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e-safety: what's the advice?

20 October 2020 Katie Sixsmith

With technology playing an ever-increasing part of children’s lives, the importance of teaching e-safety in schools has never been more important.  

The Department for Education (DfE) has highlighted that ‘it is important to teach pupils about the underpinning knowledge and behaviours that can help pupils to navigate the online world safely and confidently, regardless of the device, platform or app’. (June 2019) 

Children growing up in today’s world are living two lives simultaneously; offline with their family, friends and peers, and online with all the opportunities, challenges and risks that this can present.  

As part of the curriculum, e-safety and how to deal with this ‘online life’ is a key priority for schools. There are many subjects across the school curriculum which deal with e-safety; Relationships (and Sex) Education, Health Education, Computing and Citizenship, to name but a few. 

What is e-safety?

The DfE describes e-safety as a school’s ability to safeguard, protect and educate pupils and staff in the acceptable use of technology and communications (including social media) as well as having established mechanisms in place to identify, intervene in and escalate any incident where appropriate. 

There should be ‘a culture that incorporates the principles of online safety across all elements of school life’ and these should be communicated clearly with pupils, staff and parents. 

Children should have a clear understanding of online safety rules and expectations, to be able to protect themselves and stay safe online.  

Why is e-safety important to teach in schools?

Children today are firmly part of the digital age and as such, they often use a wide range of devices, both inside and outside, of school. When used correctly, technology can be a fantastic learning and social tool, but children need to have a clear understanding of the e-safety rules and expectations. This will help them to stay safe online and not fall foul of the myriad of risks and threats which can occur to the unsuspecting individual.  

There are three areas of risk to children online (although the breadth of issues within each may be considerable). They are:  

  • Content
    Illegal, inappropriate or harmful material
  • Contact
    Harmful online interaction with advertising or individuals
  • Conduct
    Personal online behaviour which can cause harm

Below are some key stats from Ofcom, 2020, to highlight why it is so important to effectively educate children on e-safety from a young age. 

For reference, the minimum age for social media profiles is 13+ other than WhatsApp which is 16+. 

3-4 years old 

  • 24% have their own tablet 

  • 17% play games online 

5-7 years old 

  • 4% have their own social media profile 

  • 35% play games online 

8-11 years old 

  • 21% have their own social media profile 

  • 74% watch YouTube for 10+ hours a week (27% are watching vloggers) 

12-15 years old

  • 83% own their own smartphone

  • 74% of the children who own a smartphone take their phone to bed with them

  • 71% have at least ONE social media profile and 40% feel pressure to be ‘popular’ on social media sites. 

  • 26% have experienced bullying via social media, messaging apps or texts 

  • 50% have seen hate content, but of these, 58% ignored it and did not take action e.g. reporting or blocking the person who had posted.  

Large numbers of very young children having access to or ownership of a device with Internet access means that, often, they are surfing the web, playing games or watching video clips before they even start school.  

According to Ofcom 2020, only 50% of parents have some sort of technical controls set up on these devices to control usage and content filtering which means the other 50% are accessing the Internet unrestrictedly.

So, what do children need to know and what do schools need to tell them?  

Some of the most positive stats from the Ofcom research are: 

  • 96% of children who go online recall being told guidance around how to use the Internet safely 

  • 84% say that this guidance came from either their parents or their teachers 

  • 2/3 of children have said that they have used social media to offer personal, positive support to their friends who are having a hard time  

  • 61% do not trust news posted on social media 

However, there is still much more that can be done to help educate children on e-safety. Children need to be taught how to underpin their knowledge and understand behaviours, so that they can use the Internet safely. This can include:  

How to evaluate what they see online  

Pupils will need to understand that not everything they see online is ‘true, valid or acceptable’ and that sometimes people are not who they say they are or are not sharing real information. Some key questions to ask are:  

  • Is this content/website/link/email fake?
  • What information am I sharing and with who? 
  • Is this person who they say they are? 
  • What’s the reason behind this post/ comment?
  • Is this fact or opinion?
  • Why am I being sent this?  
  • Should I share this?  

How to recognise persuasion techniques 

This can help pupils to avoid manipulation and be more aware of the techniques used by those who are attempting to do harm. They can also recognise and respond appropriately to malicious or detrimental activity or requests.  

  • Am I being persuaded to buy something?  
  • Am I being asked to do something I’m not comfortable with?  
  • Am I being asked to share personal or sensitive information? 
  • Is the information I’m reading true or false? 
  • Is this service/product/advert legitimate? 
  • Do I want to keep playing this game / using this website? 
  • Do I trust this person?  
  • Do I know this person?   

Learning these techniques and having (age appropriate) open and honest conversations can help pupils to recognise the dangers of misinformation, illegitimate websites or sales and criminal activities such as grooming.  

How to monitor online behaviour

Pupils need to understand what ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ behaviour looks like and to realise that the same standards of behaviour and honesty apply both online and offline. Some key discussions can be around:  

  • Why people behave differently online (anonymity and invisibility) 
  • How emotions can be intensified online 
  • How to defuse arguments or disagreements
  • What is ‘banter’ and what is ‘abuse’ 
  • How to deal with negative, racist, homophobic or misogynistic language online 

How to identify risks online 

This involves critical thinking and assessing situations to help pupils make the right, safe choice. This can involve discussing:  

  • ‘Online reputation’ and ‘digital footprints’ - how what they do now could impact their future e.g. when applying for a job 
  • The risks of online behaviour – both positive and negative 
  • The risks and benefits or sharing information online, with who and when.
  • Who will see what is posted online and who they might send it to? 
  • Secure passwords and Internet security 
  • How to protect personal data – what should be shared and when 

How and when to seek support 

This enables pupils to understand how to seek support if they are upset, concerned or confused by anything they see online. This can include:  

  • Helping them to identify trusted adults 
  • Access support from their school, the police and 3rd party organisations set up to help, like the CEOP Reporting Service or Childline
  • Understanding how to report inappropriate content on individual platforms, apps and channels. 

What policies does a school need to provide? 

Your online safety policy should demonstrate good, safe Internet practice, be regularly reviewed and link to the following existing policies:

For more information on the details required in these policies and what schools should publish on their website, download our free DfE Website Checklist

The NSPCC have put together a dedicated e-safety policy statement and an online safety agreement for your pupils to help, but some elements which may be useful to cover in an online safety policy are:  

  • The name of your dedicated online safety co-ordinator
  • How you will respond to incidents and the procedures you have in place 
  • Your policies surrounding Internet, social media and mobile phone usage within school
  • Details of how you will help keep parents informed so that they, in turn, can help to keep their children safe online 
  • GDPR compliance and security procedures for keeping information safe 
  • The date of the policy review and an explanation of how they are readily available to view if required 
  • Your monitoring and evaluation processes to ensure adherence and understanding 
  • Your training procedures for staff on safeguarding and online safety

E-safety is a constantly changing, ever-growing area of education, so regular reviews of the policies and content within will be required to keep staff, pupils and parents up to date with the latest technological advances and legislation.

Through regular communication and open discussion, schools and parents can help to keep children safe online wherever they are and through whichever device they are using.  

To help schools and trusts communicate effectively with parents and carers, e4education has developed a suite of dedicated  tools designed to enhance home-school communications and increase parental engagement

Further Reading:

Here at e4education, we have been working with schools and trusts for over 20 years, designing and developing innovative school websites and intuitive communication tools. With over 2,500 customers, we are experts in our field. 

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