Online safety during the outbreak

With many children using the internet for education during school closures, there are increased risks of exposure to online harms. Schools should encourage parents and carers to put in place measures to ensure online safety while learning from home

With many children using the internet for education during school closures, there are increased risks of exposure to online harms. Schools should encourage parents and carers to put in place measures to ensure online safety while learning from home

With more parents educating children from home using technology, the government has published new guidance on online safety, which includes tailored advice for parents on keeping children safe. Schools can use this guidance to inform parents of the measures they can put in place to ensure online safety while home-schooling.
The guidance includes information on using parental controls to manage what children can access, switching on family filters to protect children from inappropriate content, and having conversations with children to encourage them to speak to a trusted adult if they come across anything online that makes them uncomfortable.
Other areas of online safety are covered, such as checking facts and guarding against disinformation, being vigilant against fraud and scams, and managing the amount of time spent online so that mental health is not negatively affected.
The guidance was published following a virtual roundtable to assess the impact of coronavirus on child online safety, held by Caroline Dinenage, Minister for Digital and Culture, James Brokenshire, Security Minister, and child safety organisations.
Caroline Dinenage said: “Staying at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives means we are spending more time online. This means we must all be extra vigilant, follow good security practice and make sure our children are safe too. It’s also important that we check the facts behind what we read and remember to take regular breaks.
“We are completely committed to making the UK the safest place to be online, and that’s why we have brought together a wealth of practical advice which I urge parents to use and share with their children.”
UK Safer Internet Centre Director and Childnet CEO, Will Gardner, said: “Technology has proved to be enormously important in these unprecedented times. We know that children are benefitting hugely from being connected, but we also know it’s even more important that we take steps to keep them safe and happy whilst online. That’s why we welcome guidance which brings together practical and simple advice for families in this difficult period.”

Make use of parental controls

It is likely that parents will have downloaded new apps or bought new devices like web cams or tablets during the coronavirus lockdown and they must remember to adjust the privacy and security settings accordingly.
Government has encouraged Internet Service Providers to help parents easily filter content. Parents or carers can switch on family friendly filters to help prevent age inappropriate content being accessed on devices at home. Internet Matters has step by step guides on how to set these up.
If a parent or carer is concerned or upset about something a child has seen online, they can seek support from the online platform using the report function on the app or website - these can often be found in the ‘help’ section or ‘settings’. The UK Safer Internet Centre also offers a ‘Report Harmful Content’ service.

Conversations about safety

Teachers should encourage parents or carers to have a conversation with their child about staying safe online. Childnet has guidance on how to begin a conversation about online safety, meanwhile ‘Ditch the Label’ teacher resources can be helpful for parents to discuss cyberbullying. The child should be encouraged to speak to their parent or a trusted adult if they come across content that makes them uncomfortable.

With children using technology for learning as well as entertainment and communication, the issue of too much screen time should be addressed.
Everyone should take a break after a couple of hours sitting or lying down using a screen. It’s good to get up and move about a bit.
Screen-free meal times are a good idea – families can enjoy face-to-face conversation, with adults giving their full attention to children.
Some devices and platforms have special features – try using these features to keep track of how much time is spent looking at screens or on social media.
Good quality sleep is also vital during these worrying times.
Parents or carers should talk to their children about sharing photos and information online and how photos and words are sometimes manipulated.
Parents should also talk with children about using screens and what they are watching. A change in behaviour can be a sign they are distressed – make sure they know they can always speak to a parent or another responsible adult if they feel uncomfortable with screen or social media use.

Fraud risks for schools

Schools could be at increased risk of fraud during the coronavirus pandemic. Fraudsters are actively exploiting these difficult times and targeting vulnerable areas for financial gain. Indeed ActionFraud has reported a 400 per cent increase in reports of coronavirus related fraud in March 2020.
The Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) says that during these periods, staff wanting to be helpful and flexible when dealing with suppliers can be more susceptible to targeted attacks from fraudsters, particularly around changes to payment details.
Organisations should continue to follow all business processes and procedures designed to protect them from fraud.
The ESFA says that schools should maintain effective governance and financial management and oversight. Staff should be periodically reminded that, despite the instability, the organisation continues to implement and require compliance with internal controls.
The EFSA advises that schools review internal control risk assessments and fraud risk assessments as well asensure that staff know how to report suspected fraud.
Internal audits to monitor internal controls and segregation of duties to ensure they are operating effectively is also advised.
Cybercrime is an increasing risk to all business, including the education sector, and is a particularly vulnerable area in the current situation.
There have been instances of email scams asking parents for payment details to get support for Free school Meals during the pandemic. Parents should be advised to not respond and delete these emails immediately.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has launched a suspicious email reporting service (SERS), which has resulted dozens of malicious web campaigns shut down in its first day after spike in coronavirus phishing scams.
NCSC Chief Executive Officer Ciaran Martin said: “The immediate take-up of our new national reporting service shows that the UK is united in its defence against callous attempts to trick people online.
“While we have not seen a rise in email scams in the last month, coronavirus is the top lure currently used to conduct cyber crime, exploiting public unease and fear of the pandemic.
“We hope the success of the Suspicious Email Reporting Service deters criminals from such scams, but if you do receive something that doesn’t look right forward the message to us – you will be helping to protect the UK from email scams and cyber crime.”
Dubious emails – including those claiming to offer support related to coronavirus – should be reported to The NCSC’s automated programme will immediately test the validity of the site and any sites found to be phishing scams will be removed immediately.