What DfE wants schools to teach about online safety

Education secretary Damian Hinds criticises tech companies for treating 13-year-olds as if they are adults

The DfE has issued new guidance for school about teaching pupils about online safety.

New Department for Education advice suggests schools should teach pupils about the dangers of online challenges, how games are designed to keep players online and how social media influencers operate.

The guidance document, Teaching online safety in school, aims to help schools “teach their pupils how to stay safe online, within new and existing school subjects”.

The non-statutory guidance was published the day after the DfE released its final statutory guidance about relationships, sex and health education.


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It comes as education secretary Damian Hinds prepares to call for tech giants to make sure children are treated as children online and protected until the age of 18

The education secretary is expected to tell an NSPCC conference today: “I have seen some online companies arguing that children should be treated as adults online once they pass the age of 13.

Protecting children from 'online harm'

“To them I say this: children are children – this is as true in the online world as the real one. You have a responsibility to your young users and it is time for you to step up to make sure they are protected from online harms and upsetting content until they reach adulthood.”

Today’s guidance sets out advice for schools on teaching about online safety, listing potential risks, and the curriculum areas within which they could be covered.

The potential risks include disinformation, fake websites, password phishing, online abuse, fake profiles, grooming, live streaming, pornography, unsafe communication, reputational damage and suicide, self-harm and eating disorders.

It provides several examples of teaching that schools could use, including:

  • What a digital footprint is, how it develops and how it can affect future prospects such as university and job applications;
  • Disinformation and why individuals or groups choose to share false information in order to deliberately deceive;
  • How data is farmed from sources which look neutral, for example websites that look like games or surveys that can gather lots of data about individuals;
  • Explaining that the majority of games and platforms are businesses designed to make money. Their primary driver is to encourage users to be online for as long as possible to encourage them to spend money (sometimes by offering incentives and offers) or generate advertising revenue;
  • The concept of clickbait and how companies can use it to draw people on to their sites and services;
  • Explanation of when online abuse can cross a line and become illegal, such as forms of hate crime and blackmail. Explaining what an online challenge is and that while some will be fun and harmless, others may be dangerous and or even illegal;
  • Ensuring pupils know that online content (sometimes gang-related) can glamourise the possession of weapons and drugs;
  • Explaining the importance of disengaging from contact with suspected grooming and telling a trusted adult;
  • Explaining that viewing pornography can lead to skewed beliefs about sex and in some circumstances can normalise violent sexual behaviour;
  • Exploring the role of social media influencers, including the fact that they are paid to influence the behaviour (particularly shopping habits) of their followers;
  • Exploring the impact that excessive social media usage can have on levels of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

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