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Digital Defenders: Navigating the Challenges of Online Safeguarding




LONDON – Deep within the labyrinth of his online game, 11-year-old Alex Thompson engaged in battles with mythical creatures, unsuspecting of the very real threats lurking in the game's chat rooms and lobbies. It's no fantasy: cyberbullying cases in the UK have rocketed, with a 2019 NSPCC report revealing an 88% increase over five years. The lines between classroom security and online safety are blurring, demanding steadfast attention from policymakers and educators alike.


Peter Wanless, the CEO of NSPCC, once remarked, “We must make the digital world fit for children, not the other way round.” This sentiment resonates now more than ever.

Historically, British schools have been bastions of safeguarding. With thorough DBS checks and regular training sessions, they've strived to create secure environments. The Department for Education's "Keeping Children Safe in Education" guidelines, revised in 2019, encapsulate this ethos perfectly.


The digital realm, however, is a different beast. While the heart of the matter – child protection – remains, the execution demands novel strategies. Concerningly, a report from the UK Safer Internet Centre in 2019 stated that one in three children have experienced unsolicited advances online.


Addressing this gap is the ambitious Online Harms White Paper of 2019. Here, the focus is on imposing a statutory duty of care upon online entities. As Carolyn Bunting, the CEO of Internet Matters, elucidates, “We need to move from a reactive to a proactive stance in online safety.”


Progress is on the horizon. Leading EdTech firms, including ClassDojo and Microsoft Teams, are prioritising user safety, enhancing privacy features for their younger audience.

Reflecting on the merger of the physical and virtual educational realms, Sarah O'Donnell, principal of Redbridge Community School, shared, “Digital literacy isn’t just about leveraging tools for education; it's about ensuring every click, every interaction, is secure.”

But challenges remain. “The internet was not designed with children in mind, but a significant proportion of its users are children,” observed Dr. Rachel O’Connell, a renowned expert in online child safety.


In young Alex's world, the dual challenge remains: conquering the game while evading very real digital adversaries. As classroom boundaries extend into the digital ether, safeguarding assumes a renewed urgency.

Peter Wanless's words bear repeating: “We cannot wait for the next tragedy to happen.” The task is clear: ensuring the digital realm, like our schools, is a sanctuary for our children.


In the evolving landscape of digital education, Purple Ruler has steadfastly positioned safeguarding at its core. Drawing from the rigorous standards of 'Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) 2023', we've instilled a comprehensive safeguarding framework within our operations. From the meticulous recruitment of our staff, vetted for their dedication and understanding of child protection, to the vigilant oversight of our Designated Safeguarding Lead, we leave no stone unturned.


For us at Purple Ruler, safeguarding is more than just ticking boxes. It's a deeply ingrained promise that resonates in every interaction, every lesson, and every decision we make." This commitment extends to our collaborative work with schools and parents. We ensure they are well-informed of our protocols, empowering them to be active participants in our shared mission of child safety.


Much like young Alex's foray into the digital world, seeking adventures and battling dragons, our students embark on their educational quests. And as Alex requires a safe space free from lurking dangers, so do our students. With Purple Ruler, while the medium of learning may vary, the promise remains unbroken: a journey of knowledge, wrapped in the armour of unwavering safeguarding.


References:

  1. NSPCC. (2019). Cyberbullying in the UK: Statistics and Facts. NSPCC Research and Policy Team.

  2. Department for Education. (2019). Keeping Children Safe in Education. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

  3. UK Safer Internet Centre. (2019). Children's Online Safety Report. UK Safer Internet Centre Research Division.

  4. Wanless, P. Quoted in NSPCC Press Release, 2017.

  5. Bunting, C. Interview with Internet Matters, 2019.

  6. O’Connell, R. Speaking at Safer Internet Day, 2016.

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