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What is Online Safety?

Within this article, we explore what online safety is and why it’s more important now than it has ever been.

So what is ‘Online Safety’?

In simple terms, online safety refers to the act of staying safe online. It is also commonly known as internet safety, e-safety and cyber safety. It encompasses all technological devices which have access to the internet from PCs and laptops to smartphones and tablets.

Being safe online means individuals are protecting themselves and others from online harms and risks which may jeopardise their personal information, lead to unsafe communications or even effect their mental health and wellbeing.

Operating within an online space is something most of us simply do subconsciously, but have you ever stopped to consider the potential dangers which exist on the web, especially for our children?

The recent Ofcom ‘Children and Parents: media use and attitudes report 2019’ report released last week found that children are more engaged online than they’ve ever been. Ownership of smart devices is increasing and the range of content they are viewing is expanding.

In an ever-changing world, ensuring pupils’ safety online has never been more important. It’s an all-encompassing duty and something every teacher must be vigilant of.

What are the risks?

It goes without saying that the internet can be an unforgiving place. Aside from the more obvious risks such as online bullying, grooming or device addiction, the way children are engaging with the online world means that we have to take stock of their mental health and wellbeing, the type of content they are viewing and what they are posting online.

This includes the heightened concern around fake news and what impact social media influencers may be having on our children’s behaviour. It also includes the ongoing debate as to whether online gaming and certain features of online gaming, such as loot boxes and skins, are categorised as gambling and are encouraging gambling habits in children.

The number of varying social media applications continues to grow too. Previously, if you educated yourself on the mechanics of Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, you’d pretty much be covered.

However, we’re now in an age where a multitude of ‘apps’ exist, and they’re more complex than ever before. Whilst the above remain popular, how many of us have heard of TikTok, YOLO, FaceApp or LIKEE. All of these are all free to download and available at the touch of a button.

Such are the range of risks we now need to be aware of and the different platforms that children can access, it’s not easy to keep up to date.

What does policy say?

The ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ statutory guidance is an important document which outlines school’s responsibilities in relation to safeguarding children online. The key aspect of the report states that:

“An effective approach to online safety empowers a school or college to protect and educate the whole school or college community in their use of technology and establishes mechanisms to identify, intervene in, and escalate any incident where appropriate.”

School also need to be aware of the ‘Relationships education, relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education’ statutory guidance. Due to become mandatory for all schools this September, it provides the core requirements that both primary and secondary schools need to consider around teaching students about the range of online risks and harms.

The above guidance should be read in consultation with the ‘Teaching Online Safety in Schools’ guidance. This was published to help support schools in teaching pupils how to stay safe online when studying new and existing subjects. The guidance was produced alongside the UKCCIS ‘Education for a Connected Framework’ which breaks down content in age appropriate categories.

What can schools do?

From the above it might seem like educating yourself, your school and your students in staying safe online is a tall order. There is so much to consider in relation to meeting your DfE requirements, so many risks to be aware of and so many apps to keep on top of as children discover new platforms every week.

That’s where we come in.

At National Online Safety, we make it our mission to make the internet a safer place for children. We give school staff, parents and children the knowledge they need to understand online dangers, all in one place. Our Membership helps schools to meet their statutory obligations whist also educating the whole school community in online safety. Not only that, but it also gives schools full access to our globally recognised #WakeUpWednesday guides on the latest platforms, games and online risks.

We have a suite of online safety lesson plans to support schools, which cover a wide range of topics from Early Years through to Key Stage 4.