitoring and socio-demographic data, whilst also collecting data on children’s self perceptions and experiences of bullying.

The post-workshop and longitudinal evaluations ask the pupils to rate the programme according to a range of criteria, as well as asking what they’ve gained from the session. Longitudinal evaluation is delivered to the participants post-BB’s intervention to measure the long term impact of the programme. Added to this, several self-reporting questionnaires are delivered online, via the CyberMentors platform, to measure the mentoring activity and content of interactions.

Surveys are also distributed to teachers and educational professionals who have extensive contact with the children we are working with. These longitudinal quarterly reviews are delivered at four key time points post-BB’s intervention (three, six, nine and twelve months). The aim of the survey is to measure the long term impact and sustainability of the programme, thus further informing its development. The questions ask the professionals to rate the programme according to a range of criteria. Professionals record the incidence and reporting of bullying at each selected time point, which in turn enables us to collate a mean average on any measurable reduction.

To date, we have trained over 4,000 CyberMentors, including, 800+ Senior CyberMentors trained in FE and HE colleges and universities, whose volunteering role is to act as a secondary level of support. In addition, we provide training to professionals and parents to help sustain the CyberMentors programme in schools and provide bullying awareness/advice.

In the 18 months since CyberMentors was launched, over 1,164,970 children and young people have visited the CyberMentors website for information, support and advice. Furthermore, there have been a total of 519,000+ mentoring interactions (8 per cent related to incidence of child-on-child violence, 7 per cent to self harm, and 6 per cent to suicide), further highlighting the scale and reach of the intervention. The website has also recorded a total of over 12 million page views.

CyberMentors has also been established in over 200 schools and colleges.

9,300 children and young people have received counselling support, and there have been a total of 70,600 counselling interactions. Just under a third (31per cent) of these interactions are related to indices of mental health, while two tenths (20 per cent%) are related to bullying and child-on-child violence. Around a tenth (10 per cent) are related to self harm. A further three per cent have resulted in child protection referrals.

CyberMentors is accessed by vulnerable groups. Of those seeking support, 8.55 per cent are young carers (e.g., looking after a family member with a disability or long term illness); 7.58 per cent are children Looked After by the Local Authority (e.g., in foster or residential care); 23.98 per cent are eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) – a proxy measure of deprivation employed within the deprivation index – and 9.25 per cent are children with a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN).

The CyberMentors programme has been delivered in both mainstream and specialist schools for children with SEN and disabilities. We have trained a number of hearing-impaired children and young people, and the programme is currently being expanded to meet the need of those with a visual impairment

To date, schools participating in the CyberMentors Peer Mentoring Scheme are, on average, reporting a 60 per cent increase in the levels of reporting of bullying and child-on-child violence, consequently reducing bullying by an average of 43 per cent over a twelve-month period. This means that teachers and educational professionals (who have extensive contact with the children and young people) are recording fewer incidents of bullying and an increase in the levels of reporting following BB’s work.

73 per cent of teachers reported a positive change in pupil behaviour, while 88 per cent indicated a more positive involvement in school life for their pupils.
Building on the steadily mounting economic case for CyberMentors, we estimate that through the schools in which we have delivered it to date we have saved £18m in lost teaching days.

A note on the calculation: 30 per cent of teacher time is lost due to poor/disruptive behaviour (NASUWT website). We assumed that there are 180 teaching days/year and the average salary of a teacher is £34k (Dept. for Education and Skills, 2006) and pro-rated this for just term time. We have also assumed that there are 62 teachers per school on average (number of secondary schools is 3,367 and the number of secondary school teachers is 209,000, taken from the School Workforce in England DfE, May 2010). There are therefore 54 teaching days lost per teacher and t a 40 per cent reduction in bullying and anti-social behaviour would mean 21.6 days are saved.

Just under a third (31per cent) of exclusions (e.g., persistent/disruptive behaviour), including exclusions specifically related to bullying, have been reduced as a result of the implementation and subsequent embedding of CyberMentors.

Nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of schools embedding the CyberMentors Peer Mentoring Scheme are reporting a reduction in the levels of Incidents of Concern (IoCs), highlighting the impact of CyberMentors with respect to wider schools culture and ethos

Just over a quarter (27 per cent) of schools indicate a reduction in the levels of pupil absence (e.g., levels or truancy), as a result of the implementation of CyberMentors. The average cost of a persistent truant is £44,468. Less bullying means less violence in schools, resulting in fewer absences related to bullying and better educational outcomes for all children and young people (victims and perpetrators alike).

Attendance has improved overall this year as a result of several school based strategies, one of which is an increase in the peer mentoring programme. (Professional talking about the impact of CyberMentors)


An independent evaluation undertaken by New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), who developed an academicallyrobust tool to measure children's well-being (e.g., self esteem and emotional well-being), found that young people trained to become CyberMentors report improved levels of overall well-being, improved attitudes to school, and improved levels of self esteem (at 90% + level of significance). In Registered Users’ (mentees) own assessments, 73 per cent report improvements in their self-perceptions of well-being, following their mentoring interactions on the CyberMentors website.

All of my students are more confident around the school. They feel a sense of importance and I know that they step in and help their friends if they are having difficulties by giving them advice on how to deal with situations.
(Professional talking about the CyberMentors programme)


Additionally, the CyberMentors programme offers a number of new learning opportunities for pupils: some pupils highlight greater understanding of the motivations for, and consequences of, bullying. This was evident among the mentors themselves, those who had accessed support from the mentors, and those who had been involved in bullying. For pupils previously involved in bullying, the CyberMentors programme encouraged greater empathic awareness of the consequences of their bullying behaviours. For the CyberMentors, their experience in providing to pupils (online and/or off-line) raised their understanding of a wide range of difficulties that pupils have as victims of bullying and wider well-being issues. Both mentors and mentees cite an improved knowledge of coping strategies in dealing with bullying, as a result of the CyberMentors programme.

On satisfaction levels, the preliminary analysis indicates a significant improvement in teachers’ and professionals’ knowledge and understanding of bullying (92 per cent). When we asked CyberMentors what they’d gained from the training sessions and more the two thirds (67 per cent) said they felt ‘more confident’ as a result of working with Beatbullying. It increased the self-esteem of respondents (74per cent), and allows a great sense of empowerment (74 per cent). For mentees who ‘use’ the CyberMentors service, 97 per cent said they felt CyberMentors had helped them. Furthermore, 92 per cent said they would return for further assistance in the future if help and support was needed.

Very impressed with the entire two days. Excellent rapport and working relationship with pupils. Would highly recommend the programme.
(Assistant Head Teacher (Inclusion) talking about the CyberMentors training)


Nearly all (99 per cent) of teachers and educational professionals rated Beatbullying’s work as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’, following their observations, feedback and discussions with the young people representing their school/community. 90 per cent of teachers and educational professionals rated CyberMentors as an effective intervention in response to bullying and cyberbullying, while all teachers involved in the programme (100 per cent) said they would recommend CyberMentors to other colleagues and schools.

Several case studies highlight the impact of CyberMentors and the support we provide for families more generally.
Mother and son case study
School case study
15-year-old girl case study

The training days reinforced many of the ideas and practices that the children were already aware of. They were all very keen to be e-safe and help anyone who might be being bullied.
(Teacher talking about the CyberMentors programme)

We’ve got what’s called a ‘Safe to learn’ student guide so it’s built into the student planners, so students have got student planners and within that they are given advice and guidance on where to go, what to do, when to go there, who they should tell, who they can call on and Cyber Mentors is included within that and tells them about various forms of bullying and things.
(Professional talking about existing support strategies)

Really to continue with it and embed it in the school. It’s another asset for the caring side of the school, it is visible and that’s got to be a positive thing.
(SENCO)

N/A

N/A

 

Sustaining and replicating your practice

Helping others to replicate your practice

Our research and evaluation partners are the University of Sussex and New Philanthropy Capital (NPC). Beatbullying is also being independently evaluated by the Department for Education and the University of Goldsmiths. The results from the research report by Peter Smith et al at Goldsmiths University are available upon request.

Beatbullying’s involvement with the NPC is ongoing. We’ve embedded the NPC robust and independent well-being scales within our core evaluation model. Beatbullying also sits on the Well-being Working Group. The user group is helping to design an online version of the questionnaire to ensure the service is of maximum value for charities. Beatbullying will be involved in a second piloting of the online version, which is scheduled for December 2010.

Finally, Beatbullying is working towards accredited Social Return on Investment (SROI) practitioner status.

CyberMentors is an example of how both programme and evaluation systems have changed. The programme now covers cyber-bullying and focuses on online, as well as off-line mentoring, as a result of feedback from children and young people. As Beatbullying’s work has adapted and changed as a result of some of this feedback, so has the evaluation. Evaluation systems are still in place predominantly off-line, with questionnaires and semi-structured interviews, but systems are now also in place online, with online surveys, ethnography and focus groups. Importantly, because the mentoring takes place online, online tools are needed to evaluate the impact of each mentoring session, both for the mentee and mentor. This strategy enfranchises children and young people. They arguably hold good perceptions of the online feedback method, lending well to credibility.

Overall, both the school staff and pupils have a highly positive attitude towards Beatbullying and CyberMentors. The training and support package, and the contact with Beatbullying staff, were all viewed positively and were highly praised. The potential value of having further follow-up (person-to-person) opportunities to meet with BB staff was highlighted in some schools. As a result, Beatbullying now allows additional follow-up opportunities, in addition to the standardised supervisions provided to all schools. Beatbullying is currently reviewing our after-care protocol, following feedback from schools and recommendations from the independent evaluation.

Barriers to implementation

• Staff perceptions of bullying – although all schools value the importance of the work, not all school staff felt that bullying is a significant issue within their school (even though this does not match the perception of pupils from the same schools).
• Variations in whole-school awareness. For some schools, there is a high awareness of CyberMentors and it is embedded within whole-school anti-bullying policy. However, in others, stakeholders have little or no investment in anti-bullying work. Mentors are trained to involve the wider school community and raise the profile of the mentoring work, through a range of promotional and activism activities.
• Limited time and resources available for school staff and mentoring activities. Even though the programme focuses on peer support, staff felt that their time and commitment were crucial in the successful implementation of the programme. The amount of time and space that could be allocated to mentoring activities varies in different schools, reflecting differences in the extent to which schools facilitated the mentoring work. As a result, standardised training for professionals is now delivered as part of the overall package for schools, focusing on the implementation and sustainability of the programme, and clearly outlining the expectations from school staff who oversee the schools-based mentoring. In addition, mentoring now takes place online, thus removing any burden on school staff. The status and role of staff leads is also a factor in implementation. Some school staff felt they were not in a position to influence practice across the whole school.

Beatbullying regularly holds focus groups with our Young People’s Advisory Group (YPAG) to ensure that our work is youth-led, thus representing the views of children and young people. This feedback influences the overall development of our programmes, and the evaluation of our programmes, and will continue to do so. Evaluation techniques are piloted with focus groups at the beginning of new programmes, and regular meetings with the YPAG inform decisions on changing any aspects of our work.

Furthermore, CyberMentors also has its own ethics committee, made up of educational professionals (e.g., learning mentors), teachers, parents, young people, academics and Beatbullying staff. The committee’s role is to uphold the ethical principles and underpinnings of CyberMentors and advise on the development of the programme.

The CyberMentors programme has really benefited our CyberMentors themselves; they have grown in confidence and are still really enthusiastic about the programme. I think this will always have a huge impact on them. For the students who do choose to go and see a peer mentor, I think again it is having a huge impact.
(Professional talking about the impact of CyberMentors)


CyberMentors (we call them EP Buddies) is good for school. Those with issues have someone to talk to at a regular 'drop-in centre' once a week, which sees regularly 3-4 a week. It has developed the confidence of those who undertook the training which was excellent.
(Professional talking about the impact of CyberMentors)


Hot tip

Schools must work to ensure that the stigma of being bullied, or even worried about being bullied, is overcome. Openly canvassing opinion on bullying will go some way to enfranchising young people on the issue.


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