Enhancing digital resilience in education: An action plan to protect children and young people online
Our approach to digital resilience focuses on three key areas – online safety, cyber resilience and data protection. We seek to equip our children and young people with excellent knowledge, skills and strategies in these areas and also to recognise when to access help and support and where to find it.
We, the Welsh Government, on behalf of Welsh Ministers, aim to help protect children and young people from illegal, harmful and false content on the internet and to promote safe, responsible and considerate behaviour online.
The internet is integral to the lives of children and young people, it provides opportunities to socialise, communicate, be entertained, learn and find support. It can also be exploited by those with malicious intent, targeting vulnerable groups and individuals in our society.
What is digital resilience?
With so many aspects of our lives now entwined with using technology in an online world, supporting our children and young people to be digitally resilient is fundamental. Digital resilience encapsulates the need to develop knowledge, skills and strategies in order for children and young people to:
- manage their online experience safely and responsibly while protecting their digital identity
- identify and mitigate risks to stay safe from harm online
- understand the importance of using reliable sources and employing critical thinking skills to identify misinformation
- seek help when they need it
- learn from their experiences and recover when things go wrong
- thrive and benefit from the opportunities the internet offers.
Building digital resilience in our children and young people also depends on the resilience of our families and communities. The Hwb Programme aims to provide learners, families, education practitioners, professionals and governors with the latest resources, information and guidance to enhance their digital resilience.
Keeping children and young people safe online is of critical importance and firmly a safeguarding matter in the twenty first century. We are committed to nurturing and promoting the safe and positive use of technology to children and young people by building a strong architecture around the child where professionals are skilled and families are aware of how to support children in their online lives. We seek to foster a protective environment for our children and young people by supporting families, practitioners, governors and other professionals creating a culture where keeping children safe online is everyone’s business.
Our Keeping safe online area has been designed and developed to support online safety in education across Wales. It provides an extensive suite of up-to-date bilingual resources, Welsh Government guidance and links to further sources of support on a range of online safety issues.
In addition, it also hosts bilingual resources created by or developed in collaboration with key partners, such as SWGfL, NSPCC, Common Sense Media and the National Crime Agency.
Cyber security is the term used to describe how both individuals and organisations can reduce the risk of cyber attacks. Cyber security’s main purpose is to ensure the technology we use (devices such as computers, tablets and smartphones) and the services we access online are protected from the risk posed by cyber crime including theft for gain such as ransomware attacks and seeking competitive advantage, or malicious damage intended to disrupt an organisation’s ability to operate effectively. We store large amounts of personal and organisational information on devices and services and preventing unauthorised access to this information is critical.
The strategy of including cyber security within digital resilience includes the following activities:
- providing guidance and support to schools to adopt a robust approach to cyber security that ensures compliance with regulations and standards
- raising awareness of best practice guidance and training in cyber safety for learners and education professionals in Wales
- seeking to nurture talent and promote opportunities to develop the skills required for a career in cyber security are available for Welsh learners.
Since 1998, any organisation processing personal data in the UK has been required to comply with data protection laws. In May 2018 the most significant change in twenty years to these laws came into force. The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies to all organisations processing personal data about European citizens. The Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018) applies to all UK organisations processing personal data about UK citizens, clarifying and adding to the GDPR.
Data protection is about demonstrating ongoing compliance with the laws and every school or setting should be regularly reviewing how they comply with the GDPR and DPA 2018 to protect the personal data they process, as well as keeping their policies and records management up to date.
Learning how to protect their personal data is a critical element in helping learners to build digital resilience. Every time we go online, whether it is to search for information, to shop, use social media or send emails, we share information about ourselves. Sharing our data helps us to access information, use services and stay connected with our family, friends and communities. However, your data belongs to you and data protection laws exist to make sure everyone’s data is used properly and legally.
Becoming digitally resilient includes understanding:
- why your data is important
- who is using your personal data and why
- how you can protect your data online
- your personal data rights under EU/UK law.
In 2017 the then Cabinet Secretary for Education commissioned an online safety action plan to provide a strategic focus and to coordinate work across the Welsh Government to enhance online safety for children and young people. The first 'Online safety action plan for children and young people in Wales' was published in 2018 and set out 46 key actions for us to undertake in collaboration with key stakeholders with the central aim to support and protect children and young people online.
In 2019, we published our first annual update of the original action plan. It provided an update on progress made against each action, summarised the activities undertaken to date, and outlined future plans and commitments.
In 2020 the action plan broadened in scope to account for the areas of cyber resilience and data protection, and took on a new digital format as this online area on Hwb. The information in this area gives the second annual update of the online safety action plan which has been renamed to reflect the evolving digital situation.Since 2020 we have continued to provide updates on the achievements and progress made against actions within the plan and included additional actions that we are taking forward.
Delivering a national approach to digital learning
The Hwb Programme is our programme of action for improving the use of digital technology for learning and teaching in schools. The Hwb Programme encompasses multiple strands of work that includes investment in broadband, education technology (EdTech) in-school infrastructure and the Hwb platform comprising of multiple cloud services. Through these we have provided a national platform ensuring digital learning is at the heart of Curriculum for Wales.
We have invested over £45 million to deliver superfast connectivity to all maintained schools in Wales, including £18 million to upgrade in-school infrastructure.
In parallel, we have developed the Hwb digital learning platform which aims to improve the use of digital technology for teaching and learning in all schools across Wales. It provides all learners, teachers, maintained schools and colleges, and other stakeholders, such as trainee and supply teachers, with access to a range of bilingual digital infrastructure, tools and resources including an all-Wales Microsoft Education licensing agreement that is helping to transform digital teaching and learning in Wales.
Through the investment in broadband, EdTech infrastructure and the Hwb platform, we have provided a national platform capable of supporting and delivering real transformation to the education sector.
As part of the Hwb Programme we are committed to embedding digital resilience throughout schools in Wales. Building on the extensive support offered through the expert online safety activities, we recognise the importance of cyber resilience and have evolved activities in this important area ensuring children and young people are educated in using digital tools and the internet safely and appropriately.
Embracing digital resilience within Curriculum for Wales
The Curriculum for Wales aims to provide all our learners with high-level digital skills. We want to ensure our young people are digitally competent and resilient and evolve into enterprising, creative and critical thinkers.
Developed by practitioners and key stakeholders Curriculum for Wales features six areas of learning and experience which includes a Science and Technology Area of Learning and Experience, within which computation is a new element for those aged 3 to 16 in order to meet the needs of a changing twenty-first century culture and economy.
Literacy, numeracy and digital competence will be statutory responsibilities across all areas of learning and experience within Curriculum for Wales. Digital pioneers worked alongside curriculum pioneers to ensure that digital competence is embedded within Curriculum for Wales.
We recognise the important role digital industries will play in our future, therefore supporting the development of a cyber security workforce in Wales is critical. Through our digital resilience in education activity we aim to build a talent pipeline, which develops our young people to have career aspirations in cyber security ensuring that Wales has a secure, resilient and prosperous future.
Contributing to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015
The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 aims to tackle the long-term challenges in Welsh communities aiming to create a Wales that we all want to live in, now and in the future.
This action plan supports the commitment towards addressing the seven well-being goals outlined in the Act, ensuring a collaborative vision and approach.
Creating skilled employment for Welsh citizens is essential. Recognising the growth in opportunities for employment where technology-enabled services are at the core, the actions outlined in this plan seek to create pathways for Welsh learners to take advantage of rewarding employment.
Building digital resilience within our children and young people prepares them to become well-rounded and balanced citizens that recognise the impact of their actions. Ensuring our children and young people use technology responsibly to foster a culture where mental and physical health is not adversely affected by the internet is crucial.
Supporting the social and cultural development of our children and young people, including promoting values such as tolerance and respect for others in all environments, is another overarching objective, which we set out to achieve through our online safety education activities.
Through education, tackling inequality is one of the key aims of this action plan as well as the need to equip all practitioners and children and young people with accessible tools to support learning and digital inclusion more broadly within communities. This is in recognition of the fact that access to technology and digital competence is becoming increasingly important and in the future will be an essential requirement to succeed in all aspects of life.
Another driver is ensuring that Wales and the Welsh language is not only not left behind but can be progressive in this fast-evolving area. We strive to ensure that all information and advice is available bilingually and the actions in this plan demonstrate our commitment to identifying any gaps or areas for improvement in the advice, support and services offered, and finding innovative solutions to address this.
Placing the rights of children first
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is an international agreement that protects the human rights of children under the age of 18. We are fully committed to making the principles of the UNCRC a reality for all children and young people in Wales.
This action plan will have a positive impact and contribution towards making the articles of the UNCRC a reality for children in Wales and their best interest is central to all of the actions (article 3).
It also recognises that online environments enable children and young people to experience a broad range of their rights including the right to be safe.
A key objective of this action plan is to support children and young people to become responsible digital citizens, which has explicit links to several of the UNCRC articles. This includes supporting children and young people to achieve their potential, primarily in an educational context (articles 17 and 29).
The educational resources available on the Keeping safe online area of Hwb have been created so that children and young people gain an understanding of not only their own rights (article 42), but also of how certain behaviours online can infringe on the rights of others, e.g. by outlining the difference between freedom of expression (article 13) and online hate.
A key aim of our digital resilience in education activity is to raise awareness of issues that children and young people may encounter online, such as bullying or discrimination (article 2) or sexual exploitation (article 34), and to provide information and advice to practitioners, children and young people and their families. This includes signposting to support or reporting services available.
Although risks are highlighted, the message is not to avoid technology, but to use it responsibly and to apply critical thinking with issues such as reliability of information and privacy (article 16). The internet is recognised as an important tool for gaining access to information (article 17) and in support of children and young people’s personal and social development (article 31).
Crucially, there is recognition that children need guidance, but also increased independence as they develop (article 5) and a key aim is to support parents and carers as well as practitioners to nurture the skills required for them to use the internet safely.
Listening to learners
Make your space safe, make your voice heard
The views of children and young people are integral to the actions that are being taken forward by us to help keep them safe online.
In autumn 2017, we worked with the NSPCC to develop an engagement activity pack ‘Make your space safe, make your voice heard’, a pupil voice activity. It was publicised as part of a joint event with the then National Assembly for Wales’ Cross-Party Group on Children and Young People and the Cross-Party Group on Preventing Child Sexual Abuse. The activity pack was made available through the online safety zone on Hwb and invited children of all ages to share their views to guide the development of our first online safety action plan.
In total 246 children and young people responded to the pack. When asked to identify their wish for one key priority for the online safety action plan, the participants’ top three categories were:
- concern about strangers
The concerns identified from the engagement activity are a core consideration in the development of the actions that we will take forward to protect children and young people using the internet.
Keeping safe online summer challenge
In summer 2020, we launched our ‘Keeping safe online summer challenge’. Using our latest addition to Hwb, Adobe Spark, we called on children and young people in Wales to design a creative a poster or graphic that expressed their experience of keeping safe online. As part of the challenge, we asked children and young people three questions about their online activities.
When asked what they used the internet for, the participants’ top four responses were:
- school work
- speaking with friends and family
- watching videos.
When asked if anything concerns, upsets or annoys them about the internet, social media, apps and/or online games, the participants’ top four responses were:
- people being unkind, sometimes leading to online bullying
- security of their data
- offensive content.
When asked what they would like to change about the internet, the participants’ top three responses were:
- make it safer
- tackle online hate
- tackle online bullying.
The concerns identified from the engagement activity are a core consideration in the development of the actions that we will take forward to protect children and young people online.
We will continue to engage with children and young people to ensure their concerns are driving the work programme.
Listening to practitioners
The 360 safe Cymru, part of the 360 Cymru tool suite, is a self-review tool provided to schools in Wales as part of Hwb. It allows schools to review their online safety policy and practice, benchmark this against national standards and suggests action plans.
Schools are able to register for 360 safe Cymru via Hwb. To date ninety-five per cent of maintained schools in Wales are currently registered with the existing 360 safe Cymru tool.
Schools are encouraged to have a group of users, alongside a nominated lead, so that they can work collaboratively on the review, bringing together many areas of expertise.
360 safe Cymru is split into a number of aspects which cover the main areas of online safety in a school, e.g. responsibilities, policy, communications, technical security, etc. Each aspect offers five level statements, ranging from ‘nothing in place’ to the aspirational practice. Included for each aspect are target levels reflecting good online safety practice, and included for every single level are suggested improvement actions that describe how schools might reach the next level.
Analysis of 360 safe Cymru, shows that schools in Wales report that the strongest aspects of their online safety provision are:
- filtering and monitoring
- policy scope
- policy development
- acceptable use
- digital and video images.
While areas for improvement are:
- impact of the online safety policy and practice
- staff training
- governor education
The data shows that schools perform better in areas of policy and where services (such as filtering) are provided for them. Other areas are more difficult to develop and embed, but often lead to the most effective practice.
When looking at effective practice, the following elements are displayed by schools showing the strongest levels of performance:
- Leadership for online safety is widely distributed, bringing a range of expertise (safeguarding, curriculum and technical) together in an active Online Safety Group that regularly reviews patterns of incidents as well as changes in online behaviours and technologies which are then reflected in their online safety policy and practice. There is also active governor involvement in these developments.
- Online safety education programmes are planned and take place across the curriculum and across the school year, in order that important messages are consistent and regularly re-enforced. These help to develop the resilience of the learners to online safety issues.
- Learners contribute to the quality of the programme by supporting peers and staff, often through digital leader (or similar) schemes.
- Staff training – online safety awareness training is provided, with regular updates, for all staff, which allows them to recognise and deal with online safety issues as they arise and to support learners through high-quality education/awareness activities.
- Reporting and dealing with online safety incidents – it is important that reporting routes are clearly understood, incidents dealt with and that members of the school community have confidence in this.
- Technical security – school systems are secure from misuse, filtering is appropriate and well managed, and regular monitoring of the filtering logs and network activity is reviewed and has an impact on the development of policy and practice.
- Parents and carers and the wider community – effective schools ensure that parents and carers receive these important online safety messages, often through the learners themselves sharing the messages learned in school. The school will also share their good practice with the wider community and other schools and will make use of the valuable community resources available to them from agencies such as the police.
Building on our foundations in online safety
Prior to the first online safety action plan in 2018, there had already been significant work taken forward to keep children and young people safe online. Since January 2014, we contracted with a specialist provider, SWGfL, to promote safe, responsible and considerate behaviour online, and to help protect children and young people in Wales from illegal and harmful content on the internet by developing a range of online safety tools, resources and activities aimed at education practitioners and professionals, governors, learners, parents and carers in Wales.
Other key activities included:
- the delivery of online safety training to more than 5,000 education practitioners and professionals
- the successful improvement of schools’ online safety provision via the 360 safe Cymru tool – the tool is provided through the Hwb digital learning platform to help schools to review and improve their online safety policy and practice
- the provision of online safety information for education practitioners and professionals, learners, governors, parents and carers through the Keeping safe online area (formerly the Online Safety Zone) on Hwb in the form of news, resources, information and guidance, and playlists
- the provision of funding and support through the Learning in Digital Wales (LiDW) Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Grant to enable regional consortia to actively promote digital citizenship and the safe and responsible use of digital technology
- the publication the guidance Recommended web filtering standards for schools in Wales to underpin safeguarding learners online
- the introduction of the Digital Competence Framework in 2016 for all schools in Wales to support learners from ages 3 to 16 protect themselves online by embedding the digital skills, knowledge and attitudes across the whole curriculum that enable the confident, creative and critical use of technologies and systems
- annual support for Safer Internet Day with campaigns and competitions for children and young people and schools to create opportunities to highlight and raise awareness of various online safety issues.
Evolving to enhance digital resilience
In December 2019, we expanded our online safety provision to include digital resilience in education. This expansion of our online safety activity seeks to build on existing expertise and activities in developing sustainable support for education practitioners and professionals, learners, governors, parents and carers in online safety, cyber security and data protection.
Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has led us all to spend more time online, whether that is for entertainment, to stay in touch with friends and family, or to support learning. While the benefits of using technology to stay connected are clear, spending more time online can also increase the risk of encountering issues.
Recognising and responding to this need, in April 2020 we published new online safety guidance as part of the ‘Stay safe, Stay learning’ programme. This guidance explored online safety considerations and concerns during this time providing children and young people, practitioners and professionals, families and governors with guidance, advice, home-learning resources and practical tips to address online issues.
To support families during this time, we produced and published a number of bespoke new resources including the following:
- A series of four short videos offering advice and guidance on the apps TikTok, Houseparty (shut down in 2021) and Roblox, how these may be used and tips on where to get help and support. Another video addresses the growing issue of misinformation, where false or incorrect information is published online.
- A series of six home-learning worksheets for children and young people to provide fun and simple activities while highlighting the risks associated with spending time online and promoting positive online behaviour.
- A dedicated playlist resource providing helpful guidance and activities for parents and carers to develop their understanding of online safety issues and support their children at home.
- A series of seven information posters on the most popular apps and services designed in partnership with each of the industry platforms providing guidance on features and their use, and practical tips to ensure children and young people stay safe.
Supporting learners in continuing their education was critical. In addition to providing online training and guidance for practitioners and professionals on the use of Hwb tools, we also developed dedicated guidance on Live-streaming and video conferencing. Developed with education stakeholders in Wales, the guidance was originally issued in May 2020 during the COVID-19 outbreak and outlines key considerations for safe practice when live-streaming or video conferencing is required to support remote learning.
The guidance was updated in September 2020 to reflect instances where practitioners and learners are back in the classroom, however it still retains guidance on working and learning from a home environment.
Summary of actions 2023-2024
During 2023-2024, as part of our digital resilience in education programme for schools, learners and their families, we will:
- develop new guidance for schools to support them to manage their social media, to address online safety issues of their learners and to increase their cyber resilience
- provide training for school staff on areas including social media, cyber resilience and emerging technologies
- review and update the 360 Safe Cymru tool to support schools to enhance their online safety provision and practice
- listen to the views and experiences of young people online through our Keeping Safe Online Youth Group
- expand our advice for children and young people to support them with online issues
- develop new guides for families on the latest social media and gaming apps that are popular with young people
- raise awareness of topical issues and the support that is available to help schools and learners with online issues
- celebrate the global event - Safer Internet Day, in Wales.
Actions and updates
The commitments and actions are grouped into the following categories.