8 things the government wants schools to teach about online safety

Schools have been urged to teach pupils about social media influencers, the dangers of online challenges, and how to spot fake news in new guidance for teaching online safety.

The Department for Education advice urges schools to consider what they are already delivering through the curriculum, and build in additional teaching as required to ensure their pupils are receiving a “fully rounded education with regard to online safety”.

Note: the government is keen to point out this isn’t additional teaching requirements (and schools are probably already teaching most of these things), it’s more a new round-up of suggestions for teaching online safety, that better fits into the new relationships, sex and health education stuff. (The guidance is also non-statutory).

It comes as education secretary Damian Hinds is today set to challenge tech companies to have a “moral duty of care” to put child protection at the front and centre of online platforms, adding “children are children and should always be protected as such”.

So here are 8 interesting things the government wants schools to be teaching about online safety.


1. Spotting ‘fake news’

The government wants pupils to be taught how to evaluate what they see online, so pupils do not “automatically assume that what they see is true, valid or acceptable”.

Schools can help pupils consider questions including ‘is this website/email fake? How can I tell?’, ‘is this too good to be true?’, and ‘is this fact or opinion?’.

Pupils should also know “how to recognise techniques used for persuasion”, such as misinformation, techniques companies use to persuade people to buy their product, ways in which games and social media companies try to keep users online longer, and grooming.


2. Learning about ‘social media influencers’

Pupils should be warned about the the potential harm of comparisons to “unrealistic” online images. Lessons on this could include looking at the use of filters and digital enhancement, exploring the role of social media influencers (Hinds took a pop at these recently) and looking at photo manipulation.


3. The dangers of online ‘challenges’

The guidance states that while some may be “fun and harmless, others may be dangerous or even illegal”. There was what seemed like a national panic earlier this year over the ‘Momo’ challenge – which turned out to be a hoax (although this didn’t stop various newspapers running stories about it).

Teaching could include explaining to pupils that it’s “ok to say no”, and understanding the important of telling an adult about challenges which include “threat or secrecy”.


4. How to limit personal data ‘harvesting’

The guidance points to online platforms and search engines that gather personal information, known as “harvesting” or “farming”.

Teaching around this could include how pupils can protect themselves if something goes wrong, the rights children have to their own data, and how to limit the data companies collect by “paying particular attention to boxes they tick when playing a game”.


5. That porn is not an ‘accurate portrayal’ of sexual relationships

Pupils should know that pornography presents a “distorted picture of sexual behaviours”. Lessons could include how watching porn can lead to “skewed beliefs about sex” and in some cases “normalise violent behaviour”.


6. The risks of live streaming

While this can be popular with the children, the guidance states it “carries risk when carrying it out and watching it”.

Schools can teach pupils about the potential for people to record live streams without the user knowing, and that online behaviours should mirror how you behave offline.


7. How ‘online emotions’ can result in ‘mob mentality’

Schools can help pupils to recognise acceptable behaviour online by looking at why people behave differently, teaching techniques to “defuse or clam arguments”, and considering unacceptable online behaviours often “passed off as so-call social norms or just banter”.

The guidance also states schools could look at how “online emotions can be intensified resulting in mob mentality” (how people can be influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviours on a largely emotional basis).


8. Knowing the different types of grooming

The guidance states pupils should know the different types of grooming and the motivations behind them, for instance radicalisation, child sex abuse, and county lines (the latter of which has also been taken on by Ofsted, amongst other agencies).

Teaching could include boundaries in friendships with peers and families, key indicators for grooming, and how to report it. The curriculum area this will be covered in is RSHE.






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