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Best practices: Using peer education to transform e-safety in schools

Published: 1st June 2015

At Childnet we’ve been working to help make the internet a great and safe place for young people for the last twenty years, and over that time we’ve learned a lot about the best ways that we can empower young people and those who support them.

Youth voice is key

One of the most important things we can do is to give young people the power to shape and improve their own online communities, as our inspiring #Up2Us Film created by 150 schoolchildren showed. Young people can play a powerful role in educating their peers – by providing relatable and up to date advice – and shaping a school’s ethos by acting as role models. Schools can also capitalise on young people’s tech expertise and understanding of young people’s digital lives to educate parents, carers and school staff. Indeed, last Safer Internet Day we found that more than three quarters (78%) of 11-16s believe that young people have the power to create a kinder online community.

The inspectors agree too….

Ofsted’s inspection handbook on e-safety (published April 2014 and withdrawn July 2014) sets out key features of good and outstanding practice, and a number of these indicators relate to the active involvement and leadership of young people.

Examples include:

  • Contribution of pupils is valued and integrated in whole school approach to e-safety
  • Effective use of peer mentoring in e-safety education and reporting procedures
  • Schools effectively assess the impact of e-safety practice
  • Education is relevant and engages pupils’ interest
  • Children integral to policy production
  • Children educate parents

Plus it works!

We’ve been exploring the impact of youth leadership on e-safety outcomes over the last year through the pilot of our Childnet Digital Leaders Programme, and we found there is a clear positive impact on the whole school community. For example, 70% of pupils who received a session from their school’s digital leaders said they would now be more careful about what they share online. As one 13 year old explained, “it makes you think more and listen as you know that they understand what it’s like on the internet at this age and what can happen.”

Mhairi Hill, the E-Safety Coordinator at Ballyclare High School, one of the schools involved in the pilot and the first school in Northern Ireland to achieve the E-Safety Mark, said:

“In our school, being part of the pilot of the Childnet Digital Leaders Programme has had a wide-ranging impact. The Digital Leaders have helped to increase awareness about e-safety by delivering a peer-education session that reached all 187 of our Year 9. The young leaders also held a Social Media Workshop for parents, created wall displays and produced a video encouraging their peers to ‘Make the Right Choice Online’, which has been displayed on screens around school. As a result, the Digital Leaders have become champions and role models for the safe use of technology at Ballyclare High School. Pupil voice has been a powerful tool in shaping our set of esafety-related policies, and has helped to create an ethos of positive technology use in school.”

But it’s not always a strong point for schools…

Despite the importance and effectiveness of youth engagement in delivering outstanding e-safety provision in schools, the latest findings show that while this is improving year on year, it is still one of the weakest areas of e-safety provision in schools.

Our partners in the UK Safer Internet Centre, the South West Grid for Learning, produce an Annual Analysis, which looks at the self-review data from 5,500 UK schools using their free self-assessment tool 360 Degree Safe.

In 2014, they found that while the strongest areas are around filtering and policies, schools are weakest when it comes to youth engagement, community engagement and training of staff and governors.

To help schools harness the power of youth voice and make e-safety learning fun and effective, Childnet has launched its new youth leadership programme, with support from the European Commission and Facebook, which will help schools to deliver an outstanding whole school community approach to e-safety.

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