The Childnet Digital Leaders Programme

The Childnet Digital Leaders Programme is a youth leadership training programme empowering young people to educate their peers about online safety. Nearly 900 schools have already signed up to the programme, and have reported that it is helping them to meet their safeguarding needs and keeping young people safe online.

Childnet is a leading online safety charity with a mission to make the internet a great and safe place for children and young people. We work directly with children and young people aged 3-18 on a daily basis, finding out about their real experiences online as well as sharing advice, top tips and information. We also work with parents, carers, teachers, and professionals from across the UK.

Since 1995, Childnet has sought to keep children and young people at the heart of all that we do. In all our work we seek to respond to the risks that children and young people may encounter online. Our aim is to make the internet a great and safe place for children and young people.

The Childnet Digital Leaders Programme

Childnet is the only online safety charity in the UK delivering an online peer-to-peer training programme that directly helps education settings embed a comprehensive approach to online safety.

The Childnet Digital Leaders Programme began in 2014, engaging young people in online safety education in a new and innovative way. Young people told us that they found online safety education more valuable and relevant when it came from people their own age.

By directly consulting with young people, teachers and educational settings we created the Childnet Digital Leaders Programme to help make online safety education fun, interesting and impactful.

What happens on the programme?

Schools or groups joining the programme have access to an interactive, informative and fun online training platform for both primary or secondary schools. Schools recruit a team of Digital Leaders who go on to complete training modules on a range of online safety topics on the gamified platform.

As the young people work through the modules, they build their knowledge and understanding of online safety. The programme helps young people to gain the skills and competences they need to lead peer education and awareness raising projects in their school.
There are two versions of the Childnet Digital Leaders Programme available, one for use with 7-11s and one for 11-17s. Each school stage version of the training platforms contains tailor made activities, lessons plans, quizzes and covers topics suitable for its age range. For example, the primary school programme, built with Key Stage 2 in mind, has modules covering topics such as cyberbullying, digital resilience and screen time and keeping a healthy balance. The secondary platform, which is aimed at Key Stage 4, covers digital democracy, healthy relationships online and fake news. Schools and education settings will have access to these modules and more, and by utilising Childnet’s expert guidance the programme provides a comprehensive package for online safety education.

As a team of Childnet Digital Leaders work their way through the online training platform, they are awarded virtual badges and points, as well as module certificates on completion of each module. These badges and points are collated and give the team their place on the Leaderboard, so they can see where they stand amongst the international Digital Leader school standings. Once they have completed the seven core training modules they are officially qualified as Digital Leaders and are awarded personal qualification certificates, as well as a certificate for their school.

Each young person who takes part in the programme are also awarded an official Childnet Digital Leader pin badge so other students in the school can recognise them as a peer to approach for online safety advice.  The team are them responsible for going on to plan and lead online safety education in their school or community.

As a result of the programme, Digital Leaders have been empowered to run lessons and assemblies with their peers and younger children, set up weekly ‘surgeries’ to support anyone experiencing bullying online, and lead activities for Safer Internet Day in their school. We encourage Digital Leader teams to be as creative as they wish with the running of their online safety activities in their education settings, and also ask that they let us know what activities they have been facilitating by way of a blog that we will then publish on our public website and feature in our monthly Digital Leaders newsletter. The programme also helps young people and schools to involve families in online safety, with nearly half of teachers saying that parents and carers are more engaged as a result of the programme.

To find out more about how the programme could run in your school, please look at our FAQs.

The Impact of the Childnet Digital Leaders Programme

The Childnet Digital Leaders Programme delivers real and lasting impact in schools. Recent research found that:

  • 85 per cent of teachers who have taken part in the programme said that it has helped their school fulfil their safeguarding duties.
  • 82 per cent have noticed safer online behaviours from young people as a result of the programme
  • 75 per cent started an improvement in the wellbeing of the young people taking part.

Digital Leaders can visit the online platform for help and support through the safe and moderated online community. The Community provides a strong support network of Digital Leaders across the country, where young people can go for advice, suggestions and a discussion of online safety topics. The Community additionally provides exclusive opportunities to feedback their opinions and win competitions and prizes in our monthly ‘Prize Posts’ feature.

With their voices at the heart of the programme, young people also have opportunities to feed in their thoughts about technology at a national level – whether that’s by telling the world’s biggest technology companies and other industry about the challenges young people encounter on their platforms, providing tips about staying safe online to their peers across the UK, or influencing policymakers by contributing towards government consultations. For example, Digital Leaders have given feedback during the government’s recent Online Harms White Paper consultation and contributed their thoughts to research on expiring content.

We also host regular Digital Leaders Regional Events across the UK, this is an opportunity where young people can come together, provide further feedback on their current online activities, receive exclusive training from the Childnet Team and work on team challenges to build their skills further.

We also provide the young people who are part of the programme with opportunities to directly query and hold to account tech industry professionals on their child online safety practices; this is done though our Industry Q&A feature which takes place twice a year.

How we address the issues affecting young people

We regularly add new modules to the online training programme, ensuring that the content keeps up with the ever-changing technology landscape, this also allows us to respond to what the Childnet Digital Leaders want and need.

In 2019 young people in primary schools told us they were unsure how to support their peers who have concerns about online gaming. We have been able to support them directly, as well as to plan a brand new module focusing on safe gaming which will launch in 2020.

As a result of listening and responding to young people’s needs, more than 9 in 10 Digital Leaders say the training makes them feel more confident about educating pupils in their school. It is also great to see that their teachers agree; one teacher said,

“The scope for the children to take ownership of the education of others within school is a real boost to their confidence”.

Teachers have also reported an improvement in the kindness and ethos in the school both online and offline, with 96 per cent of young people stating that they felt more knowledgeable about issues related to online safety by taking part in the Childnet Digital Leaders Programme.

We are proud to be a youth-led programme and our group of Digital Champions acts as our youth representative board and provides the Childnet team with the focused youth voice to ensure that young people remain at the front and centre of the programme. This group of highly engaged Digital Leaders act as the voice of their peers, feeding in on key programme decisions as well as helping to shape the future of the platform and modules.

We request feedback from all Digital Leaders on all modules, allowing us to see what works and to make adjustments along the way. We also travel across the UK to carry out school visits every month, to get young people’s views directly on the effectiveness and educational value of the learning content and to learn how the programme is running for them. As a result of these visits we have learnt how much the programme is impacting not just on online safety education and knowledge, but on wellbeing, confidence and behaviour as well.

The programme enables and empowers young people to have a say in creating a better internet for the future and is helping educational settings work towards an outstanding approach to keeping everyone safe online.

To find out more about the programme and register interest to receive an exclusive guest login, visit our website.

"The school's work to keep pupils safe is exemplified by the 'Digital Leaders', pupils who are well prepared to train their peers on internet safety. During the inspection, 'Digital Leaders' were teaching Year 7 pupils about the dangers of social media. Year 7 pupils then carried out research and presented projects with enthusiasm and deep understanding."

-    Ofsted report, Sarah Bonnell School