Online Safety Live briefing (Lakefield C of E Primary School, Gloucestershire)

Online Safety

How time flies!  It was, once again, the turn of those from SWGfL to give one of their Online Safety Live briefings in Gloucestershire (  Ian Williams, Head Teacher at Lakefield C of E Primary School in Frampton-on-Severn (, had kindly agreed to host the event, which was delivered by Andrew Williams and Steve Shepherd from SWGfL.  Whilst I know Andrew well from previous events that I have attended, I had not met Steve before (he has a wealth of experience and expertise to bring to these sessions, having been in the Police for 25 years and now working with the Army’s Warfare Unit and as Director of the Missing Persons Bureau).

It was rather strange to be able to sit back, relax and listen (I am often the one presenting)!  Andrew and Steve kept us engaged and entertained for an hour and a half (they had to do a slightly ‘abridged version’ of their planned Online Safety Live briefing due to the horrendous traffic locally and our slightly delayed start).  Whilst I was aware of many aspects from my previous Online Safety Mark Assessor’s Update Training, it is essential to keep abreast with developments within such a rapidly evolving arena.

The first part of the afternoon focused on ‘progress’, which was led by Andrew.  Data is the most valuable thing in the world, it seems.  Nothing is ever ‘free’, even if it is advertised as being so.  Both ‘free’ and ‘paid’ apps/services are constantly harvesting our data and selling it onto others.  This is a real hidden danger and we are yet to really know and understand the full extent of such actions.

In Ofcom’s latest ‘Children’s and parents’ media use and attitudes report’, there are some expected, but also quite alarming statistics. In the 3-4 age bracket, 1% of online users have a social media profile.  Undoubtedly, such profiles have been set up by a parent/carer/sibling on the child’s behalf and this reinforces the importance of ‘asking for consent’.  We discussed ‘Ryan’s toy reviews’ in some depth too, considering safeguarding and whether such activity could actually be regarded as child exploitation by parents/carers where huge sums of money are involved.  As teachers and parents/carers, we need to act as role models; asking children for their consent to share photographs online, for example.

Andrew also extracted a bar graph from the above report to highlight current UK trends with regard to time online, smartphone and tablet ownership and parents’ concerns in terms of the Internet and gaming.  On average, young people spend 20.5 hours online.  But, what does ‘online’ really mean?  In order to define this, a new statistic has been added; the average number of hours spent on You Tube.  However, this raises further questions; how much of this is school-related and how much of this is for pleasure/simply whiling away time?  Technology has changed vastly over the space of just ten years and we have to be very careful about the messages that we give to young people as a result.

Steve suggested that older generations need to change their attitudes towards gaming.  Gaming can be a great way of improving dexterity and, frequently, requires critical thinking and problem solving skills to be employed.  There is often a social media element incorporated into games too, which promotes the development of effective communication skills.  Nevertheless, it needs to be time-restricted, with short screen breaks built in.  There are ‘threats’ linked to gaming that we and users should be aware of, such as costs (digital money and real money); bullying/cyberbullying/social isolation; loot boxes (an electronic lucky dip) and skin gambling.  It will be interesting to see if the latter leads to an increased addiction to gambling from an early age in time.

Another ‘threat’ that Steve discussed was ‘privacy’.  Schools are key targets for hackers as they hold much personal information about vulnerable children, staff members’ bank details, etc. and so, must ensure that they take adequate precautions to protect such data.  He asked how many of us have a smart speaker in our homes and had we considered that this is continually collecting data as it has a computer behind it.  The biggest gatherer of data is, in fact, Microsoft, which so many of us have installed on PCs, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, etc.  Utilising and are quick and easy ways of exploring how ‘exposed’ you are.  Using a password manager was advocated; different and very strong passwords are automatically generated for websites and all you have to do is remember one generic password to unlock them.  Avoid upper case at the start, replacing letters with numbers and adding characters at the end; instead, go for a phrase password or select four objects that you can see within a particular image.

‘Fake news’ is a massive problem.  ‘Deep fakes'(whereby images are combined and superimposed with video footage) have become more widespread since 2014 and can be incredibly convincing.  We need to encourage youngsters to think critically and triangulate (verify the information by accessing three creditable sources).

In recent years, there has also been much media coverage of online challenges and suicide games.  By identifying these by name, we are giving them more attention and adding to the hype.  There has been no substantial evidence of any of these really existing or causing the problems outlined.

Online pornography was another ‘threat’ that was mentioned.  According to the BBFC, 51% of 11-13 year olds have encountered pornography.  Often, this is unintentional (no filtering is 100% effective).  However, the concern is that the ‘unintentional’ often leads to the ‘intentional’.  The IWF assessed 22484 reports of self-generated child sexual abuse material between January and June 2019 and found over 95% involved girls and 85% fell within the 11-13 years olds category, exemplifying how prevalent sexting is.  Again, we have to relay the message to youngsters about image sharing and gaining consent beforehand.

Next, Andrew reinforced the obligations that schools have, e.g. DfE’s ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’, which is updated annually; Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 and PREVENT; Computer Misuse Act 1990; Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (EIF), and identified forthcoming changes.

Finally, both Steve and Andrew highlighted the numerous resources and websites that are available to teaching professionals, as well as parents/carers, in order to support them in keeping abreast with developments and helping them to reliably inform the youngsters that they come into contact with.  These included the updated 360 degree safe online safety self-review tool and Online Compass, Online Safety BOOST, SELMA Hacking Hate, Childnet’s Digital Leaders Programme, SWGfL, UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC), UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), Project Evolve, BBC and National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

I would thoroughly recommend you attending an Online Safety Live briefing near you.  Not only are they FREE, but they are a great means of meeting other teaching professionals from the local area.  I can assure you that the latest in research, legislation, technology, tools and resources will be shared with you, along with exclusive access to the accompanying presentation and very valuable resource materials.


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