Teaching online safety in schools – DfE guidance

Education secretary Damian Hinds recently announced new non-statutory guidelines supporting schools to teach pupils how to stay safe online when studying existing and new subjects.  

The guidelines make some general recommendations but also mention some specifics such as teaching how URLs are made and what an IP address is, as well as how companies make targeted adverts through tracking behaviour and how someone can create a fake profile, known as catfishing. According to Hinds, “It’s based on the premise that if you really understand the technology, you’re less likely to get used by the technology. Then even when the technology changes, your knowledge is somewhat future-proof.”

Benefits and opportunities

This is very much the approach we take in our online safety and fake news workshops and we welcome this up to date guidance from DfE. It is an area that changes rapidly and needs constant review. Indeed, this guidance will be reviewed again before September 2020. 

There are many aspects of the new advice we support. It covers a range of existing subjects. Computing is in there, of course, but also citizenship and new subjects from Sep 2020 such as heath education, relationships education (primary) and relationships and sex education (secondary). It references the Education for a Connected World framework, which we use and highly recommend. It also focuses on underpinning knowledge and behaviours rather than specific sites or apps, which can change and go in and out of favour rapidly. Crucially, it talks of the benefits and opportunities of the online world as well as the challenges and risks.

Critical literacy

With London CLC’s focus on critical literacy (see our Bett talk and associated resources), we were particularly pleased to see a section addressing how to make judgements about online content and not automatically assuming it is true, valid or acceptable. The guidance suggests that schools can help pupils consider questions including:  

  • Is this website/URL/email fake? How can I tell?  
  • What does this cookie do and what information am I sharing?  
  • Is this person who they say they are?  
  • Why does someone want me to see this?  
  • Why does someone want me to send this?  
  • Why would someone want me to believe this?  
  • Why does this person want my personal information?  
  • What’s behind this post?  
  • Is this too good to be true?  
  • Is this fact or opinion?

It also suggests schools help pupils to recognise the techniques that are often used to persuade or manipulate others and online content that tries to make people believe something false is true and/or mislead (misinformation and disinformation). 

Five challenges

But – and there is always a but – the guidance does not answer the million dollar question of precisely how to do this. The LSE’s Media Policy Blog recently published a policy brief on misinformation and school curriculum, which includes a penetrating critique of current legislation, national curriculum and teaching resources. It focuses on five challenges:

  • There is no clear framework on how to promote digital literacy
  • The Government thinks the national curriculum needs no revision… But it does
  • The national curriculum falls short of teaching primary and secondary school children about the broader digital environment, and how to use their digital skills and knowledge to evaluate online information
  • Existing teaching resources focus more on media bias than online misinformation. As with the national curriculum, they do not encourage students to use their digital skills and knowledge to evaluate online content
  • Teachers need training

It makes five recommendations relating to the challenges, including ensuring that teachers know how to teach digital literacy across the curriculum. 

This is an area of focus for us and one where we continue to develop our approach through workshops where we continually observe and interact with children and young people and our training and conferences where we are able to discuss and hear from teachers about their concerns and perceptions.

We’d very much like to hear your thoughts or your successes if you have engaged with these topics in your lessons or if you are planning what you will cover next year – do let us know.

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Upcoming CPD

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
Subject leaders, Teachers...

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?
  • How do they spread?
  • What is inside them?

 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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