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InMay 2017, the Cabinet Secretary for Education commissioned the development of a national online safety action plan for children and young people. This was published in July 2018 and provides a strategic overview of how the Welsh Government will continue to enhance online safety support. (See Current debates and reforms).
The All-Wales National Action Plan to Tackle Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) provided a comprehensive framework and minimum standards through which a wide range of safeguarding partners could demonstrate coordinated and cross-agency action to:
- prevent and protect children and young people from abuse and sexual exploitation
- provide responsive, appropriate and consistent support to those identified as being subject to or at risk of CSE
- contribute to the identification, disruption and prosecution of perpetrators.
There are no actions in the plan beyond December 2016.
A digital competence framework was provided to schools in September 2016 (see ‘Media literacy and online safety through formal education’ below.)
Issues of online safety are considered as part of Estyn, the inspectorate’s inspections of safeguarding arrangements. Guidance which it has issued for inspectors, says that inspectors should evaluate:
how well the provision helps pupils to develop skills, knowledge and understanding in making healthy lifestyle choices, for example in relation to substance misuse, sex and relationships and online safety.
Under the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom (the Office of Communications), the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, has a responsibility to promote, and to carry out research in, media literacy. This research covers both adults’ (16+) and children’s media literacy.
The UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS) is is a collaborative forum through which government, the tech community and the third sector work together to create a safe online environment for all, including young people. It is part of the Department for Culture, Media and Society (DCMS), the Department for Education (DfE) and the Home Office. It expands the scope of the previous UK Council for Child Safety. One of its priority areas is online harms experienced by children and young people including cyber bullying and sexual exploitation.
Media literacy and online safety through formal education
There is no National Curriculum beyond the age of 16. Education and training at this level is qualification-led, rather than curriculum-led and is characterised by individual subject choice. There is, therefore, no consistency in the extent to which students are exposed to concepts of media literacy, online safety and related issues.
ICT is not compulsory at Key stage 4 (pupils aged 14-16), but under the ‘Learning Pathways’ approach, all pupils in maintained schools have an entitlement to choose other subject options from those provided by schools under the statutory ‘local curriculum’ offer. Included in the subject areas that these options must be in are:
- mathematics, science and technology
- arts, media, culture and languages.
Opportunities to teach aspects of media literacy and online safety may be found within Personal and Social Education (PSE) which all maintained secondary schools must provide. The framework for PSE states that post-16 learners should be given opportunities to:
use ICT safely, responsibly and independently, embedding appropriate behaviours and techniques into activities to ensure they remain both safe and legal at all times.
Sex and relationships education (SRE) is part of PSE. Welsh Government guidance on SRE states that learners should be helped to understand the links with other risk-taking behaviours, including the potential risks of online social networking .
Furthermore, ‘As online social networking opportunities increase, children and young people need to know how to use the internet and mobile technology safely and responsibly. Specifically, learners need to be aware of:
- the potential risks of the online environment
- what to do and to whom to go when feeling unsafe.
The Welsh Government has defined digital competence as:
the set of skills, knowledge and attitudes to enable the confident, creative and critical use of technologies and systems. It is the skill set that enables a person to be a confident digital citizen, to interact and collaborate digitally, to produce work digitally and to be confident in handling data and computational thinking (problem solving).
Digital competence is to become a cross-curricular responsibility since the new Curriculum for Wales was launched in 2019 for teaching in September 2022. for teaching from September 2022. To encourage the integration of digital skills across the full range of curriculum subjects, a ‘Digital Competence Framework’ for all learners aged 3 to 16+ has been made available. This will be finalised for first teaching with the rest of the revised curriculum from 2022. Until 2022, the new framework will sit alongside existing programmes of study for ICT and computer science.
The framework has four strands:
- Citizenship includes: identity, image and reputation; health and well-being; digital rights, licensing and ownership; online behaviour and cyberbullying.
- Interacting and collaborating includes: communication; collaboration; storing and sharing.
- Producing includes: planning, sourcing and searching; creating; evaluating and improving.
- Data and computational thinking includes: problem solving and modelling; data and information literacy.
As part of its programme of action for improving the use of digital technology for teaching and learning in schools, the Welsh Government has made a wide range of resources available across all subject areas on the ‘Hwb’ digital learning platform. The Welsh Government organises an annual National Digital Learning Event, a conference and awards ceremony, aimed at teachers and those working in education in Wales, with a view to sharing good practice and expertise in digital learning. As the pedagogical tools used by teachers are a matter for the teacher, school or college to decide, none of these resources are mandatory.
Promoting media literacy and online safety through non-formal and informal learning
WISE KIDS, a not-for-profit company, is a key provider of training programmes in the areas of online safety and digital literacy. It works in collaboration with other organisations, such as the UK Safer Internet Centre, and many of its individual initiatives are supported by the Welsh Government.
CEOP is the child exploitation and online protection command of the National Crime Agency. The CEOP Command’s ‘Thinkuknow’ programme provides resources, training and support for professionals who work directly with children and young people. Training provided by CEOP includes Keeping Children Safe Online (KCSO), an introductory e-learning course for professionals. Those who complete the course and who register for access to CEOP’s ‘Thinkuknow’ educational resources are awarded ‘Thinkuknow’ Trainer status, with access to its full range of resources for delivery to young people and parents/carers.
Most youth work provision is at a local level and training courses are in areas such as safeguarding, which cover online safety, are also provided locally.
Raising awareness about the risks posed by new media
Since January 2014, the Welsh Government has contracted with the South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) to promote the safe and responsible use of Hwb and provide a range of online safety activities across Wales. These activities include online safety training for education professionals and school governors, and developing resources to support children, parents and teachers.The online safety programme builds on existing expertise and activities to develop sustainable online safety activities across Wales – as well as increasing the amount of resources available in Welsh. The project includes the following online safety activities:
- development and publication of a range of bilingual teaching resources focused on specific issues in online safety
- development and publication of a range of resources to support learners and carers
- provision of a self evaluation tool - 360 degree safe Cymru and targeted support and promotion of its use
- provision of a broad programme of online safety training to upskill education practitioners
- development of content and news features on online safety issues
- development of an online safety training module for educational practitioners and governors.
The Online Safety Zone, launched on Hwb on Safer Internet Day in February, is a dedicated area on the digital learning platform, Hwb, which has been designed and developed to support online safety in education. In addition to news articles and features, the Online Safety Zone hosts a range of teaching resources, including case studies, guidance for school professionals, for parents and young people, and resources on the safe use of social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter.
Working with SWGfL, Hwb is host to the 360 Degree Safe Cymru tool, a bilingual online safety self-assessment tool for schools. The tool has been designed to allow schools to judge and review their own online safety practice and provision. To date 86 per cent of schools in Wales have registered to use the tool.
Also part of the project is the Online Safety Resource, a programme of lessons and supporting materials for all ages, which develop essential digital literacy skills in learners that can be integrated within the existing school curriculum with flexibility.
Meic is an information, advice and advocacy helpline for children and young people up to the age of 25, funded by the Welsh Government. It covers all issues of concern to this age group, including cyberbullying, internet safety, grooming and sexting.
In 2016, Childnet International issued cyberbullying Guidance, funded by the UK Government Equalities Office and the European Union, which showed schools how to embed cyberbullying in their anti-bullying work.
The UK Safer Internet Centre exists to promote the safe and responsible use of technology for young people. It is a partnership of three organisations: the South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL), Childnet International and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). The partnership was appointed by the European Commission as the Safer Internet Centre for the UK in January 2011 and is one of the 31 Safer Internet Centres of the Insafe network. The centre has three main functions:
- Awareness Centre: to provide advice and support to children and young people, parents and carers, schools and the children's workforce and to coordinate Safer Internet Day (see below) across the UK
- Helpline: to provide support to professionals working with children and young people with online safety issues
- Hotline: an anonymous and safe place to report and remove child sexual abuse imagery and videos, wherever they are found in the world.