Five steps for safeguarding your pupils online, with Traci Good

Online Safety… two little words that can make educators’ eyes glaze over and have them quietly trying to exit the room without you noticing. It may not be the most riveting of subjects for many but, for me, it is my passion and the reason I get out of bed in the morning!

The online environment offers children and young people the most amazing opportunities and the ability to expand their horizons in ways that were not available as recently as 10 years ago. We can help them do that safely, carefully and positively.

With so much information to share, I have picked out five of my top tips for educators…

Tip 1- Check your curriculum

Education needs to be relevant, up to date and meet the needs of learners. Use quality resources – there are some that you can access for free. If you haven’t yet discovered ‘Education for a Connected World’ and its partner website ‘Project Evolve’ please take a look. Education for a Connected World is a framework developed specifically for UK schools: “This framework describes the knowledge, understanding and skills that children and young people should have the opportunity to develop at different ages and stages. It highlights what a child should know in terms of current online technology, its influence on behaviour and development, how to get support, and what skills they need to be able to navigate it safely.” 1 It is mentioned in Keeping Children Safe in Education, Teaching Online Safety in Schools and helps to meet Ofsted inspection requirements.

It has over 300 ‘I can…’ type statements and supports children from Early Years to KS5. Sitting next to this is Project Evolve, which hosts resources that cover every single ‘I can’ statement. The toolkit has conversation starters, learning outcomes and a complete set of excellent resources for you to use, and the best part – it’s completely free. I was lucky enough to be asked to help write some of the resources in Project Evolve and so can vouch for its quality and clarity!

Tip 2 – Think ‘whole-school community’

Don’t be fooled into thinking that your obligations end in the classroom with, ‘Don’t talk to strangers online. ’ The reality is that we need to share information with all stakeholders on a wide range of topics.

Think about how you are communicating online safety information to parents and carers and use the voice of the child. Consider using newsletters, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to reach your parents and carers. No matter how amazing your school website is, for most parents and carers it won’t be a ‘destination’ website, and by that, I mean most people won’t be scrolling through their phone and thinking, ‘I wonder what is on my child’s school’s website today?’ in the same way they might with social media. It is useful, however, to have information on your website, but ensure it is up to date and that the links to resources and information still work, are updated and relevant to your school community.

Are your Governors/Trustees involved in online safety? Do they receive information about online safety incidents in school via the Headteachers’ Report and do you have a named, trained Governor with responsibility for online safety? Do you share online safety concerns with Early Help services and social care when children are receiving extra support? The online environment needs to be considered from a contextual safeguarding perspective and should not be overlooked when supporting vulnerable children and young people.

Finally, remember that staff should receive online safety training as part of their induction, and the whole staff team should have refresher training annually. This includes support staff, not just teachers!

Tip 3- Record online safety incidents as you would racist or bullying incidents

This is so that you can check trends and alter your educational response to target problematic behaviours. If you know that WhatsApp is causing conflict between young people and that, in turn, is causing disruption in the classroom, address it – use the resources in Project Evolve to teach appropriate behaviours and to identify sources of help and support. Utilise your school safeguarding system to automate this; most will allow you to add a check box for online safety concerns and you should be able to just pull a report that details the last week, month, term or year.

4). Consider how you support vulnerable and/or SEND pupils

These groups need a more specialised educational response and you may be asked about this as part of a school inspection. I currently sit on a UKCIS working group focussing on the needs of vulnerable young people and those with special educational needs and disabilities. I cannot express strongly enough the importance of understanding that SEND and vulnerable people face greater risks online. Take a moment to read ‘Vulnerable Children in a Digital World’ by Youthworks. Match the findings to your students, then focus your educational response to meet their needs.

Tip 5 – Listen, don’t judge

It is vitally important that we have can honest, open and non-judgemental conversations with learners of all ages. We need to foster an environment where children and young people are not going to be told, ‘You shouldn’t be doing that’ as a stock response. If children tell us what they are doing online, we can support, guide and educate them. If we scare them with horror stories, they will switch off because they think, ‘That would never happen to me’. Find out what they like to do and work with it instead of against it.

I hope you find this information helpful. I also recommend checking out the signposted resources in the article for more support. 

References

  1. UK Council for Internet Safety (2020) ‘Education for a Connected World’. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/896323/UKCIS_Education_for_a_Connected_World_.pdf (Accessed: 12 September 2021)

Author

  • Traci Good

    Traci is an online safety consultant, specialising in the education, safeguarding and policing sectors, with a particular interest in supporting vulnerable and SEND students online. She is currently running the i-vengers programme, which is a positive, peer-led, digital leaders programme, jointly funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire and Derbyshire County Council.
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