Today’s pupils are growing up in an increasingly complex world, living their lives on and offline. This presents many exciting opportunities – but also challenges.
Here’s how we’re supporting schools to help children use the internet safely.
What are some of the risks to online safety for children?
There are a range of potential harms that come with using the internet. Categories include:
Being exposed to illegal, inappropriate, or harmful content. For example: pornography, fake news, racism, misogyny, self-harm, suicide, anti-Semitism, radicalisation, and extremism.
Being subjected to harmful online interaction with other users. For example: peer to peer pressure, commercial advertising, and adults posing as children or young adults with the intention to groom or exploit them.
Online behaviour that increases the likelihood of, or causes, harm. For example, making, sending and receiving explicit images, sharing other explicit images and bullying.
Risks such as online gambling, inappropriate advertising, phishing and financial scams.
How are children taught about online safety in school?
As part of mandatory RHSE (Relationship, Health and Sex Education) in primary and secondary schools, pupils are taught about online safety in an age-appropriate way. This includes being taught:
- what positive, healthy and respectful online relationships look like
- the effects of their online actions on others
- how to recognise and display respectful behaviour online
- how to use technology safely, responsibly, respectfully and securely
- where to go for help and support when they have concerns
In primary school, children are taught:
- that people sometimes behave differently online, including by pretending to be someone they are not
- that the same principles apply to online relationships as to face-to-face relationships, including the importance of respect for others
- the rules and principles for keeping safe online: how to recognise risks, harmful content and contact, and how to report them
- how to critically consider their online friendships and sources of information
- how information and data is shared and used online
In secondary school, children are taught:
- their rights, responsibilities and opportunities online
- not to provide content to others that they would not want shared further and not to share personal material which is sent to them
- what to do and where to get support to report material or manage issues online
- the impact of viewing harmful content
- that sexually explicit material like pornography presents a distorted picture of sexual behaviours.
- that sharing and viewing indecent images of children (including those created by children) is a criminal offence which carries severe penalties
- how information and data is generated, collected, shared and used online
How are children educated about things like pornography in school?
Guidance for teaching online safety suggests that secondary school teachers should address the topic of pornography as part of a suitable RSHE curriculum.
Pupils should understand that specifically sexually explicit material such as pornography:
- presents a distorted picture of sexual behaviours
- can damage the way people see themselves in relation to others
- can negatively affect how people behave towards sexual partners
How are you making sure teachers are supported to deliver these lessons? These are complicated subjects.
We have published a support package to help all schools increase their confidence around and the quality of their RSHE teaching practice. This includes expert-led webinars which focus on some of the areas that are most challenging to teach.
In addition, we have recently updated our Teaching online safety in schools guidance, which helps schools to integrate learning about online safety within the curriculum. We are also developing new guidance on teaching about sexual violence and harassment, which will include support for education around pornography and explicit images.
And do you make sure that pupils are protected from online risks in schools?
Our Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE) safeguarding guidance provides all school and college staff with information about different types of abuse and harm, including online abuse.
The guidance is clear that staff should have safeguarding and child protection training (including online safety) at induction, which should be regularly updated. It also explains that schools and colleges should have an appropriate filtering and monitoring systems in place block harmful or inappropriate material on school IT systems.
In addition, schools and colleges should have a strong policy on the use of mobile devices like phones and tablets. It’s up to head teachers to decide whether they want to restrict or prohibit their use in schools – if they do allow access, they should have a clear plan to tackle risks to online safety which could arise.
Are there any useful resources to help me talk to my child about safety online?
The following links provide guidance for parents and carers on how to talk to your children about a range of online safety issues. They also show how to set-up child-friendly home filtering and parental controls.
- Childnet has developed guidance for parents and carers to begin a conversation about online safety, as well as guidance on keeping under-fives safe online.
- Thinkuknowby the National Crime Agency - Child Exploitation and Online Protection command (NCA-CEOP) provides resources for parents and carers and children of all ages.
- Parent Info is a collaboration between Parent Zone and NCA-CEOP, providing support and advice for parents and carers related to the digital world from leading experts and organisations.
- National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has guidance for parents and carers on online safety.
- UK Safer Internet Centre provides tips and advice for parents and carers - you can also report any harmful content found online through the UK Safer Internet Centre.