Online safety – what should we be doing to protect our children?

Online safety – what should we be doing to protect our children_

Today I saw on BBC news the smiling photo of a 14 year old school girl taken before she took her own life because, her parents say, of the information she was accessing which ‘glorified’ depression, self-harm and suicide on the social media site ‘Instagram’.

A few weeks ago I was just introducing the subject of eSafety to a school when a member of staff left the room in tears without warning. She told me afterwards the horrifying story of how a close relative had been groomed online by a sexual predator and how this had profoundly affected everyone in her family. Her account was very disturbing and has stayed with me.

Both are real reminders of the pressing need to everyone who works with children to be aware of safeguarding children against online risks.

Safer Internet Day will soon be upon us again on Tuesday 5 February 2019. Last year all the revised statutory guidance on safeguarding has upped the ante (as it usually does) on the responsibilities of schools and other registered settings in regard to keeping children safe online. So many professionals attending my training have stories to tell and questions to ask about this issue, some of them deeply moving and upsetting. The grave risks facing our children today online are very real. It seems a good time to discuss this in my newsletter (sign up to receive this weekly here).

Keeping Children Safe in Education 2018 clearly states the specific types of safeguarding issues that relate to online safety:

‘‘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. An effective approach to online safety empowers a school or college to protect and educate the whole school or college community in their use of technology and establishes mechanisms to identify, intervene in, and escalate any incident where appropriate.’

There are three areas of risk that all settings need to be aware of when considering online safety:

  • content: being exposed to illegal, inappropriate or harmful material; for example pornography, fake news, racist or radical and extremist views;
  • contact: being subjected to harmful online interaction with other users; for example commercial advertising as well as adults posing as children or young adults; and
  • conduct: personal online behaviour that increases the likelihood of, or causes, harm; for example making, sending and receiving explicit images, or online bullying.’

Keeping Children Safe in Education (2018) p. 93

Experts in online safety recommend a whole setting approach – meaning this matter isn’t something that can be tacked onto your setting as an afterthought.

Here is a suggested work plan if you think the eSafety work in your setting needs to be brought up to scratch:

  1. Appoint an eSafety Coordinator. Sometimes this person is the Designated Safeguarding Lead, sometimes the task is delegated by the DSL to another member of staff. This person will steer the work plan. The duties of this role should be listed clearly in the Safeguarding policy and the person’s job description. Here is an example of the duties of the eSafety Coordinator:
  • review the eSafety policy and procedures;
  • provide the first point of contact and advice for staff, Governors/Trustees/Management Committee, students and parents about eSafety matters;
  • liaise with IT suppliers to ensure they are kept up to date with eSafety issues and advise of any new trends, incidents and arising problems to the Trustees/Governors/ Management Committee;
  • raise the profile of eSafety awareness in the setting by giving advice and ensuring access to training and relevant eSafety literature when appropriate;
  • ensure that all staff are aware of eSafety policies at Induction and in particular the procedures that need to be followed in the event of an eSafety incident taking place;
  • maintain a file of internet related incidents and co-ordinate any investigation into breaches;
  • meet regularly with the Governors/Trustees/Management Committee to discuss current issues;
  • liaise with any eSafety meetings as necessary; and
  • assess, as far as is reasonably practicable, the impact and risk of emerging technology (e.g. a new social networking website).
  1. Train Governors/Trustees/Management Committee members in eSafety to enable them to support and steer the work of the eSafety Coordinator.
  2. Ensure the management has an excellent knowledge of Ofsted requirements for eSafety inspection.
  3. Design the curriculum to teach children how to keep themselves safer online.
  4. Write and review regularly the eSafety policy (it would be a good idea use the quotes from the KCSE 2018 above in your policy).
  5. Ensure the other safeguarding policies of the setting are consistent with the eSafety policy (the safeguarding policy should include information on the signs of online grooming, cyber bullying and peer abuse, sexting and radicalisation; the Code of Conduct policy for staff should include guidance on safer use of technology around children including photography, use of social media outside work, the internet, mobile devices).
  6. Train staff in eSafety.
  7. Record and discuss online incidents at staff briefings and meetings, and update policy and procedures accordingly.
  8. Offer training to parents to help them keep children safe and support what is happening in your setting regarding eSafety.

This year’s Safer Internet Day (SID) celebrations will take place on Tuesday, 5 February 2019. The campaign’s slogan, “Together for a better internet“, is a call to action for all stakeholders to join together and play their part in creating a better internet for everyone, and especially for younger users. For more information on practical ideas for Safer Internet Day 2019 visit