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Growing up in the online world has become a normal part of life for children and young people. Students no longer go to the library to research a topic or pick up a dictionary to discover a word’s meaning. Instead, all the information they could ever need to succeed as a student is available online, with the click of a button.
Many children now live the majority of their lives online. The internet presents endless opportunities for learning, researching, socialising and other exciting opportunities that young people relish. The benefits of online learning are far-reaching and schools across the UK utilise computers, tablets and other forms of technology in their lessons.
Many students are even set online homework and are trusted to use the internet independently. A study by the Internet Association found that Google UK answers 11 million education-related questions for students in the UK every day!
However, the risks of using the internet cannot be ignored. Schools have an important responsibility, not only to protect and safeguard their students when they are using the internet on their premises but also to educate their students about the potential risks of the internet and the dangers they may encounter online.
With the growth in popularity of technology and the internet, we have seen a huge growth in the potential risks online and the incidences of children and young people being exposed to these risks.
Some potential risks that schools need to ensure they protect children from include:
- Grooming – This is when a child is tricked, coerced or forced into doing something sexual online, such as sending sexual photographs or videos, or engaging in an inappropriate conversation or video chat. A perpetrator may even try to meet the child in person.
- Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) – This could include grooming, obtaining or sharing sexual images and videos, and coercing or blackmailing children for sexual reasons.
- Online bullying and online abuse – 20% of children and young people experience cyberbullying every year and, if you factor in online abuse, this figure is likely to be even higher.
- Sexting – This is the sharing of sexually explicit messages or images. As schools often allow students to bring their mobile phones to school, sexting in school is becoming increasingly common.
- Radicalisation – Young people may visit websites or be contacted by individuals online that encourage them to adopt extreme views or become ‘radicalised’.
- Online scams or phishing – Many scams target online games that children play or websites that are frequently visited by children. Children tend to be more trusting and less likely to question the dangers of a link or message that is sent to them.
- Exposure to inappropriate material – This could be material that is sexual or violent in nature, racist, discriminatory, sexist, hateful or inappropriate for the child’s age.
Teaching internet safety
Teaching children from a young age how to be responsible online and reinforcing this teaching throughout their academic career is therefore vital. For more information about the risks of the internet, consult our knowledge base.
Unfortunately, online abusers and online scammers have become increasingly resourceful and cunning. Hiding behind an online persona gives people less accountability and makes them less fearful of being caught.
This only increases the dangers of accessing the internet. Striking the balance that allows students to reap the benefits of the internet while minimising the risk, is an important task for schools.
Employing stringent internet safety guidelines in schools, whilst also educating children and young people on how to protect themselves as well as including internet safety in the curriculum, is a winning formula.
This ensures that children are not only protected at school but also understand online safety when using the internet at home. The Children’s Commissioner reported that a staggering 91% of families in the UK have a computer, laptop or tablet at home that can access the internet, making online safety of paramount importance.
Children begin accessing the internet in school as soon as they begin primary school – meaning they may be as young as four years old! The internet is used in many ways in schools and can improve the quality of the teaching and education that young people receive. It is a useful academic tool that can be utilised by both teachers and students.
Teachers use the internet in their lessons as a teaching tool. Students may use the internet independently to conduct research, find information, prepare presentations, and access pictures and videos.
Reducing the use of the internet, or eliminating it completely, may not, therefore, be an effective way to manage the risks. Ensuring internet safety is a key task for all schools in the UK.
How to ensure internet safety
There are several things that schools can do to ensure safe usage of the internet both in school and at home. Online safety is a key concern for teachers, parents, schools and the government. Online risks and the potential dangers that children may face are constantly changing. It is therefore important that policies are constantly updated, and that children continue to be regularly educated on internet safety.
Education that schools can provide to students to ensure they are keeping themselves safe online include:
- Teach students how to evaluate what they see online – This teaches children how to form a judgement about what they see online. This allows them to determine whether the content they see online is a) appropriate, b) true, c) based on fact or opinion, d) offensive or hurtful to them or another person, e) against the law and f) dangerous or high risk in any way.
- Teach basic safety tips that can be applied to different internet platforms or apps – The internet is constantly evolving and changing. It would be impossible to teach children how to stay safe on every single website and application. By teaching basic safety tips and ensuring children have the knowledge and understanding of how to avoid risk online, children can then apply these tips and knowledge to their online behaviour.
- Teach internet safety regularly – By making internet safety part of the school curriculum, schools are ensuring children are regularly educated. Not only is the internet constantly evolving but the way that children use the internet also changes as they get older. This means children need updated online safety lessons throughout their schooling.
- Teach students where to go for help – Sometimes children may not want to speak to a parent or teacher about issues they face online. Ensure they are aware of how to report inappropriate behaviour on different apps, websites or games. You can also ensure that children are aware of other organisations that they can speak to or get advice from if they encounter any issues online.
- Teach students how to identify online risks – Educating children on the different kinds of risks they may encounter, how to identify them and how to manage the risk is particularly important.
- Ensure children know how to use the internet responsibly, respectfully and safely – It is equally important to ensure children are not the perpetrators of cyberbullying or online abuse. The majority of cyberbullying is carried out by other young people, and usually by people that the victim knows. Understanding the consequences of online abuse and the impact it can have on others is a vital lesson for young people.
Some additional actions that schools can take to improve online safety include:
- Have detailed internet safety policies and procedures – Ensure the policies are in line with child protection and safeguarding guidelines. Every member of the school community should be aware of the policies, including students, staff, parents and volunteers. An e-safety policy enables schools to protect, safeguard and educate their students and staff on how to use the internet safely. Asking students to sign an agreement that they will adhere to the policy also makes them accountable. E-safety policies should be updated every year to ensure they contain the most up-to-date information.
- Ensure all devices that can access the internet have strict safety features on them – This includes firewalls, antivirus protection, parental filters and safety mode. Also, make sure the school’s Wi-Fi is password encrypted.
- Monitor what is being accessed – If students are using the internet in school, staff can monitor the websites they are using and ensure they are appropriate. The IT department can then block any inappropriate sites that slip through the safety filters.
- Set a positive example – Many young people look up to teachers and other school staff as role models. Students or their parents may even try and search for you on social media. Make sure all your accounts are set to private and be careful about the information or posts that you share online.
How to identify online risks
While it is important that children appreciate the innumerable benefits and advantages of using the internet, it is also essential that they can identify risks themselves. School staff and other adults cannot always monitor a young person’s internet usage or be there to supervise them, especially as they grow into teenagers.
Teaching young people how to identify risks independently is a vital life skill in this technology-dominated age. Schools can help young people to question what they see on the internet and understand where potential risks may lie.
Some important factors that young people should think about when using the internet include:
- Consider what information they are sharing online – Young people should understand the consequences of oversharing online. Teach them never to share personal information with someone they do not know, or on a platform that is not private. They should also consider whether any photos they share online show the school they attend or where they live, as perpetrators can use this information to their advantage. Remind students that something posted on the internet is accessible forever and to consider the impact on them in the future if they post inappropriate photos or harmful/offensive content.
- Do they know the person they are communicating with online? It is increasingly easy to pretend to be someone you are not online. Make young people aware of the dangers of speaking to someone they do not know. If they are speaking to a friend or acquaintance, make sure it is really them before sending any photos or personal information.
- Is the website or URL they are accessing real? Fake websites, URLs and emails are very convincing, often only containing a small difference that may be difficult to notice. A fake website or email is likely to contain a virus or scam. If they click on a malicious link, someone may gain access to their device or passwords.
- Consider what they are agreeing to when they click “I agree” – Cookies and other pop-ups can be annoying, and the easiest solution is to click “I agree” without further consideration. It is important for young people to consider what information is being shared and exactly what they are agreeing to so they can make an informed choice.
- Consider whether what they are seeing online is real – The internet has a lot of fake news and fake videos. Teaching children to question what they see online could be important. They should also understand the difference between fact and opinion, especially in the celebrity-obsessed culture we currently live in. Just because a celebrity or a website they like says something online, does not necessarily mean that it is factual. Remind the students to always form their own opinions.
- How to recognise unacceptable behaviour – Recognising unacceptable online behaviour or inappropriate content online is an important skill. If a young person witnessed racism, abuse or violence in the real world, they would likely report it or try to help the victim. The same rules should be followed online. If they witness unacceptable behaviour online, such as someone being racially abused, ensure they know how to report this.
- How to recognise if something is “too good to be true” – This helps young people learn how to recognise scams. Skills they learn regarding this can also apply to the real world.
What support is there?
The UK government provides clear guidelines regarding how the internet and Wi-Fi can be used safely in schools. The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) is a group of more than 200 organisations that work in partnership with the UK government to help keep children safe online.
They have developed guidelines for school governors and other school staff on a variety of important internet and technology-related topics, including sexting, cyberbullying, online pornography and staying safe online.
They offer guidance on how to discuss online safety with students as well as guidelines on how schools can improve their current approach to keeping their students safe online.
All schools should also make sure they are fully compliant with the statutory guidance from the UK government – Keeping Children Safe in Education. This sets out the legal duties schools and all school staff must follow to safeguard children and young people under the age of 18 and ensure their protection from harm.
It has clear guidelines on the use of technology and the internet in schools and colleges. You can access Keeping Children Safe in Education and their guidelines specifically related to internet usage.
Several organisations can offer support to schools regarding online safety.
- UK Safer Internet Centre: appropriate filtering and monitoring – This helps schools to determine what level of filtering and monitoring of internet use is appropriate.
- The National Education Network – Provide impartial advice and support for schools on all aspects of internet safety. They also provide different resources and services around online safety that schools can access and utilise.
- The UK Council for Internet Safety – This has excellent resources and information regarding a variety of topics, including cyberbullying, revenge, pornography and discriminatory abuse.
- Childnet International – Have advice on key topics including online sexual harassment, sexting, social media and cyberbullying. They also offer tips on how to talk to young people about online safety. Childnet has advice aimed specifically at teachers, parents/carers, children and young people.
- Be Internet Legends– Developed by Google and Parent Zone, they offer online safety lesson plans for teachers and fun games and videos to help educate children.