Making the UK the safest place to be online

Making the UK the safest place to be online

Hannah Broadbent, deputy CEO of Childnet, one of three charities in the UK Safer Internet Centre, shares why it’s important than ever for all schools to make online safety a priority

Recently, the UK government published its Internet Safety Strategy Green Paper which sets out how the government will work to make the UK the safest place to be online, outlining the important role of the internet industry, government, schools, parents, carers, and young people themselves.

A safer and better internet for children and young people can only be achieved collaboratively, and as technology use continues to shift and new risks emerge, schools will continue to play a crucial role in empowering young people to make the most of opportunities offered by technology and to protect them from harm.

Technology landscape shift

Empowering children to use technology safely and responsibly is essential now, and will become even more important as new issues emerge and technology continues to develop.

At Childnet, our education team speaks to thousands of children and young people every year about their technology use and we see every day how their use changes and new trends emerge, bringing both risks and opportunities. Since the launch of services like YouTube Live and Instagram Live in 2016, the growing popularity of livestreaming has placed additional demands on young people who need to make good decisions in the moment about what live video they should broadcast to their followers. Research we published earlier this year found that Instagram Live is the most popular service among young people, with 11 per cent of eight to 17-year-olds using this to ‘go live’. In this research young people explained how they live broadcast throughout their daily life, whether it’s while doing their homework or at a sleepover.

From livestreaming their lives to increasing their ‘Snapchat streaks’, technology continues to change friendship dynamics. For young people today, their ‘Streak’ – or the number of consecutive days they have sent a Snap to a friend – signifies how close they are to their friends and can bring new pressures and insecurities.

Young people’s digital interactions also play an important role in young people’s relationships as they flirt, fall in love, explore their identity and sexuality, and strengthen relationships. However, as young people navigate the complexities of love and sex in a digital age they are also facing challenges to recognise and communicate consent, sometimes resulting in young people being victimised or participating in online sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a global discussion and a daily reality for young people online.

Managing the complexities of love, relationships and peer group dynamics has always been a challenge for teens.

But the internet opens new possibilities that make societal discussions about sexual harassment more pertinent than ever. Sexual harassment is not a new phenomenon, but the ‘audience’ and ‘evidence’ provided by digital technology facilitates it and has opened the door for new forms of sexual harassment. Never before have people been so connected, but this networked community can facilitate the rapid spread of harassment and widens the audience of bystanders, making it possible to victimise someone with a simple ‘like’.

Meanwhile the ‘evidence’ can remain online, as a nude image that has been circulated in a peer group can resurface at a later point, leaving the potential for later re-victimisation.

At Childnet, we are involved in a Europe‑wide project, Project deSHAME (, which has published a report into young people’s experiences of online sexual harassment. It reveals the scale of the problem and sets a challenge for us all to empower young people to speak up about online sexual harassment and prevent it from happening.

The report identifies four main types of online sexual harassment taking place between young people, from unwanted sexualisation to sexualised bullying, exploitation and the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. As we develop our understanding of these varied forms of online sexual harassment it will be essential to listen to young people’s experiences and consider how to ensure sex and relationships education is fit for the digital age.

Helping schools address online sexual harassment

From upcoming changes to sex and relationships education to new guidance for schools about sexual harassment and sexting, now is an important moment for schools to consider how they empower children to develop healthy relationships in a digital age.

We worked alongside others in the Education Group of UKCCIS (the UK Council for Child Internet Safety) to create new guidance for schools about managing sexting incidents. With new ‘Outcome 21’ police provisions to protect children from unnecessary criminalisation, the guide sets out how respond to sexting incidents, including when to involve the police.

Meanwhile, the Department for Education (DfE) is publishing new guidance for schools about preventing and responding to sexual harassment, both offline and online.

From September 2019, it will be compulsory for primary-aged children at school in England to be taught Relationships Education, and for all secondary-school children to be taught Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). In addition, the DfE will be considering whether to also make Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education compulsory in all schools.

As schools look to empower children to use technology safely and responsibly it will be essential to develop a whole school approach to online safeguarding and to ensure that RSE and PSHE education reflect the digital issues that young people face.

Working towards outstanding online safety provision

Many schools are doing a fantastic job of empowering children and young people to have a positive time online. However, research shows where many schools could look to improve their provision.

Ofsted data from 84 schools inspected about online safety in 2015 and self-review data from 7,000 schools using 360 Degree Safe has found that while schools are on the whole very strong when it comes to online safety policies and filtering, they are weaker on staff and governor training, pupil involvement and evaluating impact of online safety policies and practice.

Pupil powered online safety

Pupil involvement is a powerful way of improving your school’s online safety provision, despite being one of the weakest areas for schools.

From developing online safety policies to delivering education sessions and campaigns, young people can be important role models and leaders in your school community.

At the UK Safer Internet Centre we coordinate a peer leadership programme to train young people in primary and secondary schools to be Digital Leaders. Schools on the programme have access to our interactive online learning platform, where children earn badges and points for completing online safety training and delivering a range of impactful online safety activities in school.

Registration is now open for the Childnet Digital Leaders Programme this academic year at

Safer Internet Day

Safer Internet Day provides a key moment when children and young people can take the lead in making the internet a better place and when schools can provide a spotlight on the work they do throughout the year and create a real ‘buzz’ in school about these issues.

Celebrated globally and coordinated in the UK by the UK Safer Internet Centre, the campaign reached 42 per cent of UK children in 2017 with thousands of schools and organisations getting involved in the day.

We know the day has real impact too, with children and parents saying they changed their behaviour or felt more confident as a result. Most importantly, a result of the day, one in four young people spoke up about something that had been worrying them online.

Safer Internet Day 2018 will take place 6 February with the theme ‘Create, Connect and Share Respect: A better internet starts with you’.

On the build up to the day there will be a range of resources to help schools get involved, from education packs and films tailored for each key stage to interactive content and social media campaigns. You can also register your school as an official supporter on our website and receive your supporter certificate. Find out more at

A better internet starts with you

The Safer Internet Day theme this year sums it up – a better internet begins with each and every one of us, whether it’s a teacher championing online safety in school, a child who doesn’t just stand by when they see cyberbullying, or a tech company that takes time to listen to children’s needs.

We all have a responsibility to make the internet a better place, from schools and the wider children’s workforce, to the internet industry, government, charities, policymakers, and parents, carers and children and young people themselves.

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