How to get the most out of the DFE’s Teaching Online Safety in Schools Guidance – Instalment 5

In June 2019 the DfE released the non-statutory guidance for schools, ‘Teaching Online Safety in Schools’. We’ve partnered with e-safety adviser Alan Mackenzie to bring schools and MATs five helpful bitesize instalments along with expert insight to make it easier to digest. In this fifth instalment Alan discusses five key areas where online activities can potentially have an adverse effect on the wellbeing of a child or young person.


Wellbeing has become such an important topic, particularly wellbeing related to online activities. In this instalment we’re taking a brief look at the latest Teaching Online Safety in School Guidance from the DfE, which recognises how online activities can potentially have an adverse effect on the wellbeing of a child or young person.

The guidance highlights five main areas where the wellbeing of a person may be affected and there is reference to the Education for a Connected World framework which will give you a deeper understanding of which issues can be tackled by age group as well as by subject area. As this topic is Wellbeing, it stands to reason that curriculum areas would largely fall under Health Education, Relationships Education (Primary) and Relationships/Sex Education (Secondary).

1. Impact on confidence

Whilst much emphasis is placed upon social media, we need to take into consideration the wider societal things that children and young people are seeing, from reality TV to adverts and more. All of this tries to paint a picture of perfection that very few can live up to, yet at a time when teenagers are going through the hardest years of their life, adolescence, they are particularly vulnerable to the bombardment from the influential nature of media as a whole. Topics mentioned within the guidance document include use of image filters, image enhancement, social media influencers and more, and these are great topics to engage with young people in particular in order to explore both the positive and the negatives, the reality versus unrealistic and the potential impact on their own wellbeing.

2. Impact on quality of life, physical and mental health and relationships.

This is closely tied to point 1 above but also includes time spent online. Frustratingly most of the reporting on this aspect views time spent online as a negative by concentrating on the amount of time. But this is deceiving; whilst time spent online is a factor to be taken into consideration, it’s what children and young people are using that time for which is important. For example some would argue that ‘teenagers these days’ are more anti-social because they’re always on their phone, yet if they’re on the phone engaging with their friends isn’t that social time? Just because it’s different from what we did ‘in our day’ does that make it wrong? Equally you could debate about time spent on games; if you talk to children and young people about their games playing the majority will tell you that they’re playing with their friends, the games are secondary. With that said there has to be a balance for health and social reasons, amongst others, and that balance will be different for everybody.

3. Online vs. offline behaviours

People can behave differently online than they would face to face, this includes children, young people and adults. A person who is normally quite introvert can become extrovert online; a normally risk-averse person can become a thrill seeker online. There are a number of reasons for this and one of the most important we have already covered, online disinhibition. Added into the mix is the increasing popularity of so-called anonymous apps which hide the identity of the user. In lessons subject topics for discussion could include areas such as: • Why do people portray an exaggerated version of themselves online? • Can this create a filter bubble and have an adverse effect on wellbeing, or can it be inspirational under certain circumstances? • Why might people be unkind or hurtful online when this isn’t in their general nature?

4. Reputational damage

An important one for all of us, but particularly for older students. Media stories abound for people not getting a job or ruining their career due to an online behaviour such as a comment from years before. Advice regarding this often states that accounts should always be set to private, however this isn’t realistic as the circumstance in which the account is being used needs to be taken into consideration. For example a group of friends who use Instagram to share personal snippets of information, gossip and generally have fun is very different to a student who is using Instagram to create a timeline of achievements such as sporting achievements or artwork in the hope of getting noticed or even as part of a CV for a future employer. All of this needs to be taken into consideration whilst informing students of the pitfalls (and legalities) of posting certain information and the potential adverse affects in the future.

5. Suicide, self-harm and eating disorders

Above all topics already mentioned this week and in previous weeks, this is probably the most specialised area of all due to the complexity combined with the very serious nature of the issues and considerable care is needed. The descriptor within the Teaching Online Safety in Schools guidance points to the guidance provided by the PSHE Association which has been fully updated and is one of the best resources out there. Not only is there guidance for staff, there are also lesson plans including Powerpoints that can be downloaded.

Key Points

1. Reputational damage and online vs. offline behaviour are relatively easy to cover across all age groups, but the others aren’t and you’ll need good background knowledge and understanding plus useful resources to support you. The PSHE Association has a huge range of resources that will help you in many of these topic areas.
2. When planning any of these topics, refer to the class teacher and designated safeguarding lead to see if there are or have been any issues with any of the students beforehand.
3. If you are using research to back up any of the facts your are talking about, ensure you use good, academic research wherever possible.

Take a look at our previous instalments here:

Instalment 1: How to get the most out of the DFE’s Teaching Online Safety in Schools Guidance
Instalment 2: Five Ways to Encourage Pupils to Navigate the Online World Safely
Instalment 3: How to navigate the internet and the 10 specific harms to be aware of
Instalment 4: Eight elements of online activity that could affect a pupil’s personal safety and the safety of others online

If you’d like to understand more about enabling safe and secure online learning in your school with one of the most education specific web filtering services available, call a member of our team on 01133 222333 or contact us by clicking here.