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Taking "online" out of online safety

Last updated: 02 Apr 2019 Topics: Blog
Two teachers helping children to work on computers

By Laura Randall, Associate Head of Child Safety Online at NSPCC

Technology has changed how we live in ways that would perhaps be unimaginable just 20 years ago. And in schools and universities, it's transforming the way that we teach. The internet now puts information at children and young people's fingertips, allowing them to take a more active role in their learning. It gives them the freedom to discover and explore new worlds and experiences. But these opportunities don't come without risk. Issues like grooming, online sexual abuse, cyberbullying, and sexting are new challenges that schools need to tackle in the classroom; to ensure the children and young people they teach have the skills they need to keep themselves safe online and that teachers are prepared to handle any issues that do arise.

And that's not always easy, especially for a generation of education professionals who - unlike the children in their classes - haven't grown up with the "online world". Indeed, for children, there's no difference. The online world is the real world, it's just a part of their day to day life. But for teachers who may be unfamiliar with some of these new technologies, it can sometimes feel like things are changing quicker than you can keep up. How can you best keep children safe in a world that you don't entirely understand?

It's not online safety - it's safety

Safeguarding is an important part of a teacher's role and responsibilities. You learn about it in your initial training and it's a key factor in your school's day to day life. So, what if we stopped talking about keeping children safe online and started talking about keeping children safe? It doesn't matter whether a child has experienced something on Fortnite or Snapchat - the important thing is that you're able to recognise and respond to what has happened.

​Of course, there are specific factors that come into play online. Things can happen very quickly, for example where an image is shared around the school. Or they might happen over a longer period of time; for instance if a child is experiencing cyberbullying. The impact can be devastating and it can feel like there's no escape. It's essential that teachers are aware of this and respond accordingly, but it's important to remember that this is part of safeguarding - whether or not the issue has happened online. 

Trust your instincts

When an outgoing child becomes withdrawn or a quiet child becomes unusually outspoken, teachers notice. If grades or performance changes in class, teachers are aware. And when something doesn't seem quite right - even without any obvious changes in behaviour - then teachers know. So, if you're worried about a child - trust your instincts and act on any concerns that you have.

Start a conversation

But what if you're worried about getting it wrong? This is something I hear so often when talking about online safety and my answer is always the same: start a conversation. You know the children you work with and you need to act on any worries you may have. Talk to the child about what's happening and record your concerns. Whatever is happening - and wherever it's taking place - follow your school's safeguarding policies and procedures. Because keeping children safe online is, ultimately, about keeping children safe. 

For more help and advice, take our elearning course on online safety which covers what children and young people do online, why they take risks and how to respond to these risks. 

> Take our online safety course

Author's biography

Laura Randall is Associate Head of Child Safety Online and leads on developing innovative solutions to help those working with children understand the risks children may encounter when using the internet and how to safeguard effectively. Previously, Laura worked in law enforcement for 15 years, specialising in child abuse online and managing high risk investigations as well as covert activity.