What is online safety?
The internet and especially the world wide web, are essential parts of modern life which can enrich lives and empower children and families when used in a safe and secure environment. There are ever more ways to access this world using computers, tablets, phones, games consoles, TVs, watches... the list gets longer each year. With this access comes an element of risk, and a responsibility for adults to protect and educate children to use the technology safely.
At the top of the list of concerns for many parents and carers will be worries about things such as cyberbullying, pornography, violent games, gambling, self-harm, radicalisation and grooming. These threats do exist in the online world, but there are ways of protecting children, and ways in which children can keep themselves safe.
Parents, carers and everyone involved in educating and looking after children need to be familiar with some key principles, and should know where to find more information for general use and in case of an incident of concern.
How can children learn about risks and how to stay safe?
The National Curriculum for Computing includes elements of e-safety, and school aged children should receive information on the importance of keeping personal information (including images) safe, how to use technology responsibly and respectfully, to recognise unacceptable behaviour and know how to get help in case of a problem arising. Many schools choose to give more information than the minimum specified in the National Curriculum and may also offer information for parents. This does not mean that parents can leave this to schools. It is a joint responsibility between school and home - many of the links on this page will help children find good suggestions, especially if they do so alongside parents and carers.
How can parents and carers learn about risks and responses to them?
There are several excellent sources of information and advice for parents and carers which will allow them to guide and protect children on aspects such as:
- whether sites or apps children use are likely to be 'safe' for them
- sharing personal information and 'general' images
- sexting (sending or receiving explicit images, often using phones)
- using webcams, Skype, FaceTime and similar technology
- how parents can filter content on the internet to block some types of content
- how parents can install software of configure their devices to prevent some types of use
- how parents can help configure the settings in apps to protect the child
- restricting games consoles to age appropriate games
- how to report problems if they arise
How can parents and carers safeguard children in their care?
It is possible to use technology to address some issues, but the starting point for effective safeguarding is to establish agreed ways of using devices and the internet. It is essential that parents and carers start talking about this with children as early as possible. For very young children, they will probably use technology together, and there will be many opportunities to discuss the 'early' issues about personal privacy and personal information. For primary school aged children, the discussion might go on to issues of online behaviour, for example in the forums and membership sites attached to games, where bad language and hurtful comments are sometimes found, and about where and when they can use things such as laptops and tablets. As they get older, they may wish to use more interactive features, and the discussion may move on to whether they can join sites that allow chat (including video chat), whether they can have their own email address or use things like Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Each of these things brings its own risks, and parents/carers would be well-advised to be familiar with these (using the links on this page - a good place to start would be the parents section of ThinkUKnow).
Useful links for parents/carers
- Thinkuknow - a leading site with help for all sorts of users including parents/carers
- Parents Protect - a good detailed site with easy to find articles
- Saferinternet.org - lots of advice on all aspects of e-safety
- Internetmatters.org - a good site for many aspects but especially for setting up controls on devices
- Connectsafely.org - a US based site but with good parental guides on various apps and websites
Parents are encouraged to visit the family safety information for the operating system/s you are using - for example, for Windows visit: windows.microsoft.com
What do schools need to do?
Schools will already be teaching the aspects of online safety (e-safety) required by the National Curriculum where it applies to them. Where this is done effectively, it will be a sound basis for good practice, but it is likely that a wider, whole-school commitment will be necessary to ensure this is regularly reinforced and enhanced, perhaps in PSHCE, or in whole school projects, assemblies, workshops etc. Surveys have revealed that some teachers feel ill-equipped to teach e-safety and would like more help and information, so it is a real challenge for schools to achieve consistent coverage for all children.
Schools should take/have taken at least the following steps:
- Identify an online safety (e-safety) coordinator. This is likely to be a member of Senior Management and need not be a person with particular technical expertise. This person must be able to work closely with the Child Protection Coordinator (which might be the same person)
- Involve the Governing body in the development and review of the policy/policies above; a member of the governing body should focus on e-safety and work with the school's coordinator
- Provide training, perhaps annually, for all staff on online safety
- Have an up to date online safety policy which makes clear the expectations and responsibilities of members of the school community in this area, including social networking for pupils and staff. A policy on cyberbullying might form part of this, or might be a separate policy or be part of the Bullying Policy
- Have an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) which is formally accepted by users, which is updated and revisited regularly to reflect changes in practice and in technology
- Record incidents of abuse and responses to them in an appropriate log
- Establish appropriate responses to abuse of social networking, including out of school hours
- Ensure that awareness of the issue is widely disseminated and that the school community takes ownership (as opposed to it being considered an ICT/computing problem). A good way of achieving this is to have a school online safety group which meets to discuss and promote the topic.
- Parents may lack the knowledge to engage in helping their children stay safe: schools can play a key role in empowering parents and strengthening the home-school partnership.
Useful links for schools
- Thinkuknow - some resources for teaching e-safety - as a minimum, the e-safety coordinator should join as a teacher user, but all teachers could usefully do so.
- Childnet resources - some resources for teaching and a wealth of advice.
- Safer Internet Centre - a good range of advice and a helpline.
- South West Grid for Learning site - a wealth of resources and a good source of policy advice and templates.
- DfE Advice on bullying including cyberbullying.
- 360 degree safe site - home of the e-safety Mark and a great way to improve practice
- Online Compass - a simple and easy review and improvement tool
Can schools be accredited for good practice in this area?
The Online (E-Safety) Mark for schools is an excellent way of developing good practice in this area and in recognising and celebrating it when it is in place. Information about this can be found here: https://www.360safe.org.uk/
For organisations other than schools, there is a system called 'Online Compass' which can be very helpful in establishing and recognising good practice. Information about this can be found here:
Is training on online safety available?
For schools, information on training can be found on the ERSCP Website and on the CPD prospectus: