Online safety is a hugely important issue in schools, but with new trends in social media and gaming constantly emerging, it can be difficult to know what to look out for. We speak to Tom Pinfield, Senior Education Officer at Childnet International about how teachers and school leaders can keep on top of the latest online safeguarding concerns.
What does Childnet International do?
We’re an online safety charity and our mission is to make the internet a great and safe place for children and young people. We do that in two main ways - through our education work and through collaboration with industry. Each day we go to schools up and down the country talking to children aged 3 to 18, as well as teachers, governors, parents and carers about how to stay safe online. We also have the Childnet Digital Leaders Programme which is an online, gamified platform that trains young people to become the digital experts in their school and to educate their peers about staying safe online. We also work with industry such as Google, Roblox, Disney, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to ensure that they’re thinking about young people and their safety as part of the work that they do.
What do you think are the most important things that school leaders should be aware of when it comes to children’s safety online?
The key thing is to ensure that they stay on top of what their pupils are doing online and that they have the policies in place to make sure that they stay safe. The best way to do this is to have an open dialogue with your pupils and take a balanced approach, talk about the positives as well as the risks. Some of the big issues are things like grooming, sexting, inappropriate image sharing and cyberbullying, but teachers should also be thinking about issues such as body image, peer pressure and consent online.
How can teachers keep on top of the latest online safeguarding concerns?
There are new websites and apps frequently cropping up, so teachers and senior leaders should research anything that they don’t know the name of. The two websites that I would really recommend are Common Sense Media which provides independent reviews, age ratings and other types of information about all types of media, and Net Aware, where you can search for social media and games by name or even by colour. That’s really useful when you can’t quite recall the name of a site or app.
How do you fit safeguarding into the curriculum?
Being a former teacher, I understand that it’s difficult to fit online safety into the curriculum. But what I always advise is that you don’t necessarily have to have entire lessons dedicated to online safety. Instead, you can incorporate quick activities into another lesson, such as PSHE or citizenship.
Childnet are one of three charities that make up the UK Safer Internet Centre and we’ve created Education Packs every year for Safer Internet Day - these include quick activities which are really useful if you have ten or fifteen minutes to dedicate to online safety. We’ve had different themes for the Education Packs over the years - we’ve looked at online hate, the power of images and most recently at the issue of consent online.
We also encourage teachers who know that their pupils are going to do some research online, to make sure that they tell them what to do if they see something suspicious or upsetting online. Usually, this would just be a case of telling their teacher, who would then be able to act appropriately.
How do you think that safeguarding messaging needs to change as children get older?
For the youngest children it’s the simple message of going to an adult if they see something upsetting online.
For 7-11s we talk about something called the “SMART Rules” which includes keeping your information safe, not meeting up with someone who you only know online, being careful with what you’re clicking on and also about understanding the reliability of particular websites.
As pupils get older, there’s more of a focus on social media - what they’re putting out there, who they’re speaking to and what to do if they see something inappropriate that has been posted. Whatever their age we also want them to look out for others and be kind online whether they are on social media, playing games or chatting to friends.
Have your own strategies to share for ensuring child safety online? Contact us on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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