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Safeguarding in a Digital World

In an age where technology is omnipresent in our lives, especially in education, we face a paradox.

On the one hand, the digital world opens new risks to young people. The threat of cyberbullying, exposure to harmful content, and privacy concerns are ever-present. However, outright bans on technology restrict young people’s ability to develop skills essential to succeeding in a digital world. We must therefore seek a balance to safeguard our children whilst setting them up for success in online and physical spaces.

The BBC's "You'll get square eyes" campaign underscores a vital message: it’s not the technology itself that matters, it’s how we use it. When used to personalise education, technology can significantly enhance learning outcomes. However, we must also be mindful of its neurological impacts. Excessive screen time, especially at a young age, may have harmful effects.

In this sense, parents play a pivotal role in navigating the digital landscape with their children. Rather than dictating technology usage, many parents engage with it as a means to evaluate its benefits and risks. Understanding technology builds credibility and allows for more effective, informed conversations with young people about their online experiences. It can be easy to take online safety for granted. Asking young people to consider how they feel after spending time online, how they know someone’s identity, or how to spot cyberbullying are great ways to start conversations around online safety.

With the increasing prevalence of online tuition and schooling, digital safeguarding is a primary concern to providers and educators who are crucial to fostering student well-being. In an online environment, subtle nuances and low-level concerns might be overlooked without the right training and safeguarding infrastructure. Through CPD and training programmes, organisations like Qualified Tutor emphasise the importance of educators’ safeguarding responsibilities to ensure that they are equipped to recognise and address issues as they arise. Technology can be employed to flag issues from low engagement to fluctuations in student well-being. With the growth of AI, we are likely to see a boom in such tools over the coming years. For the best outcomes, online education providers will need to effectively integrate these tools into their digital spaces and train staff accordingly.

At The Online School, we assign every student a personal mentor who tends to their social-emotional needs. To support this goal, mentors and tutors use analytics like how much time a student is speaking in lessons and participate in “learning walks” as a way to ensure their well-being and safety. The legitimisation of tutoring through the National Tutoring Programme and online schooling through the Accreditation for Online Education Providers is further embedding strong safeguarding foundations in the sector.

There is no universal solution to education and safeguarding. Every student's needs are unique and approaches must be tailored accordingly. Open dialogue and clear communication among parents, teachers, and students is vital. In recognizing the diversity of student needs, we must adapt strategies for a range of circumstances to create effective, inclusive, and safe learning environments. The integration of technology is a double-edged sword that brings unprecedented opportunities for learning and development but also introduces new risks that must be managed wisely. Parents and educators must work together to stay informed and engage with learners to ensure that technology serves as a tool for empowerment rather than a source of harm. By adopting a balanced and informed approach, we can safeguard our young learners in this ever-evolving digital world.

Author: Carl Morris, Co-Founder The Online School