Cyber Bullying in Schools Costs Teachers $85 Million in Lost Productivity

22 March 2018

Last Friday 16 March 2018 was the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence and many states and territories around Australia have already shown their commitment to ending bullying on any medium, after the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) initiatives and individual state and territory responses as outlined in this article. The impact of bullying goes beyond harm to students, with a PWC study finding that teachers dealing with bullying complaints costs $85 milion a year.


Background to COAG Initiatives

As we mentioned in our previous article, COAG met for the first time this year on 9 February 2018. One of the key priorities for COAG was cyber bullying ongoing initiatives. As mentioned by ABC News, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk put the issue of cyber bullying on the COAG agenda after the death of 14-year-old Amy "Dolly" Everett who took her own life after being targeted by bullies online.

The First Ministers agreed that if we are to successfully reduce the rate of bullying, we must better understand its underlying drivers and adopt a whole-of-community approach. COAG agreed that a working group of senior officials from the First Ministers, Education, Justice and Health departments should consider existing and potential initiatives to help combat bullying and cyber bullying and establish a work program to be led by the Education Council. The Education Council will report to COAG at its next meeting on tangible measures where there is an identified need.


National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence

Last Friday 16 March 2018 was also an important day across Australia with most schools participating in the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence 2018 (National Day of Action). This year, schools were asked to "imagine a world free from bullying" and share their ideas on the wall of messages. Schools that registered for the National Day of Action received access to free printed resources such as student pocket cards and parent information cards. These materials provide tips and advice when dealing with bullying and help promote positive conversations about ‘taking a stand together’ against bullying and violence.

According to a PWC Study, commissioned by the Alannah & Madeline Foundation:

  • up to 228,000 students are bullied each year by 136,000 bullies
  • schools experience an average of one bullying incident each week
  • teachers dealing with bullying complaints cost $85 million each year in lost productivity
  • carers missing work to look after students who avoid school cost the economy $45 million each year, and
  • long-term costs of bullying are estimated to hit $510 million for each school year group in the 20 years after school, including $85 million for chronic health conditions.

Victoria was one of the states to participate in the National Day of Action last Friday, as indicated by the Herald Sun, with 663 schools participating and 300,825 students involved. Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said the study “underlines the serious, far-reaching impacts of bullying for both the victims of bullying and our society as a whole”.

The Northern Territory also indicated its participation in the National Day of Action in its media release, stating that more than 27,000 Territory students will take a stand against bullying and share their ideas on how to tackle the issue.

Queensland also indicated in their media release that "schools across the state have zero tolerance to bullying and are already actively engaged in working towards this goal," with more than 1,200 Queensland schools and 570,000 Queensland students taking part in the National Day of Action.

Schools are encouraged to visit the ‘Bullying. No Way!’ website for more information and resources.


Individual State Responses to Cyber Bullying

Federal, VIC and NSW - Banning Use of Smart Phones during School Hours to Prevent Cyber Bullying

According to Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, in a recent news article, smartphones should be banned in schools as they are a distraction and "a platform for bullying." He is also urging state education ministers and departments to forge national consistent guidelines to give teachers clear direction on the issue. But it seems that some Victorian and NSW schools don't wish to wait for national guidance and have already implemented their own policies with positive results for cyber bullying.

According to a recent article, two government secondary schools in Melbourne have decided to make students store their phones in their lockers and not touch them until they leave the school grounds at the end of the day. Students at one of the schools raised smart phones as an issue distracting them in class in school forums last August and the teachers worked together with the students to look at when smart phones are effective and for what purpose.

A government school in Sydney in a recent article has also decided to enforce a smart phone ban from early 2016, with students expected to have their phone turned off for the entirety of the school day, despite it still being accessible in the student's pockets or bags. The principal of the school said that these restrictions balance the reality of prolific smartphone use among teenagers while ensuring students are cyber safe within school time.


QLD - Anti-Cyberbullying Task Force

Queensland has been one of the most proactive states about cyber bullying, announcing the Queensland Anti-Cyberbullying Task Force (the Taskforce) through media release on 19 February 2018.

The Taskforce will provide advice and coordination in relation to developing and implementing an anti-bullying framework for Queensland that will bring together children, parents, schools, communities and experts to counter bullying, harassment and violence amongst young people. The 14 members of the Taskforce will work to foster creative community-driven solutions that use contemporary ways of engaging, including social media platforms and multimodal communication. Empowering and engaging young people in particular, is a significant part of delivering effective solutions.

Responsibilities of the Taskforce will include:

  • developing a proposed Framework for Addressing Bullying (the Framework), presenting recommendations for community and government action to reduce the incidence of bullying and cyber-bullying by 31 August 2018
  • advising the Queensland government on the development of a program of activities under the Framework
  • advising the Queensland government on resources, best practices and other strategies to prevent and address bullying behaviour in order to provide appropriate training and intervention
  • consulting with the Queensland community to gain the insights of those affected by bullying and harness grass-roots ideas on ways to tackle the issue
  • educating and engaging Queenslanders to create a community that practices positive attitudes and behaviours and promotes a culture of non-violence and respectful relationship
  • acting as a liaison point between the community and the Queensland government to encourage ownership of initiatives.

The Taskforce is due to report by 31 August 2018 and it will be interesting to see if the Taskforce supplies practical recommendations for schools to combat cyber bullying.


Lauren Osbich

Lauren is a Content Development and Legal Research Consultant at CompliSpace. She has over ten years of experience in legal research and legal publishing, working nationally across Australia. She studied at Macquarie University completing a Bachelor of Laws with an Honours in English, followed by being admitted as a solicitor of the NSW Supreme Court. Lauren is also passionate about giving back to the community through the not for profit sector as well as donating time to mentor and coach young lawyers in their professional development and finding time to also be a member of a not for profit Board.