Heather Cardwell is an experienced online safety lead, phase 5 leader, and acting headteacher. She is committed to improving schools’ online safety through successful implementation of online safety practices, teacher training, and parent correspondence.
In her guest piece for National Online Safety, she has pooled together her experiences of teaching online safety to children and offers her best practices for doing it effectively.
Have a vision
As a school, you need to decide on your ultimate aim. What is it, with regards to online safety, that you would like a child leaving your school to be?
There is a large difference between saying that you would like a child to leave in Year 6 knowing to never do anything risky online (because the chances are high that they will) and instead aiming to make sure that a child has solid foundations for being well equipped to face the dangers of the online world.
- being able to assess risk and respond appropriately;
- being a good digital citizen who understands the impact of online activity in the real world;
- recognising the differences and similarities in offline and online relationships.
Every single one of your decisions from here on in should be easy, and if you’re ever unsure about how to handle a situation, you should always bring it back to the child – what will help the most in keeping that child safe, not only now, but also in the future.
Develop a well thought out curriculum
It is really easy to be very reactive when teaching online safety at school.
Sometimes, it is only when your entire class are scowling at each other after a full-scale meltdown via WhatsApp that you decide to discuss with the children about online relationships.
Online safety needs to be taught as part of the curriculum with dedicated lessons – prevention is better than cure is a good rule to follow here.
There are many areas in online safety and, therefore, it is essential that each year group have clear, achievable, age-appropriate objectives that teachers know they must teach. Without this, certain objectives, such as online privacy are taught often, with others – maybe those that staff feel less confident about – being left behind (it would appear not many people have a passion for teaching about copyright!).
Education for a Connected World is an excellent document to help you make sure that you have an even spread of objectives across your school.
Although it is hard, really try to get your computing, RSE, and SMSC lead all together in one room – they will realise that they have more in common than they might think. So many of their objectives overlap and can, therefore, be taught collectively. They just need to decide which ones are being taught in which year group and anything that can free up time in a class timetable is always going to be a hit with staff.
Teach little and often
In addition to being explicitly taught, key online safety messages need to be referred to little and often. This drip-feeding approach, whilst driving some of your students to distraction, is most likely to equip children with vital skills for the future. Things such as:
- Ensuring your children see your staff clicking ‘no’ to password save requests;
- Reiterating what to do if an image search returns something inappropriate;
- Reminding children why, as a teacher, you lock your screen when you leave the room;
- Asking on a regular basis who our trusted adults are, when we turn to them and what to do if they’re not available.
Use your environment as a teaching tool – have the Childline number in an accessible place in your classroom and refer to it often so that the children remember where to find it if they need it.
Regular small chunks of advice are far more likely to be remembered than trying to teach the entire online safety curriculum in a one-week block in February to celebrate Safer Internet Day.
Use good resources
Getting money out of a Head Teacher is a specialist skill; however, if you have any powers in this area whatsoever, please use them to make sure that your school invests in quality resources to help support the whole school community with regards to online safety.
Due to the fact that the online world is ever changing, it is crucial that everyone receives training periodically – teachers, support staff, governors, parents – each of these groups of people need to be up-to-date with current risks and dangers to our children. The best way to this is make sure that they have access to quality training that will build their confidence in dealing with matters online.
Children are also very aware of out-of-date lesson plans – one mention of Facebook and you will have lost the attention of half of your class. You may as well throw in MySpace and end the lesson there and then.
Keeping on top of new apps and games is an exhausting task at times. Once you have got used to one platform, the next one is just around the corner ready to take its place. It isn’t fair to expect teachers to update their lesson plans yearly to ensure that they are up to speed with advancements.
It is better to empower your staff by giving them access to plans that will engage children and take the teacher through the steps of a lesson where they may feel unconfident about the content.
Value everyone's contribution
Every member of your school community should feel a responsibility towards keeping our children safe.
Perhaps it’s the governor who has helped analyse the reports and decide on school strategies; the parent who has found a string of messages on their child’s phone being mean about a member of the class; the teaching assistant who has noticed dark circles under a child’s eyes; the lunchtime supervisor who has heard a conversation about a game that he hasn’t heard of before; the headteacher who makes the call to the social services when it becomes clear that a child is in the process of being groomed.
Each one is equally important – there is no hierarchy here – without everyone pulling together, things can be missed, and we would be letting our children down. You don’t want anyone thinking: “Oh it’s probably nothing. I won’t mention it. I don’t want to bother anyone.” This can be extremely dangerous when our children’s safety is at stake. They need to know the process of communicating any concern they may have about a child.
Creating a culture at your school where everyone feels valued and involved should be high on your priority list.
Making the most of pupil voice
It’s very easy to think that you have a handle on what is going on in your school. You have hosted your meeting with your online safety team, you’ve analysed the incident log and identified the current trends at your school, you’ve leafleted with information about the app that is in the national press at the moment that some of the parents have become worried about.
You feel like a box has been ticked.
That is until you choose one of your particularly chatty Year sixes to talk to about online safety.
Suddenly, a whole new world opens up – words/apps/games/challenges that you’ve never heard of before spring out of nowhere leaving you scratching your head as they go off muttering about finding the ‘imposter’ in the classroom.
Important rule – never underestimate the power of pupil voice.
Not only are they best placed to tell you what is really going on in your school, right under your nose, but they are also in the ideal position to deliver key safety messages.
Their peers may be more likely to listen to them and act upon their advice because they can speak on their level. They can sometimes relate more to their classmates rather than to a teacher in class who is trying frantically to keep up with trends. Get them involved by delivering lessons, hosting assemblies or even making explainer videos for children, parents and carers.
A shiny badge for your members of your Digital Citizens team would go down a treat too!
Don't give up
It can often feel as though the battle is already lost with keeping our children safe online. You sometimes feel as though you have put everything in place and the staff have taught the children well.
You have created a positive ethos around keeping safe online; open conversations between children, parents and staff are encouraged and your children know who their trusted adults are.
And yet you find out that a child’s social media account is open to the public and they have over 500 ‘friends’ or you receive a notification that a child has been sending photos of themselves to a stranger online and it feels as though it has all been in vain.
The children know the next big thing and are usually already playing it before we find out about it. They find ways to fool monitoring systems that we put in place and sneak forbidden apps onto their phones to stay up until the early hours to play.
It’s disheartening and you wonder if your school is having an impact at all. But trust me, you are and you will be doing a fantastic job, It’s just that children are not perfect – they will take risks for lots of different reasons.
So keep going! Yes, it feels like an uphill battle sometimes, but so as long as your children know who they can turn to when things go wrong – then you know you are doing online safety right.
How National Online Safety can help you
National Online Safety can provide you with the training and resources you need to effectively develop a successful, whole-school approach to online safety. We are dedicated to improving online safety for pupils through high-quality remote video CPD, lesson plans, explainer videos, and free guides for parents.
Become a member and empower your staff to better teach and promote online safety to your students.
Posted by Heather Cardwell