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Encouraging positive behaviour online

4 min read

Frankie Bisset, Emily Giubertoni, Jodie Jethwa

Our setting is a voluntary-aided non-selective secondary school for ages 11-18 in Birmingham. We are a Catholic school, catering to around 1200 students with approximately 26 per cent on free school meals (FSM).

As Ofsted (2022) recently described, ‘the way in which pupils relate to each other online can have a significant impact on the culture of the school’. It is important therefore that we teach and support a positive behaviour culture on social media, just as we would in the physical classroom.

On a day-to-day basis, there are behavioural issues surrounding the complexities of social media. Although it is illegal for many of our students to be on many social media platforms, in reality many students have multiple social media accounts. Students lack the maturity to use these accounts properly, and are placed at risk through their usage (NSPCC, 2022). We have seen students set up fraudulent social media accounts using another person’s profile; online bullying; sexual harassment; sexting via social media such as inappropriate nudes.

We take the same approach to the dangers of social media as we do to any safeguarding concern: that it could, and likely does, happen here. We have designed an approach which ‘promotes a whole-setting approach to safeguarding, giving children and young people the space to explore key issues and the confidence to seek the support of adults’ (UK Council for Internet Safety, 2020).

Our response to keeping children safe on social media is therefore both preventative and reactive. We have a preventative spiral curriculum designed to equip students with the knowledge and skills to identify and avoid dangers on social media.

We have increased our PSHE provision hours to one per week as suggested by the PSHE association who have evidenced the many benefits of ensuring PSHE involves ‘regular lessons on the timetable like other subjects’ (PSHE Association, 2019). We have also ensured students have the same teachers across Key Stage 3, to build relationships and teacher expertise (OFSTED, 2013).

Inspired by the PSHE association report on ‘Handling complex issues and creating a safe learning environment’, we have mapped out our PSHE coverage across a five-year curriculum, which is age appropriate and builds awareness over time. As a result, Ofsted recently found that in our school, ‘The personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education curriculum is thorough and well organised. It is delivered thoughtfully and skilfully by staff’ (Ofsted, 2021).

In brief, students are introduced to issues in social media in Year 7 PSHE autumn 1, then in spring 1 revisit these themes in IT lessons; a drop down day in Year 8 emphasises the physical and mental impact; Year 9 have PSHE timetabled lessons on social media awareness; in PSHE lessons Year 9 cover issues of personal safety online; in Years 10 and 11 students have assemblies on age-specific dangers of social media and an awareness day. This curriculum is set out for all staff in an overview document which is reviewed and updated yearly (see Figure 1).

Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10 Year 11
Autumn Term – Safety Online (lesson and Assembly Spring Term – Online Safety and Gaming Six lessons

Assembly on Safety

Spring Term –

Social Media/ Toxic Masculinity and Hate Crime

Assembly on Safety

Autumn Term –

Safety Assembly and Form Resource

Autumn Term –

Safety Assembly and Form Resource

Spring Term IT – Online Safety in Computing Personal Development Day (May) Law and Social Media Personal Development Day (April) Safeguarding online and Grooming Personal Development Day (July)

Online Grooming and Law

Personal Development Day (October)

Dangers of Online and the Perception of Reality

Figure 1: overview of the curriculum plan

Alongside the classroom curriculum, we invite visiting speakers into school ‘to enhance teaching by an appropriate member of the teaching staff, rather than as a replacement’ (Department for Education, 2019). Effective speakers are identified through the police and the local authority. We bring in the greater expertise and knowledge of professionals matched to year group needs. An example from 2022 was an external session for Year 11 on the Prevent agenda. Furthermore, vulnerable students are identified and take part in workshops with external experts, again as part of our preventative agenda.

Despite the extensive preventative curriculum in place, some issues will inevitably occur. We have designed a raft of responsive measures to support students in need, and to support staff in helping them.

  • Where issues seem to be widespread, assemblies are designed to address key issues
  • We don’t want to crack a nut with a sledgehammer –often individual or small group approaches are more effective than a whole-year group response
  • Collecting evidence and screenshots of misuse of social media
  • Invitations to parents into school to see evidence and agree support
  • Safeguarding referrals to be followed where necessary
  • The pastoral team in our school receives high quality training on specific social media issues, usually in an off-site venue to ensure the training is high status. Training will also cover what we consider PSHE delivery basics following PSHE Association guidance (PSHE Association, 2018) such as distancing techniques and signposting.


An example of this process in action can be illustrated through an incident when a group of Year 8 students posted inappropriate pictures of other people through social media. We felt that this required a whole year group response. An assembly was created, focussing on the legal context for social media misuse. The assembly was crafted to be of benefit to all students, whatever their experience, so built from exploring the gap between social media and reality, to harder hitting legal implications. Many students were unaware that by forwarding an inappropriate image, they too could be criminally responsible. Students find it a challenge to understand the concept of joint enterprise, and so the assembly stressed the responsibility to report an inappropriate image, and that not doing so could leave them equally responsible.

We monitor all incidents, and are able to analyse the data on social media issues to track impact. We have consistently seen a positive impact between the interventions outlined above, and the reduction in social media incidents.

For all years, continuously, we signpost reporting processes and how to access support to all students. We emphasise this constantly through assemblies, PHSE lessons, form time announcements, newsletters, and posters around school. As a result, students are able to confidently articulate what their responsibilities are, and where they should go for support. As our most recent Ofsted inspection found, students ‘trust staff to support them, for example if they experience bullying or other problems’ (Ofsted, 2021).

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