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Improving online safety in the classroom

To mark Safer Internet Day, Focus-Trust's Tracey Thornton looks at how online safety measures should be managed in the modern classroom

Posted by Julian Owen | February 06, 2018 | Technology

The development and use of digital technology has grown exponentially over the last few years, nowhere more so than among the 5-16 year old demographic.

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, recently stated that schools have a “bigger role” to play in preparing younger pupils for the emotional demands of social media, as well as improving teachers' and parents’ knowledge of the impact of apps ion pupils’ wellbeing.

So, how can teachers effectively implement the school’s online safety policies and procedures, ensuring that pupils are aware of the dangers that the online world may pose?

A proactive and positive approach to online safety

Staff need to take a proactive, rather than a reactive approach towards pupils' online safety. As digital technology becomes an even greater part of their lives, and at an historically early age, we now have to investigate incidents that have not taken place at school, but outside.

Teachers should be aware of the warning signals, and encourage pupils to look for these among their peers and in their own relationships:

 - Feeling under pressure to change

 - Feeling under pressure to do something they don’t want to do

 - Feeling under pressure to be secretive

 - Verbal, emotional or physical abuse

 - Lack of respect for each other’s family

 - Being forced to justify actions

 - Controlling behaviours

 - Sudden changes in lethargy and mood

Foster a ‘no blame’ environment

It is crucial that all pupils feel comfortable reporting an online safety incident to a teacher or responsible adult. This open-door policy will help to ensure that no incident goes unreported and that all steps are taken to investigate the occurrence.

Encourage awareness of the online safety curriculum

An engaging and up-to-date online safety curriculum can ensure pupils of all ages know how to stay safe and protect themselves and others online.

It is vital that that online safety is an integral part of the school curriculum in order that pupils become familiar with how to report an online safety incident. Displaying relevant updates around school - on notice boards and in classrooms - to remind pupils of these policies is also advised. 

Offer effective digital-literacy lessons

Primary school lessons in digital literacy and online resilience will better equip pupils in making the transition to secondary school, where they may become increasingly exposed to the internet.

The ‘Life in Likes’ report, commissioned by the Children’s Commissioner, studied the effects of social media on 8-12 year-olds and examined the way they use it, together with the effects on their wellbeing. It found: “Lessons around online safety learned at younger ages are insufficient to prepare children for the ‘cliff edge’ around the time of transition to secondary school.”

Dedicated lessons should help to create an open dialogue between pupils and teachers, ensuring that the warning signals outlined above are detectable at an earlier stage.

Fact, fiction, opinion

Now that more children are using the internet than ever before, it is crucial that they develop a range of strategies to validate and verify information before accepting its accuracy.

Children should be encouraged to question the content that they read online, making at least one practical attempt to check whether the story is true or false by: seeing if it appears elsewhere; reading the comments after the news report, in a bid to verify its authenticity; and checking whether the organisation behind it is one they trust.

Get all parents onboard 

Schools and parents need to work in partnership to educate young people about healthy and unhealthy relationships, and how to recognise the signs.

Parents should be encouraged to play an active role in their child’s personal security, with reference to privacy and location settings. While parental controls can be useful at home, parental obligation doesn’t stop there. Parents must collaborate and work alongside the school to highlight any safeguarding issues that may pose a danger to pupils, whether on or off-site.  

Online safety ultimately requires teamwork. Parents, staff, pupils and governors are all responsible for ensuring the safety and security of young people, and have a duty of care to act in their best interest.

There is no question that the internet is a great resource and learning tool for children, but with that comes a responsibility to help ensure that pupils are protected - and are protecting themselves - online.

We need to prepare pupils for the digital world, and empower them to create and sustain positive relationships. 

Tracey Thornton is an Academy Improvement Partner, working to develop and improve teaching and leadership, and to ensure positive impact on pupils in Focus-Trust academies. Focus Trust is a multi-academy trust with 15 primary schools in the North West of England and West Yorkshire.



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