27 June 2019
By Rebecca Avery

New DfE Guidance Published: ‘Teaching Online Safety in School’

The Department for Education have published 'Teaching online safety in schools'; new non-statutory guidance which aims to support schools in teaching pupils how to stay safe online within new and existing school subjects, such as Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education, Health Education, Citizenship and Computing.

The guidance has been published for school leaders, school staff and governing bodies and applies to all local authority maintained schools, academies and free schools. The interventions and support information may also be helpful for early years settings, colleges and other post-16 institutions.

The document provides guidance on several potential harms and risks to help school staff understand some of the issues their pupils may be facing and consider where these could be covered within the curriculum. Some of the potential risks identified include age restrictions, disinformation, fake websites, password phishing, online abuse, fake profiles, grooming, live streaming, pornography, unsafe communication, mental health, reputational damage and suicide, self-harm and eating disorders.

The document signposts to the UK Council for Internet Safety ‘Education for a Connected World Framework’ which includes age specific advice about the online knowledge and skills that pupils should have the opportunity to develop at different stages of their lives, including how to navigate online safely. The guidance also signposts to a range of government guidance and national organisations which provide advice and resources for schools, parents/carers and pupils.

Key points for school leaders and Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs) to consider:

  • Schools should ensure they embed teaching about online safety and harms within a whole school approach as part of existing curriculum requirements. A whole school approach goes beyond teaching, to include all aspects of school life and means:
    • Creating a culture that incorporates the principles of online safety across all elements of school life, including policies and procedures;
    • Proactively engaging staff, pupils and parents/carers in school activities that promote the agreed principles of online safety, such as engaging pupil/parent voice and implementing peer support/education;
    • Reviewing and maintaining the online safety principles, including ensuring that staff have access to up to date appropriate training/CPD and resources;
    • Embedding online safety principles; and
    • Modelling online safety principles consistently.
  • Schools should teach pupils about the underpinning knowledge and behaviours that can help them navigate the online world safely and confidently, regardless of the devices, platforms or apps they use.
    • Underpinning knowledge and behaviours could include:
      • How to evaluate what they see online
      • How to recognise techniques used for persuasion
      • Online behaviour
      • How to identify online risks
      • How and when to seek support
    • If schools deliver inputs on specific harms and risks, they should be considered in the broader context of providing underpinning knowledge and behaviours. For example, rather than addressing a bullying concern on a specific platform, it may be more successful in the long term to help pupils manage friendships online.
  • Any pupil can be vulnerable online, and vulnerability can fluctuate depending on their age, developmental stage and personal circumstances. However, there are some pupils, for example looked after children and those with special educational needs, who may be more susceptible or have less support in staying safe online. Schools should consider how they tailor their offer to ensure vulnerable pupils receive additional or specific information and support.
  • Schools are best placed to make their own decisions about which resources are appropriate to use with learners. Schools should ensure they review resources they use, even when from a trusted source, as some will be more appropriate to their cohort of pupils than others.
    • Schools should ask:
      • Where does this organisation get their information from?
      • What is their evidence base?
      • Have they been externally quality assured?
      • What is their background?
      • Are the resources age appropriate for our pupils?
      • Are the resources appropriate for the developmental stage of our pupils?
    • Online safety can be a difficult and complex topic, and schools may want to seek external support. The right external visitors can provide a useful and engaging approach to deliver online safety messages, but this should enhance a school’s offer and not be delivered in isolation.
  • It is important that schools be aware that when delivering online safety education, there is a potential that a child (or more than one child) may have experienced or be suffering from online abuse or harm.
    • Schools should create a safe environment in which all pupils feel comfortable to say what they feel. If a pupil believes they will get into trouble and/or be judged for talking about something which happened to them online, they may be put off reporting it and getting help.
    • Staff should include the Designated Safeguarding Lead (or a deputy) when considering and planning any safeguarding related lessons or activities (including online) as they will be best placed to reflect and advise on any known safeguarding cases, and how to support any pupils who may be impacted by a lesson.

We recommend all school leaders and DSLs should access this guidance and cascade it, as appropriate, with their staff.

Kent schools can access a range of training, guidance and support through the Education Safeguarding Service. Please contact us directly to discuss your needs and the support available further.