E-safety for schools

Last updated: 04 Feb 2020 Topics: Schools Online safety

Being online is an integral part of children and young people’s lives. Social media, online games, websites and apps can be accessed through mobile phones, computers, laptops and tablets – all of which form a part of children and young people’s online world.

The internet and online technology provides new opportunities for young people’s learning and growth, but it can also expose them to new types of risks.

E-safety should form a fundamental part of schools’ and colleges’ safeguarding and child protection measures.

Government guidance across the UK highlights the importance of safeguarding children and young people from harmful and inappropriate online material. (Department for Education, 2019a; Department of Education (Northern Ireland), 2017; Scottish Government, 2017; Welsh Government, 2015).

A whole school approach to online safety helps ensure staff, governors, volunteers and parents teach children about online safety.

What you should do

Schools have a dual responsibility when it comes to e-safety: to ensure the school’s online procedures keep children and young people safe, and to teach them about online safety, in and outside of school.

Your school should foster an open environment in which children and young people are encouraged to ask any questions and participate in an ongoing conversation about the benefits and dangers of the online world.

Our information and resources will help you to:

  • create e-safety policies and procedures that will help you mitigate risk and respond to concerns
  • ensure teachers have the knowledge to teach students about e-safety
  • provide advice on using social media and live streaming
  • support and include parents and carers by sharing helpful advice and resources
  • review and update your e-safety provision on an ongoing basis.

Online safety training

Take our elearning course on e-safety and learn about how children and young people use existing technology, the risks involved and how to protect them from harmful content online in your context.

Includes modules on bullying, radicalisation and extremism, grooming and more.

Find out more about what you'll learn

Policies and procedures

Policies and procedures

All schools and colleges should have robust e-safety policies and procedures that set out how to safeguard against and respond to online safety incidents. These must be understood and followed by all staff, volunteers, children and visitors.

Writing e-safety policies and procedures

Your e-safety policies and procedures must follow the legislation and guidance for child protection in schools across the UK and for online safety.

They should apply to all devices with the capacity to connect to the internet and transfer data. This includes internet-connected toys, tablets, smart TVs and watches, phones, laptops and computers.

The Prevent duty

Schools in England, Wales and Scotland should also follow the Prevent duty’s statutory guidance regarding online safety and radicalisation (UK Home Office, 2019).

> Read more about radicalisation and the Prevent duty

Templates for an online safety policy statement and acceptable use policy

Our online safety policy statement template will help you create an e-safety policy that staff, students and parents and carers should follow. This applies to all online platforms, including social media and online games.

The online safety agreement template can be used to set rules for how children should appropriately use the internet.

> Download the templates

Responding to e-safety concerns

Follow your e-safety policies and procedures and your organisational child protection procedures. Organisations that work with children and families must have safeguarding policies and procedures in place.

> Follow our guidance on how to respond to online abuse

> Read our guidance on safeguarding roles and responsibilities in schools

> Find out more about responding to sexting

Ongoing review

Technology and the online environment are constantly changing. E-safety policies and procedures should be regularly reviewed and updated as part of your overarching safeguarding measures.

A whole school approach to reviewing these arrangements, including students, staff, volunteers and parents is good practice. Updated policies should be shared with and understood by all staff, children, and parents and carers, highlighting what has changed.

Resources you can use to help

Education Self-Assessment Tool (ESAT)

Our free Education Self-Assessment Tool (ESAT) helps schools develop and update their safeguarding policies and procedures and meet statutory and recommended safeguarding practices.

Online safety training

Our elearning course, Keeping children safe online, developed in association with the child protection unit of the National Crime Agency, CEOP, provides information and resources to help you assess and improve your school’s approach to online safety.

Learning from case reviews briefing on online abuse

You can also read our learning from case reviews briefing on online abuse to find out how you can improve online safety.

IT safety and data protection

IT safety and data protection

Schools must have strong IT infrastructure and data protection practices. Make sure your school:

  • manages data in compliance with the Data Protection Act 2018 
  • uses a firewall and robust antivirus software
  • uses a recognised internet service provider
  • actively monitors and filters any inappropriate websites or content
  • uses an encrypted and password protected WiFi network.

> View the UK Safer Internet Centre's guidance on online filtering and monitoring in education

> Visit Government guidance on Data protection: a toolkit for schools

> Check the Information Commission’s website for advice on data protection

Online consent forms

If you decide to use online consent forms to record consent for children to take part in activities, these should be stored in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018. Parents and carers should be informed of how this information will be stored and used.

Things to consider include:

  • how you will verify that forms have been signed by the right person
  • how you will keep the forms secure
  • how authorised staff will access and check the forms as necessary
  • whether all parents and carers will have access to an online system.

> Read more about the Data Protection Act 2018 from the Information Commissioner’s Office

Teaching e-safety

Teaching e-safety

Alongside ensuring your e-safety arrangements are robust, it’s essential that schools and colleges teach children and young people about staying safe online – both in and outside of school (UK Council for Child Internet Safety, 2018a).

Teachers should have ongoing conversations with children about the benefits and dangers of the internet and create an open environment for children and young people to ask questions and raise any concerns.

Teaching online safety should not be restricted to IT and computing lessons. Embedding key messages about staying safe online throughout the curriculum helps ensure that children of all ages are taught online safety skills.

Teaching resources

We’ve developed a range of engaging and age appropriate teaching resources to help teachers deliver e-safety lessons and create an ongoing conversation with children and young people about online safety.

Share Aware

The Share Aware lesson plans and teaching guidance can be used with 5-11-year-olds to discuss topics such as sharing pictures and chatting to strangers online. These resources have received the PSHE Association Quality Assurance Mark.

Online bullying

We developed a school pack about online bullying for 11-16-year-olds with the Anti-Bullying Alliance and Diana Award. The resources can be adapted for use in lessons, assemblies or in school councils and focus on what children and young people can do if they witness cyberbullying.

Making sense of relationships

Our Making sense of relationships lesson plans focus on teaching personal safety and healthy relationships for 10-16-year-olds, and includes topics on online safety and social media. These resources were developed with the PSHE Association.

It's Not OK

A set of lesson plans, films and activities are available through It's Not OK for children and young people aged 11 and over. These reinforce the importance of building and maintaining positive relationships and how to recognise and respond to inappropriate behaviour. They cover topics including online safety, grooming and sexting.

Teaching children and young people with SEND

Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) may require different teaching methods to learn about online safety, such as:

  • tailored teaching materials, including visual, verbal and multi-media resources
  • more detailed explanation of complex issues
  • continuous reminders and reinforcement of e-safety messages
  • a slower, smaller-step approach to building online resilience

(Assiter, Avery and The Education People, 2018).

> Use our Love Live resources to talk to young people with learning disabilities about online safety and other topics

External speakers

You may want to invite visitors to supplement and reinforce your school’s e-safety curriculum.

Visitors with the right expertise can provide online safety information to children and young people, staff, volunteers and parents and carers.

When used as part of a broader and balanced curriculum, this can make a significant contribution towards children’s, staff and parents’ online safety awareness.

Visitors should be viewed as educational resources, not as a one-off or tick-box event.

(UK Council for Child Internet Safety, 2018a).

> Read the UK Council for Child Internet Safety guidance on using external visitors to support online safety education

Talking to children and young people about online abuse

We’ve created resources that will help you talk to children about online safety topics. They can help you respond to disclosures, difficult conversations that may arise and any online safety incidents, discoveries, allegations and concerns.

Let children know you're listening

Our poster and animation provide tips to help you ensure children always feel listened to. Both are available in English and Welsh.

How to have difficult conversations with children

Find out how to prepare and have a conversation with children and young people you work or volunteer with about difficult, upsetting or sensitive topics.

Responding to instances of sexting

Get advice on what to do if you need to help a young person who has received or sent an explicit image, video or message

Online safety training

Our elearning course on online safety will help you ensure that staff and volunteers are aware of the risks that children and young people can be exposed to online and know how to respond appropriately.

Guidance

In England, the Department for Education (DfE) has published non-statutory guidance on teaching online safety in school (PDF).

The Scottish Government has produced Guidance on developing policies to promote the safe and responsible use of mobile technology in schools and on Enhancing learning and teaching through the use of digital technology

The Welsh Government has online safety resources for schools, including lesson plans, tips and resources for each year group.

The Northern Ireland Executive has published a consultation document on Keeping children and young people safe online: an e-Safety Strategy and Three Year Action Plan for Northern Ireland 2019-2022 (PDF).

The UK Council for Internet Safety also has helpful online safety resources.

Childline

If a child or young person needs confidential help and advice, direct them to Childline.

Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also contact Childline online or read about online and mobile safety on the Childline website.

You can also download or order Childline posters and wallet cards.

Social media

Social media

Social media and social networking is often essential to young people’s lives – it’s how they keep in touch and communicate with friends, family and schoolmates.

Personal mobile devices mean that children and young people can be active on social media anywhere and at any time. This can provide new opportunities for children and young people to learn and express themselves. But it can also present risks, including:

As a part of children and young people’s day-to-day safety, these issues should be tackled in the classroom and as part of an open, ongoing conversation about online safety, so that they can learn about how to stay safe on social media.

For advice on how to keep children safe online, including on social media – take our Keeping children safe online elearning course.

Social media in schools

Some schools use social media as a beneficial resource for example to enhance engagement in the classroom, celebrate student’s work, or circulate news, activities and events to parents and carers.

Schools should always consider the safety implications when using social media with children and young people.

  • Schools should receive the consent of parents or carers and the child before posting any identifiable information or images of children and young people on social media.
  • Social media accounts used for educational purposes should be authorised and supervised by the school, filtered for suitable content and use appropriate privacy and security controls.
  • Concerns about social media content involving pupils, such as cyberbullying, self-harm, abuse or exploitation, should be raised in accordance with your school’s child protection procedures.

> Read more about responding to online abuse

> Find out more about photography and image sharing guidance

Including social media in your staff behaviour policy

Your behaviour policy for staff and volunteers should include rules on technology and social media usage (Department for Education, 2019a). This should include clear statements that staff should:

  • not engage or communicate with children or children’s families via personal or non-school-authorised accounts
  • be aware of their digital footprint - the information about a person that exists on the internet as a result of their online activity
  • only use authorised school accounts to send school communications
  • use staff accounts for professional purposes only, including email, website and social media accounts
  • take steps to avoid being found by children on social media, by selecting strict privacy settings, using a different display name and choosing an appropriate display picture
  • not use social media in a way that would breach other school policies.

Useful resources

Enhancing online safety for children

Our podcast episode on enhancing online safety for children includes advice on digital footprints and personal and professional boundaries.

Behaviour management and codes of conduct

Download our template behaviour code for adults working with children to help create a policy that includes rules on using social media.

Making sense of relationships

You can use the Safer online relationships module of our Making sense of relationships lessons plan to teach children about the benefits and challenges of developing and maintaining relationships over social media.

Protecting children from cyberbullying

See more guidance for schools on how to prevent cyberbullying and teach children about it in lessons.

Responding to sexting

Read our advice on what to do if a young person tells you they've been involved with sexting, how to write policies and procedures around this and where to report or share your concerns. 

The Government also has guidance on how you can recognise and respond to online radicalisation via social media.

Livestreaming

Livestreaming

Livestreaming can be used by schools to broadcast an event taking place in school or to view external events. It’s a valuable educational medium which can connect your school with the community and with events outside of your locality.

To create a safe environment for children and young people when watching or engaging in a livestream, there are several things you should consider.

Before starting any livestream, remind children:

  • not to share private information
  • not to respond to contact requests from people they don’t know
  • who they should tell if they see or hear anything upsetting or inappropriate.

Whether hosting or joining a livestream, you must get consent from parents and carers and children if any images of or identifying information about the child may be used.

> Find out more about photography and image sharing guidance

Hosting a livestream

Hosting a livestream means any situation where the school instigates, publishes and is responsible for streaming online content. This includes livestreaming lessons, assemblies, announcements, activities, and if external visitors livestream on the school site.

When hosting a livestream

  • consider which platform to use since free platforms such as YouTube or Facebook Live do not allow you to restrict the audience
  • consider inviting your audience to register to watch the stream and issue a log in and password, or look into using a custom platform if livestreaming is regularly used in your school
  • familiarise yourself with the privacy settings and know how to report any offensive or abusive content
  • the stream should take place in school time and on school premises and must be supervised by appropriate adults at all times
  • be sensitive to the needs of individual students, including d/Deaf and disabled children, and children who may be sensitive to certain topics or issues that may arise during the livestream
  • appropriate staff should supervise and be on hand to handle any sudden changes or upsetting developments that may occur during the livestream.

Joining a livestream

If you join a livestream that is hosted by someone outside the school, you may be able to participate through posting audio or written comments and liking or sharing the stream.

If you are joining a livestream

  • familiarise yourself with the type of content to be used in the stream and check it is appropriate and relevant
  • check with the provider on how they will use the stream in future. For example, will it be kept for archive purposes and will it be broadcast as a recorded event?
  • make sure pupils know they don't have to contribute to request donations on celebrity or vlogger streams
  • remind pupils that any comments posted will be seen by others and cannot be edited or deleted and this can become a part of their digital footprint.
Supporting parents and carers

Supporting parents and carers

Online safety can be daunting for parents and carers, as they may have concerns about their understanding of the topic and their knowledge of latest developments. Schools should remind parents that e-safety is more about their parenting and communication skills than technology.

Parents should understand that it isn’t enough to protect children from online harms by simply banning sites or installing firewalls and filters.

Encourage parents and carers to maintain an open and ongoing discussion about online safety at home/as a family/with their children.

(Assiter, Avery and The Education People, 2018b).

Our research with parents showed that they want to learn more about online safety and would welcome information from their child’s school.

You can involve parents and carers by:

  • sharing resources, news activities and events via social media, newsletters, handouts and email
  • circulating new and updated e-safety policies and procedures
  • organising and inviting parents to online safety sessions, potentially using external visitors
  • showing parents the learning resources you use in the classroom.

> See our online safety advice for parents on the NSPCC website

The UK Safer Internet Centre has guidance for parents and carers on online safety over the summer holidays (UK Safer Internet Centre, 2018).

NSPCC and O2

You can direct parents and carers towards Keeping kids safe online resources that we created in collaboration with O2 to bring together child protection and tech expertise.

Our series of online safety briefings can be printed out, downloaded or sent via email:

Parents vs Kids

Parents vs Kids is a family-oriented quiz designed to be used by parents, carers and their children to test their online knowledge and learn about staying safe online. It can be used on mobile, desktop, tablet or Amazon Echo.

Net Aware – a guide to social networks

Net Aware describes and reviews all the latest and most popular social networking sites, apps and games used by children and young people. It also gives the views of parents and children.

Net Aware is a great resource to share with parents and carers who want to know about:

  • age suitability
  • privacy settings
  • appropriate content
  • safety and security settings.

Parents and carers can also keep up-to-date on the latest social networks, apps and games through the Net Aware newsletter.

References

References

Assiter, A., Avery, R. and The Education People (2018a), Online Safety for Learners with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) (PDF). [Accessed 08/01/2020]

Assiter, A., Avery, R. and The Education People (2018b), Engaging Families in Online Safety: Guidance for Educational Settings (PDF). [Accessed 10/01/2020]

Department for Education (DfE) (2019a) Keeping children safe in education: statutory guidance for schools and colleges. London: Department for Education (DfE).

Department for Education (DfE) (2019b) Teaching online safety in school: guidance supporting schools to teach their pupils how to stay safe online, within new and existing school subjects (PDF). [London]: Department for Education (DfE).

Department for Education (2014) Cyberbullying: Advice for headteachers and school staff. London: Department for Education

Department of Education (2017) Safeguarding and child protection in schools: a guide for schools. Bangor: Department of Education

Scottish Government (2017) Internet safety for children and young people: national action plan. Edinburgh: Scottish Government

UK Council for Child Internet Safety (2018a) Using External Visitors to Support Online Safety (PDF). [Accessed 08/01/2020]

UK Home Office (2019) Prevent duty guidance. [Accessed 08/01/2020]

UK Safer Internet Centre (2018), Guidance for parents and carers on online safety over the summer holidays. [Accessed 08/01/2020]

Welsh Government (2015) Keeping learners safe: the role of local authorities, governing bodies and proprietors of independent schools under the Education Act 2002. Cardiff: Welsh Government. 

Childline

If a child or young person needs confidential help and advice direct them to Childline. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also contact Childline online or read about online and mobile safety on the Childline website. You can also download or order Childline posters and wallet cards.

Elearning

Our elearning course, Keeping children safe online, will develop your knowledge of online safety and help you teach children about staying safe online.

> Browse our training for schools 

Further reading

For further reading about e-safety, search the NSPCC library catalogue using the keywords “online safety” and “schools”.

If you need more specific information, please contact our Information Service.