Sadly, we have recently been seeing a sharp increase in the number of issues caused by misuse of social media by children outside of school. Asking around other schools in our Trust and in our locality, this seems to be a trend reflected everywhere. A ‘sign of the times’ perhaps, but nonetheless upsetting and damaging to children’s wellbeing and safety.

In the past few weeks, across Key Stage Two, we have been made aware of and have dealt with:

Online threats of violence

Homophobic and racist abuse

Sharing of pornographic content, some of which could only be described a ‘disturbingly hardcore’

Children arranging to meet other unknown ‘children’, who then transpire to be adults

Online abuse, libel and defamation of members of staff

Of course, we live in a digital age and there are many, many positives about social networking and other valuable benefits that the technology can bring us. We love technology here at Parkdale and value the educational and social benefits it can bring. Most of us couldn’t live without our smart phones and many stakeholders will be reading this article on theirs!

Our curriculum includes regular high quality age-appropriate teaching and learing about online safety. We’d anticipate that 100% of our children actually know how to use the internet safely and legally. In school, of course, we monitor this and ensure all possible protections are in place. We’d hope that children would take their learning home with them, but it seems some are choosing not to. Whether this is down to a sense of rebellion, peer-pressure or lack of real understanding of the dangers is questionable. We recognise that young people will be inquisitive and often push limits. As adults, many of us have been there.

We cannot control or be responsible for what children do out of school. We can only advise and encourage good online safety. Child Protection is our prime concern and we have certain moral and legal obligations:

Where we are made aware of children accessing inappropriate platforms or content or engaging in malicious communications, we will treat it as a Safeguarding concern and make the appropriate referrals to Social Care. For example, if it becomes apparent that a child is accessing pornography at home, either directly themselves or is being sent or exposed to it by a third party, we will be obliged to report this as a concern of abuse. Similarly with content of violent, discriminatory or extremist nature.

If social media is used to deliver threatening or offensive content, we will report it to the Police as a possible criminal act under the Malicious Communications Act. We will hand over investigation and next-steps to them. This is something we have had to do this week. We will also consider applying our right to exclude children – headteachers can exclude for serious breaches of school rules and behaviour expectations even when the act has taken place out of school.

Our advice would always be:

to respect the age limits placed on social media platforms – for example no children of Primary school age should be on TikTok, Snapchat or Whatsapp

to oversee children’s online activity

to ensure home firewalls and filtering are set to the highest levels of protection

There is a lot of good advice for families out there and some is signposted here:

A Parents’ Guide to Snapchat:

A Parents’ Guide to TikTok:

A Safety Guide to Whatsapp:

CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) Safety Centre. Includes how to report concerns:

CEOP Education Centre – includes excellent resources for parents sorted by age group:

ParentZone: – highly recommended; this site was created specifically for parents, carers, and families – it aims to be educational but supportive and is designed to fit around family life.