Fake news: helping children to untangle the web

London CLC director, Sarah Horrocks, examines the rise in concern around fake news and critical literacy and considers whether primary schoolchildren are equipped to spot the spoofs.

“We were thinking that everything on YouTube is true,” said a London primary school child earnestly, after completing one of our Fake News workshops. With the current spotlight on disinformation and privacy in the light of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica revelations, and the research earlier this month showing that fake news reaches users 20 times faster than factual content, it’s never been more important to help children navigate the online world with a critical eye.

It’s an area that’s been highlighted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy, which launched the Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in Schools in September last year as a result of the publication of a new report from the National Literacy Trust, Fake news and critical literacy evidence review. It found that, with one child in five believing everything they read online is true, strong critical digital literacy skills are crucial – and teachers need the proper training and support to boost them. To help primary school children learn how to spot misinformation, identify persuasion in communication and distinguish fact from opinion, a pilot scheme is underway, developed jointly by the Guardian Foundation, the National Literacy Trust and the PHSE Association.

At London CLC we’ve been developing programmes around this topic for some time now. For the last couple of years we’ve run a number of professional learning sessions for teachers and headteachers alerting them of the growing crisis around social media and political manipulation, and the duty of schools to prepare young people with the critical literacy skills required to navigate the online world.

Since Brexit and Trump, I’ve noticed that fake news has been a strong concern in a lot of the sessions I’ve led for teachers and school leaders. While online safety has long been a key topic for us, recently we’ve shifted our emphasis to incorporate a broader focus on digital citizenship and criticality of information. Our Fake News workshops with primary school children are particularly important right now.

An example from our Fake News workshop: the pictures has been photoshopped and the person who tweeted it did it as a joke and didn’t expect it to get shared – and believed – so much.


We recognise it is a complex area to cover. ‘Fake news’ encompasses everything from the circulation of deliberately false stories to different interpretations of the same facts to stories that are initially put on social media as a joke but then spiral out of control. We know that adults have trouble discerning fact from fiction – particularly in their own social media bubble – and children face additional challenges.

Gross errors or far fetched ‘facts’ such as those on the deliberately false All About Explorers website can be detected by children with encouragement and coaching, but it is unclear whether practising this sort of sceptical approach transfers to the reading of more subtle mis- or disinformation. Younger children may simply be at a stage where their conceptual development has not yet produced the fine discernment needed to identify and distinguish between pastiche, take-off, joke, hoax, fictional whimsy, propaganda, irony, mockumentary or an account which has a kernel of truth but which has been embellished, or conversely has been ‘economical with the truth’ through omission.

We have seen that some primary aged children are able to spot that a spelling mistake or poor quality graphic or image may betray an unreliable or unofficial webpage but they may not be aware of what separates a reputable (eg .ac or .gov) URL from an official-sounding .com or .co.uk one that can easily be purchased by anyone.

It’s not surprising that children often arrive at our sessions with a fairly simplistic approach to what to believe online. For example, many children echo the words of parents and TV presenters who tell them they should never trust Wikipedia because it’s ‘just written by normal people’ and is therefore not reliable.’ The problem with this advice? It suggests that other websites are written by anyone other than ‘normal people’! At least Wikipedia has the benefit of being checked and edited by millions of users. We seek to alert teachers and children that they should be treating all websites with the same level of scepticism with which they treat Wikipedia, since we have little or no awareness of how they check their facts or what their hidden biases may be.

We find that it is through discussion with children that they learn to question what they think and start to unpick the layers of truth and reliability they come across online. A key feature of our workshops is enabling children to create their own spoof news stories using HTML, demonstrating just how easy it is to publish something that can look convincing

“Even Miss thought it was real!” exclaimed a London primary school pupil during the workshop. And that’s exactly the sort of breakthrough we want to encourage. By presenting children with resources that can help them to approach the online world more critically, we hope that they will learn to spot things that their friends, family or even teachers don’t see, and share their knowledge that not everything they read online is to be trusted.

  • To find out more about London CLC’s professional learning sessions around critical literacy skills and fake news, please contact James Goddard: [email protected]


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Summer primary school computing conference
Summer primary school computing conference

This event will build upon the Autumn computing conference by inviting subject leaders to reflect on their year in the role, sharing their successes and challenges. It will also introduce new ideas, tools and approaches through talks and practical activities led by members of the CLC team, with opportunities for attendees to share their own expertise and experience. Over the course of the conference activities will touch on the three main areas of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. We will also feature advice and examples illustrating the use of technology to support blended learning.

- 15:30
Computing subject leaders, Teachers...
Creative Arts, Digital and children – CLC meets More Than Robots online
Creative Arts, Digital and children - CLC meets More Than Robots online

Combining forces for the first time, the Connected Learning Centre and More Than Robots have created a session for teachers, youth organisations, researchers and policymakers interested in the digital provision of creative arts for primary aged pupils.


The Play Observatory - Prof. John Potter

“In their own words”: Westminster Abbey & CLC digital projects - Sian Shaw

Building (and maintaining) a city-wide primary arts curriculum to raise attainment - Kate Fellows

More to be added soon

This interactive and inclusive meet up will include inspiring examples of how technology can be used to support learning in music, visual art and drama in person and online at home drawing on our experiences as Tate Exchange associates and our partnership work with a range of cultural institutions.

This informal event is an opportunity to discuss real examples of what does/doesn’t work, meet colleagues from other sectors working on similar challenges and share useful research, news or updates

The morning will include case study presentations (details below) followed by a Q&A. There will also be an opportunity for a rapid sharing round for launches, project updates or requests for help and a short break to avoid zoom brain drain.

- 11:30
KS1, KS2
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Upcoming Special projects

The News Project
- 14:25

Special project in collaboration with First News Education

For a third year, building on two successful previous projects, we are once again partnering with the children’s newspaper First News, fellow member of the national Making Sense of Media and News Literacy networks. This special project with a literacy, PSHE and citizenship, as well as computing focus, highlights our specialist interest in this important aspect of digital and critical literacy.

The News Project will enable participating classes from year 5 to immerse themselves in news and current affairs using First News and the Bett award-winning First News iHUB, which will be provided free of charge during the school-based part of the project over a six week period. Under the guidance of their teacher, pupils will be supported in their development as a community of fully informed news readers. Classes will test their new critical skills and knowledge in the culminating virtual celebration event which will include a news competition and team-based critical literacy and editorial activities. After the event, schools will be able to use the resources from the day in their school.

The project will launch with an introductory CPD session for teachers to set the context, demonstrate resources and to plan for the school-based activities. 

Initial CPD session - Thursday 21st October 4pm-5.00pm. 

Project work undertaken in school - October and November.

Special event - Thursday 25th November 9.30am-2.45pm.

The Garden Museum

The CLC is once again partnering with the Garden Museum to offer a partnership project for KS1 pupils (primarily suited to Yr2). Located next to Lambeth Palace on the bank of the Thames, the museum has an inspiring collection that provides the ideal stimulus for young learners to explore the world around them.

Pupils will use technology alongside the museum’s collection to explore the wonderful world of seeds.

  • How are they planted?
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 The Garden Museum has a large collection of seeds and tools that pupils will engage with.

These half-day sessions will take place at the Garden Museum.

There is a limited number of dates available, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

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