This post was written by Adam Heward, a member of the BuddyPress community and ICT Manager at Newham Bridge Primary School.

Facebook is an endemic problem for UK schools. Issues from outside of the classroom are being brought into school as a result of Facebook interactions and schools are powerless to do anything about it. I found out on my first day in my new job as ICT manager in a primary school in Middlesbrough, UK when I was asked “What can we do about Facebook?”

Our school had experienced everything from name calling to death threats, doctored pictures to stolen identities; all of this from users who were still at least 4 years short of Facebook’s (all too easy to avoid) minimum age requirement of 13 years old. We needed to steer our students away from Facebook and toward something the school could police, and make sure we catch the others before opening Facebook accounts.

That’s where BuddyPress came in.

BuddyPress enabled us to start our own school-oriented social network, where children can communicate with their classmates in a safe and monitored environment. Every child was given a username and password as well as training on how to use the platform. We encourage responsible use of the Internet through teaching our children how to be good e-citizens. Our social network is treated like the children’s school books where the children should produce their best work at all times. This is imposed to produce an environment of high quality writing (typing) which in turn breeds good writing habits both online and in the rest of their school work.

Our social network is hosted on the Internet rather than any internal school server and so it is easily accessible to the children at home which has further encouraged participation. The children have really enjoyed engaging with their classmates, and even their teachers, on the school social network; sharing brief conversations about both in school and out of school matters. Teachers are able to set tasks for whole class groups or give encouragement to individual learners. It’s a valuable tool to enhance communication between teaching staff, reminding colleagues of events, sharing resources for lessons, and taking care of administrative and social notices.

The basic functionality of BuddyPress can be further extended through the use of the ever expanding Plugins library. We use BuddyPress Docs where children can collaborate on a shared piece of work and teachers can make comments and suggestions to help the children to enhance it. We also have the CubePoints for BuddyPress plugin to encourage participation on our social network. Children are awarded points for logging in daily and posting comments and a chart showing to top users is displayed in the sidebar. Points can also be deducted for any issues both online and offline.

In addition to the masses of free plugins that are available, we have a paid subscription to WPMUDEV’s BuddyPress Calendar Plugin to help us to plan events in the school calendar such as Sports Day and Summer Fairs, or for individual groups such as fixtures for the school football team.

BuddyPress is the perfect fit for our school. The flexibility and extensibility of the WordPress platform, the continually updated plug-in environment, well documented support, and the fact it’s all free, leads me to the conclusion that it can be just as successful in all other schools as it has been with ours. Thank you for the opportunity to share our story!