Schools need official guidance on pupils’ social media safety

An international anti-bullying charity has demanded better guidance for schools on keeping children safe on social media.

Sue Jones, global deputy chief executive officer of charity Ditch the Label, said her organisation is “constantly” contacted by teachers asking for more help, and wants the Department for Education to publish more advice.

She told the parliamentary science and technology committee evidence session today that there is no clear source for teachers to use when they need information on how to teach pupils about digital literacy.

“It’s not very clear, there such a mix everywhere across the board, there’s not one place,” she said. “Teachers are scurrying around everywhere trying to get it from the best possible places.”

She was speaking at a hearing that looked into the impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health.

Other speakers included Carolyn Bunting, the CEO of non-profit organisation Internet Matters, Dustin Hutchinson, a research and policy analyst at the National Children’s Bureau, Duncan Stephenson, the director of marketing and external affairs at the Royal Society for Public Health and Matt Blow, the policy and government affairs manager at the children’s mental health charity YoungMinds.

There was a consensus among the speakers that personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) should become compulsory in all schools, and include a mandatory section on social media and digital literacy.

Hutchinson said education on social media should be “a timetabled part of the curriculum” that is “delivered by educators specifically trained to educate about the risks and also the benefits”, while Bunting said teachers “need more help” to deliver lessons on the subject.

“It needs to be integrated as part of their teacher training. We should embed it within the curriculum; it isn’t going away. It is a fundamental part piece of the curriculum in terms of making sure children are able to deal with the digital world when they leave school.”

The panel also agreed that parents should be trained in digital and media literary.

Jones said that while there is “definitely a need for parents to really be involved”, schools should not be tasked with educating parents as well because many teachers are “already hugely overworked”.

“Overwhelmingly parents are just crying out for more help in this area. I think we need clearer more succinct guidance and we need the equivalent of public service broadcasting,” Bunting added.

“We need to be motivating parents to get involved and giving them the right advice so they can help support their children.”