Safeguarding students online slips through the cracks

  • Safeguarding students online slips through the cracks

Ofsted’s guidance says that students should be educated in identifying online risks, but what this actually means in practice however is unclear and often ineffective. In the mean time, young people are suffering from cyberbullying, sexting, security violations and worse at an unprecedented rate.

By the time a child reaches secondary school, most will been effected by at least one of these issues. According to a recent survey by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), seven in ten secondary school teachers say they have encountered cyberbulling or trolling amongst their pupils, while two in five have encountered sexting. We would argue this to be far higher.

As a social media safety organisation, we at Digital Awareness UK [] speak to children on a daily basis - some who have landed themselves in life-threatening situations by engaging with paedophiles online, others who have sadly tried to take their own lives as a result of severe cyberbullying.

One thing is certain, these children rarely look to schools for help and support. From the extensive experience we have working on the ground, we believe that rightly or wrongly, this is because they don’t think a teacher is knowledgeable enough to truly understand how to help them navigate their way out of a social media crisis.

We beg to differ. Teachers are perfectly placed when it comes to helping to safeguard young people in all aspects of their lives. They just need some time and support to get skilled up on social media safety.

As a team of social media specialists – YouTubers, hackers, developers, bloggers etc - who work in schools day-in-day-out just focusing on social media safety even we struggle to keep on top of the latest trends on how young people are using social media. How can you expect teachers, who are already stretched to the limit to know how Snapchat works and what the associated risks are in using it?

There is often a huge disconnect between what teachers think their pupils are doing on social media versus what’s actually happening. Teachers are often surprised when in our workshops we discuss; the extent of desensitisation to abusive language as an outcome to live chat on Xbox Live or how savvy they are when it comes to understanding how to override parental controls or set up multiple anonymous social profiles to bypass adults – let alone feel empowered to lead those conversations.

More needs to be done by Government in this space to help safeguard our children and empower our teachers. This can only be achieved through clearer guidance from Ofsted and greater investment in educating teachers, students and parents around safe and responsible social media use.

At Digital Awareness UK we deliver online safety workshops, coffee mornings with parents, bespoke CPD training and social media policy development for schools. You can find out more at

Emma and Charlotte Robinson, co-founders of Digital Awareness UK, are speakers at the Sunday Times Festival of Education on June 18-19.

You can follow Emma and Charlotte on Twitter @DigitalSisters.