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Call It Out: Staying Safe Online

As part of @NCFE ’s recently launched campaign to tackle online bullying (#WeCallItOut), its latest webinar – Call It Out: Staying Safe Online – explored a number of themes relating to the ways we can tackle bullying through safer and more responsible use of online technology. 

The discussion is a timely one, following the marking of Safer Internet Day on 8 February, as well as the announcement that the government is launching a consultation into safeguarding to keep children safe within education.  

Host James Lane (NCFE’s Sector Manager for Digital, Creative and Design) was joined by NCFE’s Sector Manager for Education and Childcare, Janet King, as well as their Information Security Manager, Richard Grant, who shared their collective expertise on online safety from different viewpoints – from safeguarding, through to technological solutions. 

Here, we recap five of the key takeaways from the discussion.

1. It’s all about balance and being informed

Two key themes recurred throughout our webinar – the importance of ensuring children and young people are as informed as they can possibly be, as well as the importance of achieving balance.  

Janet explained: “It’s all about knowing what’s okay and what’s not okay, whilst having that balance of enjoying and embracing the digital world and all the advancement that this can bring. 

“We need recognition of when things are going wrong and how to spot these signs from a child safeguarding perspective. We also need children and young people to be able to recognise these dangers themselves, and to know what to do when they occur.” 

Richard agreed, stating there is definitely a balance to strike when it comes to not being afraid of the “incredible power of having access to the internet and the digital world.” 

Janet also went on to explain how blended learning has played a significant role in formalising the internet as somewhere where learning takes place – not just to be used as a space for socialising or gaming. This may have encouraged children and young people to think about the role the internet plays in our daily lives in different settings, as well as giving educators a tangible reason to thread online dangers throughout the curriculum, helping to further inform learners.

2. How to spot the signs

The speakers also discussed the key things – or the “red flags” – to look out for in children and young people that may suggest a negative experience is occurring online. 

“Communication and observation are key to most of this,” says Janet. “From a teacher’s perspective, recognising when things are not okay is really all about tuning into each child or young person that you’re working with.” 

These red flags can vary hugely depending on the individual, but important things to look out for can include changes to a child’s demeanour, their approach to learning, their friendship groups, their attendance, and their regular behaviours. They may withdraw or become aggressive – it’s all about knowing what conversations you can have, and about when is appropriate to have them. 

The Call It Out campaign is bringing together industry leaders across the education, business and not-for-profit sectors, to identify ways in which we can come together and tackle this growing issue of toxic behaviours online. One of the campaign partners, the Anti-Bullying Alliance, provides further guidance on signs that a child is being bullied – with a further article being released on this next month. 

3. What to expect from the upcoming safeguarding review 

In January 2022, the government announced a consultation into the statutory guidance on ‘Keeping children safe in education’, with a view to making changes for September 2022. 

Keeping children safe in education is much broader than it used to be, says Janet, as it now needs to capture the entire online landscape. So, why launch a consultation now? 

“It’s about making sure that safeguarding remains at the top of the agenda,” says Janet. “It’s ensuring that online safety is driving this, in terms of the way that online learning is taking place.” 

Janet also explains that we can expect a strong element of frequent updating, as well as a strong element of responsibility in training. Whether it’s inside the school environment or outside, staff and guardians must be fully aware of the different dangers and be able to recognise them – and hopefully, the consultation will help with working towards achieving this.

4. The importance of control and tools on social media

Online safety tools on social media platforms include being able to block, mute, remove and report disruptive users and bullying or threatening behaviours. Different tools are available to the individual depending on what platform they are on, and help to provide an element of control within the environment for the user. However, finding and making best use of these tools may not always be clear and obvious to the user from the outset. 

In fact, when asked if he could use a magic wand to make an immediate change to the online landscape to make people safer online, Richard replied that he’d put ‘control’ at the front and centre for users, giving them an environment that is safe and works for them. 

He explained: “Rather than [tools] being an afterthought or something you need to go looking for, these should be clearly presented to someone to start with to really help people understand what elements of control they have over the environment they’re interacting with.” 

So how do we fix this? As well as hoping that social media companies will look to make these tools more obvious on their platforms, there are also benefits in extending education around these control tools so that every individual knows how to get the most out of their functions. There’s a lot of useful information to be found from Internet Matters, in partnership with the BBC.

5. Safeguarding qualifications are available

Whilst there are elements of safeguarding weaved throughout most childcare qualifications, there are also options out there for individuals to gain knowledge through studying specific safeguarding qualifications. 

NCFE’s Level 1 Award in Safeguarding in a Learning Environment provides a real breadth of knowledge and gives you the tools to weave things into the curriculum where this is no formal digital learning. It features a specific unit on staying safe online, which addresses key issues such as internet privacy, confidentiality, and freedom of information guidelines, as well as a unit on cyberbullying. 

As well as this, there is also a Level 1 Award in Understanding Safeguarding in Education and Childcare Settings. This is predominantly for early years staff and looks at the ways we can encourage young children to stay safe, including the potential risks associated with technology, on social media, and through online bullying.  

As Janet explains: “The young people who are doing these sorts of qualifications are the very people that are enjoying the freedoms of technology, and that is to be celebrated. But there are also people falling foul of this as well.  

“We need to try and address both things simultaneously; accept and appreciate that digital innovation is a wonderful thing where the possibilities are impossible to imagine – and yet, we are continually trying to monitor and to filter. That’s down to a lack of education, and a lack of knowledge, and we need to tie these things up somehow.” 

Find out more about the Call It Out  campaign or watch the full recording of the “Call It Out: Staying Safe Online” webinar. If you’d like to support or partner with NCFE as part of our Call It Out campaign, contact us at [email protected]. You can also join in the discussion online, using the hashtag #WeCallItOut

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