As technology becomes progressively more accessible to young people; schools, parents, government organisations and charities nationwide are investing more time, money and effort into ensuring that children are equipped with the tools they need to keep themselves safe online. On February 9th 2016, schools celebrated the UK’s largest ever ‘Safer Internet Day’, promoting positive action surrounding online safety in education. Organised by the UK Safer Internet Centre and reaching over 2.8 million students, the initiative encourages online empowerment, inclusion and understanding.
The incomparable success and engagement with Safer Internet Day 2016 is just one example of the recent shift towards a more proactive attitude towards children’s online safety. SWGFL introduced Online Safety Briefings in 2015, aimed at SLT with a safeguarding responsibility, and open to anyone working with children. These free briefings provide an overview on the topics of online safety, policy changes, research and resources, to ensure that education professionals are supported in their endeavours to safeguard their students online.
After internet safety was established as a compulsory component of the national curriculum in 2014, schools across the UK worked to ensure that online safety was embedded into the structure of their school policy and curriculum more broadly. 2015 saw plans unveiled by former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to significantly strengthen measures put in place to protect children from harm online. Specific emphasis was placed upon growing access to personal technology in recent years with more than 50% of young people having been given tech gadgets for Christmas in 2014.
In our current cultural climate, over 35% of the UK’s student population worries about facing online abuse. Research into the topic of online safety conducted by the London School of Economics in 2013 suggests that this statistic has risen significantly over the course of the last three years, demonstrating a growing concern that certainly cannot be disregarded. Will Gardner (CEO of Childnet) describes recent polls as a ‘wake-up call,’ demanding that each of us play our part in ensuring that children can benefit as much as possible from the extensive opportunities the internet can provide.
In order to ensure internet safety in your school, the obvious steps of restricting content and blocking certain websites are executed, however, this only restricts students when they are in school. In order to be fully supporting our students, and ensuring their safety online, much more than this has to be done.
Fully explaining the risks that your students are exposed to online from an early age, is one of the best preventative measures we can take in ensuring we are keeping our students safe. If students are wise to the threats of cyber-bullying, radicalisation and online grooming, then they can actively avoid and report this. However, if we fail to fully expose students to these threats and consequences, they are less likely to suspect anything suspicious or inform someone of their concerns.
It’s also important that your students’ parents are aware of the ways in which they should be protecting their children from these threats online so they can ensure this practice is maintained at home. Holding an assembly with parents is an effective way to talk to them regarding the ways they should approach their children surrounding these concerns at home. It is a good opportunity to show them how they can implement internet safety at home and cascade the key messages you are instilling at school.
Outside of our own personal efforts, we must ensure that we unite with the online education community’s efforts to provide a safe, beneficial online environment. Alongside vast policy changes and government funding for online safety organisations, increasing access to resources and support, prove that we are moving in the right direction.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding student safety online, please take a moment to visit www.saferinternet.org.uk.