Online safety threats facing students in 2016

Written by: Ken Corish | Published:
Image: iStock

With Ofsted’s close focus on the online safety of your pupils, what are the key threats and risks that schools must be tackling? Online safety expert Ken Corish advises

September 2015 saw the implementation of the new Ofsted inspection schedules, which include clear references to online safety as part of a school’s wider safeguarding strategy.

With an increasing focus on education, innovation, staff development and reporting required, schools have had time to re-evaluate their online safety policies to ensure that the whole school is properly protected.

Headteachers, teachers and staff within any school all have a legal duty of care to ensure the safety of their pupils. With the influence of technology still growing, both in and outside of the classroom, this also includes the risks and dangers associated with using the internet, computers and mobile devices.

It is important to remember that teachers and other staff members are also at risk, so any coherent and comprehensive online safety policy should keep all parties in mind.

What are the main threats and risks that we, and more importantly, our students face?

Online bullying

There is a great deal of pressure on young people today to succeed, to have the right kind of image, to be well-liked by others. The internet has been a very positive influence over this at times, providing advice, community and enjoyment, acting as a stage for children and young people to express themselves and find a voice.

However, at the same time, it can also be harmful to children who may find themselves falling victim to online bullying or harassment, whether by peers or anonymous sources. Online bullying is most frequently seen through social media sites, but can also be found on sharing websites or message boards. Behaviour can include malicious and insulting posts made anonymously or otherwise, sharing upsetting content directed at a particular individual, or posting unwanted photos to a wider network of peers.

It is important to remember that those who engage in bullying, whether online or offline, may have experienced the same treatment themselves. The London School of Economics’ EU Kids Online project found that around 60 per cent of bullies have been bullied themselves. When dealing with incidents, it is crucial to consider the wellbeing of all the students involved, ensuring that any deeper issues are addressed in the process.

‘Self-baiting’ and ‘self-harm’

The term “self-harm” is generally defined by physical injuries that are auto-inflicted, including cutting, over or under-eating and substance abuse.

The internet however, has given rise to a new form of self-abuse, conducted predominantly through social media sites to inflict emotional or psychological harm. This can manifest in two ways:

  • “Self-baiting” is where the victim posts an inflammatory comment to an online community in pursuit of inciting aggressive responses towards themselves.
  • “Online self-harm” where the victim creates false social media profiles to send offensive or insulting messages to their main profile, simulating third-party abuse.

Both forms are used to effectively reinforce the negative feelings the victims have about themselves, and validate their low self-esteem or personal image.

Here is some advice for tackling online issues such as bullying and self-harm:

  • Incorporate the issue into CPD – the underlying issues need to be spotted and flagged up or referred in any case of self-harm, even online.
  • Know the environment – understanding what is available online and where the risks are is vital to safeguarding.
  • Teach students the value of a positive digital reputation and how to keep themselves safe through critical evaluation.
  • Treat every report of online bullying seriously, even if you suspect it is self-inflicted – this may be a cry for help.
  • Work collaboratively – ensure that your reporting routes are accessible to everyone: staff, students and parents.
  • Take advantage of technology to help monitor and report online safety issues.

Extremism and radicalisation

Since the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 has come into effect, schools (and other authorities) are obliged to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism including online recruitment – something that is an extremely concerning issue at present.

However, there are a number of ways that schools can address online safety to ensure that extremism and radicalisation does not pose a threat to their pupils. Here are some of our top pieces of advice:

  • Assess the risk of a child being drawn into terrorism and their support for extremist ideas. You can do this by using robust safeguarding policies to identify children at risk, devise a relevant intervention plan and select the most appropriate referral option.
  • Be prepared for Ofsted inspectors wanting to see your school’s approach to keeping children safe from the dangers of radicalisation and extremism. Otherwise, you may be subject to regulatory action.
  • Work in partnership with your local safeguarding children board to ensure you are following the correct policies and procedures.
  • Train your staff to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism and challenge extremist ideas. Having staff who can both recognise the signs of extremism and counter the online extremism rhetoric and narrative are both equally critical – staff training is vital in this regard.
  • Educate your students on critical evaluation. They should be aware of internet content that may be trying to influence them to follow extremist views. There are many sources providing help and guidance on how to do this, including the Digital Literacy website.
  • Implement strict IT policies that allow for an appropriate level of filtering. These IT policies should be implemented as a precautionary measure, not as a response to an incident.
  • Take responsibility for reporting concerns. It is now the law for any individual to follow the appropriate safeguarding reporting procedure.

Digital reputations

In addition to safeguarding children within the school and providing a safe and supportive environment where they feel valued and accepted, schools should start a dialogue with pupils about engaging with online communities and creating a positive online persona and digital reputation.

Children should be trained to build resilience in order to ensure their online safety, to be critical of the content they access and how to manage the flow of information, as well as how to report issues that may arise online. By providing them with this skill-set, ensuring their wellbeing both on and offline, and by generating an awareness among staff of the various implications and risks associated with the internet, schools will be better prepared to identify and tackle any issues that might arise from children’s interactions online.

  • Ken Corish is the online safety manager of the UK Safer Internet Centre and South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL).


  • Digital Literacy and Citizenship offers a range of free resources from SWGfL:
  • The Common Inspection Framework, Ofsted, September 2015:
  • Safeguarding guidance and policy documents from the Department for Education (DfE), including Keeping Children Safe in Education, Working Together to Safeguard Children and What To Do If You’re Worried A Child Is Being Abused (all March 2015):
  • The DfE consultation on updates to Keeping Children Safe in Education closed on February 16. For details, visit
  • Prevent Duty: Guidance for UK home nations, Home Office (September 2015):


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