Online safety – what is a whole school approach?

‘I don’t think my dad realises how many messages from random boys I get or how many dick pics I get. And I have to deal with it every day… it’s kind of like a normal thing for girls now’ – female pupil, 14
– from ‘Learning about online sexual harm’ Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (2019) p5

Are you prepared for Safer Internet Day 2020 – Tuesday 11th February 2020? Safer Internet Day is designed to empower young people to take control of their digital lives. For 2020, the UK Safer Internet Centre are putting the focus on online identity and asking young people to consider whether they and their peers are truly free to be themselves online. To help schools deliver practical and impactful activities for Safer Internet Day they have created a range of free resources, including films, lesson plans, assemblies which can be can be found here.

Once a year in time for Safer Internet Day I always put together a post on safeguarding online, a pressing topic for every single setting I support. Over time, the concerns expressed about online safety by the organisations I work with only get more frequent and more disconcerting. Likewise, guidance, advice and research on the matter has increased dramatically. And increasingly we hear about a ‘whole school approach’ to online safety. But what does this actually mean?

Statutory guidance has clearly set out the legal duty of every registered setting to acknowledge the safeguarding risks associated with technology, and to ensure they have effective measures in place to protect children from these risks. As ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ (2019) states:

‘The use of technology has become a significant component of many safeguarding issues. Child sexual exploitation; radicalisation; sexual predation: technology often provides the platform that facilitates harm (Annex C p.96) School leaders are thus required to ‘consider a whole school or college approach to online safety.’ (Annexe C, p 97)

Last year the government published useful non-statutory guidance entitled ‘Teaching online safety in school‘ (June 2019) which gave a necessary level of detail required to help settings meet their legal duties, including a clear explanation of what a whole schools approach to online safeguarding would look like:

  • Creating a culture of online safety across all elements of school life: online safety procedures should appear in child protection, bullying and behaviour – and other – related safeguarding policies, these should be communicated clearly to staff, pupils and parents.
  • Proactively engaging staff, pupils and parents/carers in school activities: design online safety programmes that captures information from parents and pupils, include peer-to-peer support.
  • Reviewing and maintaining the online safety principles: ensuring staff are trained in online safety and that there are systems in place to review their practice.
  • Embedding the online safety principles: any concern received from any pupil in any lesson or any other part of school life about online safety should be responded to effectively and consistently – not just tackled within the IT curriculum.
  • Modelling the online safety principles consistently: the same high standards of behaviour should be expected on any device, anywhere on the school site, at any time, and at home.

‘Teaching online safety in school’ Department of Education (2019) p26

Throughout ‘Teaching Online Safety’ there is reference made to the age specific detailed curriculum, ‘Education for a Connected World’.

Supporting resources

The following resources can also help schools consider how to differentiate the curriculum and best to support their most vulnerable pupils stay safe online:

News about online safety

Childnet International has published a report looking at children’s use of expiring content – online posts, messages and photographs that disappear after they have been viewed, or that are only available for a certain amount of time. Findings from an online survey of 1,019 children aged 8-17 in the UK include: 73% said they have shared something using expiring content in the last year; 67% said they use expiring content to message their friends; and 38% use it to share a picture or video that they don’t want everyone to see. Top Tips from Childnet Digital Leaders are:

  • Be positive online
  • Remember screenshots of expiring content can be taken
  • Don’t post personal information
  • Think about what you are posting
  • Know how and when to report hurtful or harmful posts

NSPCC Learning has brought together a range of resources and activities to support Safer Internet Day on 11 February 2020. Resources include: information for schools to support online safety and develop robust e-safety policies and procedures; Share Aware lesson plans and classroom guidance for schools and teachers; guidance on online safety and social media; and an NSPCC Library reading list highlighting selected publications related to e-safety topics.

The Information Commissioner has recommended a new code of practice for digital services to manage children’s online data. Potentially the data can be used to inform techniques to persuade them to spend more time using services, to shape the content they are encouraged to engage with, and to tailor the advertisements they see. A new statutory code of practice is being proposed, rooted in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which recognises the special safeguards children need in all aspects of their life. It offers a set of 15 flexible standards that allow children to explore, learn and play online by ensuring that the best interests of the child are the primary consideration when designing and developing online services.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published new research in November 2019 which explored children’s perspectives on online sexual harm and the education they receive on this in school. It found that many children tend to accept the risk of being exposed to sexual harm as a ‘normal part’ of being online, with girls particularly accustomed to receiving explicit images. It highlights the existence of an online ‘approval culture’, exacerbated by celebrities and the media, which can lead young people to ignore privacy settings in order to increase their audience. 9 percent of participants said they had learnt about online sexual harm from personal experience, while 83 percent of secondary school pupils said online sites need to do more to keep children safe. One particular concern was that almost 9 in 10 pupils said it was their own responsibility to keep themselves safe online. This can lead to harmful feelings of guilt and self-blame in the event of abuse, and also stop children from seeking the help and support they need.

‘I was already on my phone in year 6 [10-11yrs] and I was already getting messages from random people and I didn’t know what to do – female pupil, 14 (Page 57)’

Participants identified key issues that schools should be educating pupils on, including the range of ways online sexual harm occurs, harmful sexual behaviours by peers and links to broader issues of relationships and consent.

TEDx talk 

Jim Gamble QPM, retired senior police officer, former chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and online safety consultant, recently gave a thought-provoking TEDx talk on online safety entitled ‘Online Safety – It’s Not About The Internet’. The talk considers the nature of the online safety (it’s about abuse, not technology), recognising the extreme vulnerability of children, and the need to hold abusers to account. Take 16 minutes out of your day to watch it now, he will get you motivated…

To accompany the talk there is a very simple, short staff CPD workshop session which can be downloaded here to aid discussion.

Read another of my recent blogs on online peer abuse.